CINCINNATI – The goal is simple: to get more local foods to more Ohio students in more Ohio schools.
The question of how to do so is slightly more complicated.
Experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University, in partnership with Ohio State’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), will host a preconference policy forum to discuss the issue in advance of the upcoming National Farm to Cafeteria conference April 25-27 at the Duke Energy Convention Center, 525 Elm St., in Cincinnati.
The Ohio Farm to Cafeteria Pre-Conference and Policy Forum is April 25 from 3-8 p.m. at the convention center and will provide an opportunity for Ohio’s Farm to School stakeholders to discuss strategies to evaluate and expand the program in Ohio’s schools and institutions, said Heather Neikirk, Ohio State University Extension educator and event co-organizer.
OSU Extension is the outreach arm of CFAES.
The forum is being offered by OSU Extension’s Ohio Farm to School program and is occurring in conjunction with the National Farm to Cafeteria conference. The conference is designed for school districts looking to start or expand a Farm to School program, consumers who want to learn more about local food opportunities, as well as farmers and producers looking for ways to sell fresh, local foods to schools and other institutional cafeterias.
OSU Extension will serve as the local host for the conference, which is being organized by the National Farm to School Network. Farm to School is a national initiative, which in Ohio is led by OSU Extension in partnership with numerous agencies, organizations and industry groups.
The conference is expected to draw more than 1,000 farmers, producers, educators, school food service professionals, parents, business leaders and OSU Extension experts. It is part of an effort to get more fresh, locally grown and produced foods into more school cafeterias and increase farmers’ economic opportunities, said Carol Smathers, an OSU Extension field specialist and director of Ohio Farm to School.
The April 25 panel and policy forum will focus on Ohio and the opportunities, challenges and successes that schools and institutions are facing while starting and running Farm to School programs, Neikirk said.
“It’s about harvesting success to cultivate change,” she said. “We have a huge opportunity to talk about the value of Farm to School programs with stakeholders and clientele, and to think about action steps and policies that may be needed to continue to expand the program throughout more locations in Ohio.”
Farm to School programs are significant, because they promote healthy economies, healthy communities and healthy young people, Neikirk said.
Brian Snyder, executive director of InFACT, agrees.
InFACT is charged with setting the strategic direction for Ohio State’s support of food systems that are sustainable, defined as achieving a balance of ecology, economy, technology and culture to promote the overall well-being of people, animals and the natural environment. InFACT is part of Ohio State’s Discovery Themes Initiative, which is dedicated to using the university’s unmatched breadth and expertise to pursue solutions to the most important challenges of our times.
InFACT is working with Ohio Farm to School as part of its efforts to resolve the challenges associated with food insecurity throughout Ohio and beyond, Snyder said. Snyder will provide an overview of Ohio’s farm and food landscape and will moderate the panel discussion and forum.
Solving food insecurity, “requires a complex, multidisciplinary approach that will take several years to assemble and deploy,” he said. “But in the short term, there is really nothing more meaningful we could do than to support the availability of more locally produced and nutrient-dense foods in our schools, at all levels.”
“By feeding kids better, we are really feeding the future for all of us.”
The April 25 event will also feature an Ohio Farm to Cafeteria product showcase, highlighting local and regional producers and distributors of Ohio-grown products. Individuals, businesses or organizations that are interested in sponsoring the event, participating in the product showcase or both can contact Julie Moose at email@example.com or call 614-292-2433.
Registration for the Ohio preconference is $40 and $20 for students and includes a locally sourced dinner. Transportation is available from Ohio State’s Columbus campus, and costs $35 for attendees, $20 for Ohio State employees, $10 for students and is free for OSU Extension employees.
To register for the conference, visit go.osu.edu/2018FarmToSchool. The deadline to register is April 19. For more information about the April 25 panel discussion and forum, contact Amy Fovargue at 740-398-8397 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about Ohio Farm to School can be found at farmtoschool.osu.edu