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National Farm to School Network


Conference recap: Moving forward together

NFSN Staff Sunday, June 05, 2016

 Photo credit: EaCas Photography

On our final day together at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, attendees flooded Dane County Farmers' Market, the country's largest producer-only farmers market, on the Capitol Square. Supporting local farmers and a local food economy is at the heart of our work, and Wisconsin offers an inspiring display of a vibrant and connected local food system. 

The morning opened with a multi-media presentation showcasing farm to cafeteria champions from across Wisconsin. Emceed by Tony Schultz, Farmer, Stoney Acres Farm, and Frankie Soto, Food Service Director, Abbotsford School District Food Service, attendees heard stories of success from farm to cafeteria partners including farmers, school food service directors, a hospital dietician and a local co-op manager. Farmer Chris Blakeney, Amazing Grace Family Farm, shared that his successful partnerships in selling to schools allowed him to quit his full-time, off farm job. 

Saturday’s program included two workshop sessions. A total of 48, 90-minute workshops organized into 12 topics were offered during the conference. Among Saturday’s workshops were conversations and hands-on learning opportunities for training classroom educators to be strong school garden users, curricula ideas for early care and education providers, and tips for navigating federal, state and local policy landscapes to maximize farm to cafeteria efforts. 

Our food conference would not have been complete without delicious meals featuring locally sourced ingredients. During Saturday’s lunch, we gave a standing ovation to Monona Catering in thanks of their amazing work to serve our 1,000+ attendees fresh, locally sourced meals. Saturday’s lunch included Wisconsin Rice and Wisconsin Cranberry Salad, a local bean salad, roasted local root vegetables, and chilled asparagus soup. 

Throughout the conference, we asked attendees to use paper plates to share what they love about farm to school and what child nutrition programs mean to their community. With the Child Nutrition Reauthorization process moving forward, now is an important time to take action and share with Congress why school meals are important. Soon, we’ll deliver these paper plates to legislators on Capitol Hill, sending a message that farm to school and school lunch programs are growing a healthier next generation. 

Open Forum, a perennial conference favorite, was held on Saturday afternoon. Open Forum gave attendees the opportunity to create discussion groups around the topics they’re most passionate about. Ideas were submitted and voted on using the conference mobile app. More than 20 discussion topics were selected, including state farm to school policy, farm to summer, forming a farm to college network, farm incubator start ups, state agencies in farm to cafeteria and using farm to school to drive racial equity. 

The Closing Plenary included keynote addresses from two food movement leaders who shared inspirational stories and lessons about creating strong and just local food systems. Matthew Raiford, Executive Chef of The Farmer & The Larder and a sixth generation farmer and owner of Gilliard Farms, discussed the importance of meeting everyone - farmers, school boards, chefs, children and more - where they are to continue building systems that bring the bounty of the earth to the cafeteria table. “It takes more than a village,” Raiford said. “It takes villages to build better systems.” 

LaDonna Redmond’s address focused on ending systematic oppression in the food system. Redmond, founder of Campaign for Food Justice Now, used a lens of intersectionality (race, class and gender) to describe the impact of the food system on the lives of communities of color, and to promote just solutions. “Every community that you work in has the intellect to heal itself,” she said. “Your job is to use your skill set to uncover that intellect and help people dig deeply.”

While the conference has ended, the work to change the culture of food and agricultural literacy across America has not. We hope this conference was the beginning of new pathways and partnerships that will continue to move the farm to cafeteria movement forward and strengthen local food systems. Read more about the conference on our day 1 and day 2 blog recaps. See social media highlights on our Storify and view pictures from the conference on our Flickr page. 

Conference recap: Growing the farm to cafeteria movement

NFSN Staff Saturday, June 04, 2016
 Photo credit: EaCas Photography
The first full day of the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference kicked off on Friday, with more than 1,000 food service professionals, farmers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students, representatives from nonprofits and government agencies, public health professionals, and many others in attendance. The day started with regional networking sessions, where neighboring states met to build relationships, share ideas and resources, and fuel the farm to cafeteria initiatives in their regions. 

