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National Farm to School Network


Farm to School Without Borders: U.S. and Canada Movements

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 07, 2020

Guest blog by Katie Kennedy, Farm to Cafeteria Canada contributor 

On February 24, 2020, it was announced that Joanne Bays is transitioning out of her role as National Director of Farm to Cafeteria Canada. The organization has been an important driver of the farm to school movement in Canada, with a mission “to bring local, healthy and sustainable foods into all public institutions”. As co-founder of Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Bays has been in this role since its inception in 2011. 
Being about a decade behind the U.S. farm to school movement, Bays has often looked to the U.S. National Farm to School Network for inspiration and guidance on how to navigate the movement in Canada. In doing so, a strong relationship was developed between Bays and Anupuma Joshi, the former Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network, as the two shared similar roles across borders. Today, the relationship between organizations continues to grow under new leadership, with Helen Dombalis as the current Executive Director in the U.S., and the soon to be determined National Director in Canada.

The key to this relationship has been that both organizations view farm to school as being without borders; meaning that these movements work with one another despite occurring in two separate countries, each with their own unique contexts and challenges. Still, the connection between the organizations has certainly played an important role in continuing to shape farm to school in each country. Bays mentioned how valuable it has been for her having someone out there doing similar work and leading the same kind of national movement, as they can mentor each other and share insights, expertise and strategies. Dombalis similarly spoke to the benefits of their working relationship wherein the two share metrics and evaluation methods, capacity building efforts and discuss the ways in which they embed all the values of farm to school into their roles, such as equity and climate change mitigation and adaptation. 
Despite the Canadian movement being the younger of the two, Dombalis mentioned a number of ways she has been inspired by Bays and farm to school in Canada. 

She appreciates “[Bays’] visionary style of the number of people to include in the movement and illuminating conversations about messaging and strategies to involve new people in the movement.” She also applauds Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s work administering direct-to-school grant programs in Canada, and cites the organization’s successful partnership with the Government of Canada, as well as efforts to encourage embedding Indigenous ways of knowing into farm to school best practices, as sources of inspiration to the U.S. movement. 

In turn, there is a great deal of work that has been done in the U.S. that has directly inspired Bays and the Canadian movement. 

“I see the strength of the US network, the way they communicate and share information, ideas and resources. The way they track and evaluate impact and – importantly – I see advocacy efforts with positive results, even in the most challenging political and economic contexts. These efforts serve as inspiration we can apply here in Canada.”

Specifically, Bays and the Farm to Cafeteria Canada team have been able to look at the tools, information and resources available in the U.S. to inform their own activities. For example, Bays appreciated coming to understand the governance models of the US National Farm to School Network – particularly a national network of regional leads to inspire the movement in communities across the country. A similar model is now evolving in Canada to support a national community of practice for farm to school. Additionally, when Bays saw that the U.S. had created a map that illuminated national farm to school trends, and that it was catching the attention of policy makers, she was inspired to develop a similar map to reflect relevant activity in Canada. 

Looking to the next chapter of farm to school in both countries, both Dombalis and Bays are encouraged by the strength of their organizations’ relationship and look to the future with positivity. 

Dombalis spoke with admiration when reflecting on Bays’ announcement. “Her retirement is another example of how [Bays] demonstrates her leadership… [it] sends a signal that there are future generations that can contribute positively to the movement.” Dombalis hopes that the future leader embodies three main values that Bays stands for: 1) the value of partnership between Canada and the U.S. and a focus on connections; 2) being centered around equity and social justice; and 3) the importance of a whole-system approach, and the potential to use policy and advocacy as ways to transform systems for the better. 

Likewise, while moving on to pursue a new chapter in her own path, Bays is excited to see the relationship continue between the Canadian and U.S. farm to school movements. She reflects that the two organizations have worked so well together on various events, such as conferences and linking their respective National Farm to School Month celebrations, and they share many common goals and values. 

When asked why now is the right time to transition from her role, Bays responded, "You know the time is right when you can see the vision that was articulated by a group of brilliant and driven individuals coming to life. You know the time is right when thousands are rolling up their sleeves to close the distance between field and tray. You know the time is right when both the leadership and resources are in place to see this activity continue to blossom in the sun for years to come.”

It seems clear that despite a coming change in leadership within the Canadian movement, we can expect to see continued collaboration between Canada and the U.S. to support the future health of both people and planet, as the two countries embody “Farm to School Without Borders”.

Learn more about Farm to Cafeteria Canada at

This article was written by Katie Kennedy, BSc Food, Nutrition and Health – UBC. Katie has a strong interest in sustainable food systems and farm to school programs. She is passionate about food security, nutrition and the health of the planet. She is a contributor to Farm to Cafeteria Canada. 


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