Pittsburgh organizations attend Farm to Cafeteria Conference, learn ways to add locally-grown food to school meals

It’s Back-to-School season. The season tends to bring thoughts of new clothes, fresh pencils, cute bookbags and jam-packed schedules. For some people, however, back-to-school involves taking steps to safeguard children’s health by focused on immunizations and handwashing. At Live Well Allegheny, we believe it’s just as important to consider nutrition and nutrition in school meals as ways to improve our community’s health.

Recently, eight school food advocates from Pittsburgh attended the 2018 Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Representatives from Pittsburgh Public Schools, Deer Lakes School District, Mt. Lebanon School District, Woodland Hills School District, University of Pittsburgh, Grow Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council learned more about best practices to incorporate food grown and produced locally into school meals. We’re proud to say that these individuals are also part of four Live Well Allegheny school districts, one Live Well Allegheny workplace, and two Live Well Allegheny community partners.

Hosted by the National Farm to School Network, the conference brought together leaders and changemakers in farm to school procurement, school gardens, sustainability, and purchasing regulation. Farm to cafeteria is part of the farm to school movement which seeks to build connections between communities and locally-grown food and local food producers. Farm to school encourages changes in food purchasing and education to improve access to healthy foods, and to empower children to make informed food choices. The conference also included keynote speakers and a myriad of workshops covering topics including equity and access in school gardens, using food service guidelines to create healthy food environments, and methods of engaging state Agriculture departments.

Building on knowledge gleaned from the conference, local organizations hope to encourage more farm to school initiatives in Pittsburgh. The school representatives plan to implement more farm to school by increasing education among parents and students, measuring and communicating impact, implementing procurement changes, and incorporating garden and food production in the classroom.

Following the conference, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service announced Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), in partnership with Grow Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, is a recipient of the USDA Farm to School grant award. The grant provides $5.2 million in awards to bring nutritious, local food into schools and bolster economic opportunities for farmers. PPS is one of two schools in Pennsylvania to receive the award. The grant funds will be utilized for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years to strengthen and standardized farm to school initiatives throughout the district. Grow Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council will engage local growers to provide produce in schools, and collaborate with community members to increase awareness and support for the farm to school movement.