Immediately following the networking sessions, regions processed together from their rooms to the opening plenary - and with great fanfare! The festive procession was led by a local marching band, dancing produce and a very large chicken. Madison preschoolers with vegetable crowns danced on stage and welcomed attendees as they arrived. 

The opening plenary was kicked off by Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network Executive Director and Co-founder. Debra Eschmeyer, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition to the White House, was the first keynote speaker to take the stage. As one of the farm to cafeteria movement’s true innovators, Eschmeyer’s address reviewed and celebrated the impressive growth that the farm to school movement has achieved in less than two decades. “I am deeply encouraged by our collective progress. In this next phase, we need to be even more creative and innovative. This is not some trendy issue. This is something we have to stay committed to for the long haul,” she said.  

“If we keep working together, we’ll give all children access to fresh healthy food.” -Debra Eschmeyer
First Lady Michelle Obama sent video remarks, celebrating all of the great work this movement has accomplished, and challenging us to think about what’s next. To the First Lady, we say, we’re not going anywhere, and we look forward to continuing this work with you. 

Carla Thompson, Vice President for Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Ricardo Salvadro, Director and Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, also offered keynote addresses. Salvador discussed how disparities in public health, access, waste and exploitation of people and nature are designed characteristics of the global food system, and challenged us to use justice as the screen through which we do our farm to cafeteria work. 

Following lunch, conference-goers viewed 45 posters highlighting exciting projects, innovations, research and trends in the farm to cafeteria movement. Shortly after, 28 presenters offered fast-paced, information-dense, five minutes lightning talks, from building school gardens into social enterprises to how school districts are leading the charge to reform poultry production in the U.S.

The afternoon included two workshop sessions. A total of 48 workshops organized into 12 topical tracks will be offered throughout the conference. These interactive sessions are providing opportunities for participants to build skills, problem solve and innovate. 

The day closed with a local foods reception on the rooftop of Monona Terrace. With views of Lake Monona on one side and the Wisconsin State Capitol on the other, conference goers enjoyed a celebratory evening of delicious, Madison-inspired eats, live music and remarks from Madison Mayor Paul R. Soglin. 

Find more highlights from the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria conference on our social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Storify. Follow along with the hashtag #Farm2Caf16. To see more pictures from the conference, check out our Flickr. More stories, key learnings and exciting highlight to come - stay tuned! 

Conference recap: Exploring farm to cafeteria in Madison

NFSN Staff Thursday, June 02, 2016
 Photo credit: EaCas Photography
The National Farm to School Network is hosting the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison, Wis., and pre-conference activities kicked off Thursday with hundreds of leaders in the farm to cafeteria movement exploring the Madison area food system and farm to institution landscape. 

From aquaponics to urban farms and hospitals to college campuses, more than 370 pre-conference attendees experienced Wisconsin’s farm to cafeteria initiatives first hand through 10 local field trips. One group of learners explored Wisconsin’s deep roots in dairy as they traveled to farms and processors who bring milk, cheese and other dairy products to institutional markets. Stops included a tour and tasting at Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, a farm-based education experience at Sassy Cow Creamery and a visit to an Organic Valley dairy farm. 

 Photo credit: Maryland Farm to School

Another group explored innovative youth gardens across the Madison area that strive to cultivate healthy youth and vibrant communities. Among the stops was Goodman Youth Farm, a community nonprofit/school district partnership program that actively engages students in hands-on, farm-based education in an outdoor classroom. Youth are involved in the entire process of running a small-scale organic farm, from growing, harvesting, cooking and donating thousands of pounds of produce. 

 Photo credit: EaCas Photography
Back at Monona Terrace Convention Center, another 250 pre-conference attendees gathered for advanced short course trainings with movement experts from the Wallace Center, National Farmers Union, Chef Ann Foundation, Center for Social Inclusion, Spark Policy Institute, Vermont FEED, Farm to Institution New England and more. Courses included trainings on implementing farm to school practices and operations in school kitchens, starting cooperatives, and building racial equity in farm to cafeteria and wider food systems, among others.

