Friday, December 31, 2010

Farm to School Challenges of (ahem) the Year Ahead

As we move farm to school into 2011, our challenge is not to convince the people of Madison that the food in schools should get better.  The demand is there.  
I get phone calls all the time.  Lots and lots of phone calls.  I can’t answer them all, and this has been frustrating for me and I’m sure frustrating for those wonderful folks who I don’t have time to respond to with a callback.  I could get 30 phone calls a day, easy.   I have been keeping track lately and for every 10 calls on my work line there at least 3 cold-call inquiries from teachers, nurses, parents, daycare providers, and administrators.  They are all looking for “more information on how to get better food into ______ school.”  I am filled with regret and anxiety as I let yet another really nice, well-meaning college student have to look elsewhere for the interview to complete their paper on sustainability.  Then I think about the equal number of emails with similar requests.  I despair.  Really.  I’m a pleaser.
   It is kind of unbelievable that there are so many people and there is no other place for them to turn.  To the credit of these nice citizens they have gone above and beyond what others are doing and are looking for information.  To speak to their humanity, however, they are often displeased (sometimes at me) to find out that I cannot provide much more information than, “please call your superintendent, PTO, and foodservice director.”  Other than the obvious (,, I have no secret information sources.  There is no special packet.  I can do no cold calling or farmer finding on their behalves.  I cannot speak to their school or sign them up for a ready-made program. I despair.  Well, I already said I'm a pleaser.
   As the full time program director for REAP’s Farm to School programs it is all I can manage to try to figure out how our school district in Madison will ever be able to get more fresh food into our school lunch program.  The financial, logistical, and philosophical barriers seem so high.  With my position, it is never about how many hours you need to put in but how many you must shave off to balance bottomless demand with family.
     I inherited a snack program that then became so wildly successful it threatened to get out of control.  It seems that there is no end to the need for fresh, locally-sourced vegetables in ready-to-use form. When we used grant money and volunteers to step in and fill this void we created a river of desire and need. We were able to serve 5,300 students a week this fall semester but I have downsized us to around 4,000 so that we can manage to see our families. Needless to say I disappointed 1,300 students and their teachers, my daughter’s school included. I am putting my resources into Madison's poorest schools while I have them.
    When we started teaching in classrooms, cooking healthy foods with students in middle and high school, the phone calls flooded in for this incredible program to be brought to other schools, other classrooms. We are in 3 schools and the pennies are draining out of the farm to school jar as I write.  All this desperate interest and I am still starved for cash and whistling in the large, dark cavern of budget shortfalls in 2011. 

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