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Youth for Healthy Schools

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 28, 2015
This week's Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative, which has empowered campus food service operations to serve fresh, healthy school meals; installed school gardens; launched food literacy programs; and assisted school districts in their aspirations to become centers of health and wellness. The Orfalea Foundation applauds the efforts of National Farm to School Network and is proud to be a sponsor of Farm to School Month. 
 Photo credit: Food Justice Collective 
Bottom photo: Ron Triggs at VEGGI Farmers' Cooperative 
By Ron Triggs, Grade 8, Edgar P Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, New Orleans

I have always lived in a food desert, meaning fresh and healthy food options are not readily available where I live. Instead, there’s a gas station corner store down the street from my house where most people buy food. At school, I want to see more fresh, healthy, culturally relevant foods in our school lunches. The New Orleans student of color population is at risk when it comes to eating nutritious and culturally relevant school meals. In Orleans Parish, an alarming 83.8% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch compared to the national average of 48.1%. And, students eligible for free or reduced-priced are disproportionately students of color - 88.1% of eligible students are Black

During the 2012-2013 school year, I and other youth organizers from Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools surveyed students, staff, and administrators in New Orleans schools about their perceptions of school food. Most students reported that school food is critical to getting them through the school day, and that they care about access to fresh, healthy and local food.

Try putting yourself in a student’s shoes. Why do you think students of color struggle to get food that is nutritious, healthy, culturally relevant and tasty in their schools? Is it just because they’re low income or there a bigger problem? I think the problem is not only about giving students access to healthy food at lunch – which is important – but is a problem directly related to our food system. 

We operate in an economy that privileges profit over people. The people who grow our food work hard for a living, but the majority of dollars generated in the food system go to those at the top – not the farmers. It’s a system that benefits corporations, not people. 

To better address the root causes of these issues – which we know affect the quality of our school meals – I joined a group called the Food Justice Collective, a collaboration between Rethink and VEGGI Farmers’ Cooperative. The Food Justice Collective is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic youth of color farming cooperative that shares the practice of collectively maintaining a farm plot as a way to unearth systems of racism and colonization that are at the root of why marginalized people lack access to healthy food, land and opportunities. Together, we’re working towards food sovereignty. 

We are engaged in farming to gain knowledge and skills to grow our own fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant food - the kind of food we are working to get in our schools. We are a ten member collective and we have invested our own money and time to make this collective work. We maintain and operate our own budget, purchase seeds and tools, and are developing relationships and an accountability structure necessary to carry out our farm plan.

In the Food Justice Collective, we practice cooperative economics: everyone works together with equal decision making power and ownership. We believe that by building a youth cooperative we can begin to rebuild a food system that guarantees money is invested within our own community, and that the quality of food available is our community is fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant. Our Food Justice Collective is a way for young farmers like myself to give my peers access the healthy food we really want. 

For us, food justice isn’t just about ending hunger or only about getting better school lunches. It’s about growing food naturally and being able to have food that is affordable, accessible and high quality. I would like to end with this Vietnamese proverb that we say at every Food Justice Collective meeting: 

An qua nho ke trong cay (in Vietnamese) 
Cuando comes fruta, recuerda quien planto el árbol (in Spanish) 
When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. 


Kids Rethink New Orleans and VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative are partner organizations of Youth for Healthy Schools, a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color in 10 states. Youth for Healthy Schools builds youth power in organizing for healthy and fresh school meals and snacks, safe places to play and exercise, strong school food standards and wellness policies and school wellness centers. Learn more about Youth for Healthy Schools here. 

A peachy pair: growing Florida peaches for Florida kids

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 15, 2015
This week’s Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative representing more than 1,800 organic farmers across the United States. Committed to fostering health and wellness in the youth of America, Organic Valley is proud to support the National Farm to School Network.
 Photo credit: Florida Farm to School Program
By the Florida Farm to School Program
Home to some of the first farm to school activities in the country, Florida has a robust history of connecting kids to fresh, healthy food and supporting local farmers. So when it became clear that Florida citrus farmers were severely struggling to grow oranges, the Florida Farm to School Program was eager to work with growers and schools to foster new partnership opportunities - with peaches!