The short course on network development welcomed farm to cafeteria practitioners from across the country to share and explore models of collaboration and coordination for creating state-level farm to cafeteria networks. With presenters from Colorado, Vermont and Wisconsin, a range of experiences were shared in describing the formation and success of various network models. At the end of the course, participants brainstormed ingredients for success in building effective farm to cafeteria collaborations.


As the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference program kicks off on Friday, we’re welcoming more than 1,000 food service professionals, farmers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students and youth leaders, representatives from nonprofits, public health professionals, and others to Madison for a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn, share, network and build momentum for the farm to cafeteria movement. Among them are the next generation of farm to cafeteria leaders, including students Christina Plyman, Trinity Sinkhorn and Kara Shelton. Accompanied by their teach Toni Myers, they traveled from Boyle County High School in Kentucky to present their farm to school successes and learnings as a National Farm to School Network Seed Change Demonstration Site, as well as to network and learn from other experienced farm to school practitioners.  

“I’ve seen kids in the cafeteria eat healthier foods because their friends grew it, and they know the garden it was grown in,” Plyman said. That’s success these student leaders are eager to see continue. Sinkhorn, a junior, commented, "I’m taking on new leadership in our farm to school program, and I’m interested in learning new approach and finding ways to grow our activities." 

With two full days of workshops, lighting talks, networking sessions, poster presentations and  keynote addresses ahead, there will be countless opportunities for learning. Stay tuned to our blog for daily recaps highlighting the day’s events and experiences. We’ll also be sharing live content on our social media channels, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Follow along with the hashtag #Farm2Caf16. To see pictures from the conference, check out our Flickr page. There’s lots more great stories, key learnings and exciting highlights to come - stay tuned! 

Welcome to Wisconsin!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, February 17, 2016
This blog was written by the local hosts of the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference: The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, Community GroundWorks, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Learn more about them here

 Credit: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
As the local hosts of the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, we are thrilled to welcome you to Madison, Wis. this June for a national gathering of local food leaders, community health professionals and sustainable agriculture advocates working to change the culture of food and agricultural literacy across America. 

As a largely rural state, ensuring the economic viability of agriculture has always been a priority in Wisconsin. While historically our farmers have been invested in dairy and vegetable processing (canning), Wisconsin’s current agricultural landscape includes many small and medium-sized diversified farms that increasingly support local food markets. This strengthening of our local food system, and the diverse partnerships that are helping make it happen, exemplify the opportunities and benefits of the farm to cafeteria movement.  

At the center of this vibrant agriculture scene is Madison. In addition to being a hub for local food across the state, Madison was also home to Wisconsin's first coordinated farm to school program in 2003, called the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Program with the Madison Metropolitan School District. Since then, the farm to school movement has grown rapidly across the state, with more than 55 percent of all K-12 schools engaging in farm to school activities.

Our state has grown well beyond farm to school, though. In recent years, Wisconsin has seen significant expansion of farm to hospital, farm to college and university, and farm to early care and education activities. “The growth of farm to cafeteria in these sectors has been made possible by strong partnerships across the state,” says Sarah Elliott, Director of Wisconsin Farm to School at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. In fact, it’s these collaborative and innovative partnerships that have inspired this year’s conference theme, Moving Forward Together. 

With its bountiful school and community gardens, bustling farmers’ markets, and delicious restaurants, Madison is the perfect location for the conference. “We’re sure attendees will fall in love with Madison,” says Beth Hanna, Training and Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative at Community GroundWorks. “It's a great representation of what a strong farm to cafeteria effort can look like. We have great people, good food, and plenty of opportunities to bring those two things together.”  

