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!
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 farmtocafeteriaconference.org.