In addition to sampling local foods at Madison’s restaurants, exploring Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, and visiting the nation’s largest producer-only farmers’ market, conference attendees will be able to immerse themselves in the city’s farm to cafeteria hotspots during hands-on field trips. “Whether you tour the food production center that preps schools meals or the hospitals making local, healthy food a priority, we are confident attendees will be inspired by the local food efforts powering Wisconsin’s farm to cafeteria movement, ” says Hanna. 

“We feel lucky to live among such lively and passionate farmers, food service directors, and advocates for local and regional foods,” says Vanessa Herald, Farm to School Outreach Specialist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. “There is genuine enthusiasm for the farm to cafeteria movement here, and we can’t wait to share it with conference attendees.” 

And share we will! The unique flavors of Madison and Wisconsin will be included in every aspect of the conference, from the menu to the Local Food Reception to the local plenary. But at our core, we’re most excited to highlight the inspired work of our dedicated state and regional farm to cafeteria partners. “The best part about strong farm to cafeteria relationships is that we love to see our partners succeed, and we want to keep lifting up their stories,” Herald says. “We’re so excited for the chance to do that through the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference.”

Come join us in Madison, June 2-4, for three exciting days of skill-building workshops, short courses, lightning talks, keynotes, networking opportunities and a taste of Wisconsin’s vibrant local food scene to help you bring home real food solutions to your community. We look forward to seeing you there!

Register Now

Registration for the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is now open. The last conference sold out before registration closed, so secure your spot today! Find more information about the conference program, venue, scholarships and registration at

Announcing the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference

NFSN Staff Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Save the date! The 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is coming to Madison, Wis., June 2-4 2016.

Cafeterias in schools, universities, prisons, hospitals and childcare centers serve more than 40 million Americans every day during the school year, placing the farm to cafeteria movement at the forefront of the fight to end obesity and strengthen local food systems. Think of it this way: a single school district often feeds more people in a day than all of a city’s restaurants combined. The National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, hosted by the National Farm to School Network, is the only national gathering of stakeholders from across the farm to cafeteria movement, making it the premiere opportunity to learn, network and collaborate with likeminded leaders from across the country.

This biennial event will convene more than 1,500 diverse stakeholders working to source local food for institutional cafeterias and foster a culture of food and agricultural literacy across America. Attendees will include food service professionals, farmers and food producers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, students and youth leaders, representatives from nonprofits and government agencies, public health professionals, and others engaged in the farm to cafeteria movement. 

The program will include 40+ workshops in a variety of topical tracks and formats, exciting plenary addresses delivered by leaders in the farm to cafeteria and local food movements, networking opportunities, a series of 5-minute “lightning talks,” a poster session and resource share fair, entertainment options and an evening reception showcasing Madison’s vibrant local food culture. The 2016 conference theme Moving Forward Together lifts up new and innovative partnerships to continue building momentum and ensure long-term sustainability in the movement.

Do you have farm to cafeteria expertise to share? We’re seeking workshop, poster and lightning talk proposals from individuals and organizations working to improve our food system, strengthen community health, empower youth, build equity and increase opportunities for farmers to share their expertise, successes and learnings with the farm to cafeteria movement. The Request for Proposals (RFP) is open now through Dec. 4, 2015.

Registration for the conference will open Feb. 15, 2016 – mark your calendars now! Learn more at  

Cultivating Food Justice with Farm to School

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 08, 2015
By Anna Mullen, Communications Intern

What does it mean for food to be just? And what factors must be considered in cultivating food justice? These questions were on the table at Just Food? A Forum on Justice in the Food System, recently held in Cambridge, Mass. Hosted by the Harvard University Food Law Society and Food Better Initiative, the event brought together activists, scholars and practitioners to explore the complex legal, political, health and environmental aspects of building a just food system. 

Food justice is interconnected with many other social justice causes, including farmworkers rights, racial justice and the environment. This multidimensional understanding of food justice requires that a plurality of voices be included in creating our vision of a just food system. Indeed, food is everyone’s issue, because everyone eats! Therefore, everyone has a hand in cultivating food justice. 

So, what’s the role of the farm to school movement in helping create a more just food system? 

  • Farm to school educates the next generation of conscious eaters: As Dr. Molly Anderson reminded listeners in her keynote address, the road to food justice is long, and will require years of activism. Farm to school is working today to help educate the next generation of food advocates. In classrooms, school gardens and cafeterias, more than 23.5 million students are engaged in farm to school across the country. By teaching kids about where food comes from – who grows food, how it is harvested, how to prepare delicious meals – farm to school is cultivating conversations about just food among our nation’s youngest eaters. 
  • Farm to school builds a spirit of inclusivity: Food is a bridge between people, communities and cultures – everybody eats! As a panelist at Just Food, Sunny Young, our Mississippi State Lead, shared how Good Food for Oxford Schools has partnered with other local organizations and churches to make healthy food a community affair. Their annual Gospel Choir Showcase in front of Oxford City Hall features local gospel music, dancing, healthy food samples and farm to school presentations from students and staff. The event brings the wider Oxford community together to celebrate the connections between the farm and their forks. Creative community collaboration can bring food change from the classroom out into the streets, and even to the steps of City Hall.
  • Farm to school can connect all students to healthy, local food: Many of our nation’s children eat two of their meals at school every day, so what better place to level the playing field on access to good food? Our Policy Associate, Natalie Talis, explained to the audience of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization workshop how the Farm to School Act of 2015 will expand and improve the popular USDA Farm to School Grant Program to reach more schools nationwide. And not only more schools, but also more preschools; critically important summer food service sites; after school programs; tribal schools and producers; and beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Collectively, these programs offer millions of children access to healthy, local food, irrespective of race, socioeconomic status or geographic location. Farm to school can connect all students to good food, and Congress has an opportunity to expand the programs supporting these efforts with the Farm to School Act. 
  • Farm to school supports small farmers: Student presenters from The Food Project emphasized that we need small-scale farmers in our communities to help know our food. Farmers make great food educators, and they’re also valuable contributors to local economies. Farm to school activities open the doors to an institutional market that spent an estimated $385 million on local food for schools during the 2011-2012 school year. Furthermore, farm to school facilitates farmer-community relationships, diverse markets and encourages grower cooperatives. It’s a win for farmers and the communities they help feed.

The National Farm to School Network is bound together by the vision that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential to the health of our children, farms, environment, economy and communities. It’s a vision that we believe is integral to the work of food justice. Join us

Reflections from Terra Madre 2014

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 10, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director    

Helen Dombalis, center, recently traveled to Turin, Italy to present at workshop titled "Challenges Facing the Sustainability of School Gardens."  

Today is Terra Madre Day, a day to reflect on the global Slow Food movement and to share inspiration from one of the world’s most important cultural forums. Hosted by Slow Food International, Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto bring nearly a quarter-million people (yes, you read that right!) to Turin, Italy every-other year in October to celebrate and preserve food cultures around the globe. Among them are 3,000 delegates traveling from more than 100 countries—all of them connecting, learning and renewing their commitments to improving the global food system so that it works for everyone. As my fellow 2014 delegate Jim Embry of Sustainable Communities Network in Kentucky put it, “Terra Madre is where you go to recharge your batteries.”

I am honored and privileged to have been among the 247 U.S. delegates in attendance this year. On the plane from JFK to Milan, I sat with an American-born chef running a restaurant in Mexico and an orchardist from California. I met cookbook authors, fishers and visionaries. I answered questions from a Grecian olive oil producer about getting started with farm to school and, in a workshop titled “Challenges Facing the Sustainability of School Gardens,” I told attendees how state policies in the United States are advancing the school garden movement. Although I was one of the only delegates with “policy” in my job title, I realized that I was among a big family of people with policy at their core, advocates for what Slow Food calls good, clean and fair food.

Helen listens to a presentation at Slow Food International's Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. 

Here are a few of the ideas that really impacted me:

Good food brings people together. As I found, you can sit at a table with seven people who speak different languages and laugh harder than you’ve laughed in a long time over the shared joy of a lemon and almond cookie. Or appreciate your family history through traditions like dad’s grilled barbeque chicken with corn and lima beans, and mom’s sour cream cornbread. As I walked towards the Ugandan booth where small, ripe bananas were displayed, a flood of happy memories came to me: I’d eaten so many of those bananas during my summer in Uganda in 2007. Now my work helps to ensure that kids across the United States have access to experiential education, like school gardens, so they can have memorable, community-building food experiences of their own. 

Clean food preserves natural resources. From tasting organic chocolate to listening in on Slow Fish conversations about the state of the world’s oceans, the concept of clean food was ever-present at the gathering. The Ark of Taste - a signature of this year’s gathering - reminded attendees that loss of biodiversity of foods is real.

Fair food advances food access. Slow Food International’s 10,000 Food Gardens in Africa initiative is a great example as it aims to increase the number of school, home and community gardens on the continent. Launched two years ago, the program has grown to include 2,000 documented gardens, and the goal is to reach 10,000 by Terra Madre 2016. With 35,000 people already involved in African garden projects, it’s exciting to think of how many more garden advocates will be activated with a quintupling of that number.

As Edie Mukiibi, VP of Slow Food International, said at a presentation about the African garden initiative, "the biggest yield of school gardens is not the food but the knowledge, motivation, hope” that gardens bring to children and families. That’s a belief we share here at the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). The benefits of farm to school are many, and kids, farmers and communities all win.

Get involved. Slow Food USA and the NFSN share many of the same values, and one of the primary areas where our work overlaps is around school gardens. Check out this guest post Slow Food USA contributed to our blog to announce the launch of their National School Garden Project in October. Their resources include a comprehensive school garden guide. Also check out NFSN’s own school garden fact sheet and explore other garden resources using the search functions on our resources pages. And if you haven’t already, please join the National Farm to School Network as we grow our partnership with Slow Food in the years ahead.

Farm to school highlighted at the F2Ti Symposium, New Orleans

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 04, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

Last month, I attended the 2nd Farm to Table International (F2Ti) Symposium in New Orleans. Farm to school was very well represented at this event and was a topic of great interest among attendees.

Katie Mularz, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) Louisiana State Lead kicked off a Statewide Farm to School Summit of stakeholders to strategize and plan the collaborative work that lies ahead to support robust farm to school activities in Louisiana. The high level of engagement of this group was impressive – they were thinking big about statewide legislative support for farm to school, but planning for baby steps towards it, such as populating a Louisiana Farm to School website to share best practices and promote networking, encouraging state agencies to have a unified voice with regards to farm to school, and perhaps hosting an in-person gathering twice a year to supplement the monthly calls that Katie hosts already. To stay connected with farm to school in Louisiana, contact Katie Mularz.

I had the opportunity to present at a plenary session, during which I highlighted the history, evolution and bright future of farm to school in the US, touching on the importance of local, state and national policy to raise the value placed on school meal programs.  

Through an informational workshop, Katie Mularz and Pam Kingfisher (NFSN’s South Regional Lead Agent ) described efforts at the state and regional levels, including work in tribal nations, and guided participants to resources in the region. Nicole Zammit, USDA Farm to School Southwest Regional Lead, shared the agency’s involvement and commitment to farm to school, with specific resources, grants and guidance on how to overcome challenges. Leesa Carter from the Captain Planet Foundation rounded off the discussion with best practices and lessons from their Learning Gardens program, which offers a curriculum kit, mobile, cooking carts, garden signs and guidance to elementary schools. This local initiative with schools in Atlanta, GA and Ventura, CA is going national this fall: Schools across the country will be able to apply to access these resources from Captain Planet Foundation. Stay tuned for more information on their website.

The local media was supportive of farm to school efforts too – check out this report from the TV show This Week in Louisiana Agriculture.

Also at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Kid Chef Eliana – author, radio show host and a local food personality, sharing her passion for real food. With the younger generation’s leaders like Eliana involved, the future of farm to school in Louisiana is bright.

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