In recent years, the Florida citrus industry has experienced significant difficulties with citrus greening – a disease that causes citrus trees to grow green, misshapen fruit, and has killed millions of citrus plants in the United States. According to the USDA, Florida is currently producing 60 percent less citrus than what it was just 15 years ago because of this plant disease. The 2014-2015 season was particularly bad, what Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam called “a new low for Florida’s citrus industry and our state’s signature crop.” Now, some Florida citrus growers are confronting these losses by diversifying their crop and growing peaches. 

The peaches they’re growing are a new variety of “Florida Peach” recently developed by researchers at the University of Florida. This special variety can tolerate longer periods of heat than most peach varieties, better fitting Florida’s warm climate. While these Florida peaches are generally smaller in size, they are harvestable months sooner than peaches in Georgia and South Carolina. 

As these Florida peaches began ripening, our Florida Farm to School Program teamed up with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to help farmers find markets for this delicious new crop. Our #1 idea? Schools! 

While most schools had never purchased Florida peaches before, many had been supportive of sourcing local food for school meals. Florida Farm to School had a network of schools to which we could promote these peaches, as well as the resources to connect and facilitate sales between growers and schools. For many citrus growers, this was a completely new market to prosper within. 

We were able to help secure new and experienced peach growers, and work with vendors and school distributors to assist with procurement. We worked to add peaches to the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program catalog, so school districts participating in the program had the opportunity to purchase fresh, Florida peaches. These districts responded with great enthusiasm to the new addition, which encouraged us to reach out to even more districts with this local fruit opportunity. 

With schools on board, the citrus farmers developed a relationships with Florida Classic Growers to create a special distribution packaging intended just for schools. This packaging can hold larger quantities of peaches than typically packages sold to grocery chains. The partnership demonstrates the opportunity and potential for schools, growers, processors and distributors to work together in creating a food supply chain that supports all parties involved. Check out the video above to see how it works!   

This spring 24 Florida school districts purchased 434,240 peaches for student to enjoy, and supported local citrus growers with more than $250,000 spent on this special local fruit. By working directly with farmers and school food service directors, the Florida Farm to School Team was able to help Florida citrus farmers during trying years, while also giving students the chance to eat a new, “Fresh from Florida” fruit in their school lunch. We’re excited to build upon this Florida Fresh Peach Promotion next season, and continue supporting economic development and healthy kids throughout our state. 

The Farmer Perspective: Championing the Farm to School Act of 2015

NFSN Staff Monday, April 27, 2015

By Alexandra Beresford, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“Farm to school is great for a community because it builds social capital around health and wellness and makes the connection between the farming community and local schools.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

Jason and Hannah Grimm display black beans grown on their Iowa farm. 

When most people think of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), they think of children. However, federal nutrition programs affect many stakeholders, including those who grow and produce the food that kids eats. That’s why the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is partnering with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to champion the Farm to School Act of 2015 – because farm to school programs can be just as much a win for farmers as they are for kids.  

NSAC supports policy reform to advance sustainable agriculture, food systems, and rural communities. Farm to school helps us achieve that goal by providing significant economic opportunities for farmers, fishers, and ranchers through an institutional market worth billions of dollars. As the farm to school movement has grown over the past decade, so has its impact on local farmers – in the 2011-2012 school year, a whopping $385 million was spent on local food.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue to strengthen this economic opportunity for farmers by improving the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The program has increased the use of and improves access to local foods in schools, boosting farmer incomes and local economies. It has also brought farmers and food service directors together in new ways, building relationships that are critical for laying the groundwork of robust local food economies. Thanks to farm to school programs, farmers are expanding their markets, building positive community relationships and increasing their incomes.

Today, NSAC and NFSN are headed to the Capitol with farm to school advocates – including farmers – from across the country to tell Congress why the Farm to School Act of 2015 is a critical component of the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Here’s what farmers are saying:

  • “Farm to school creates a local economic stimulus: I’m hiring people who spend money locally, I invest in equipment, I buy local inputs to grow the produce. Not only are kids improving their diet, with access to higher levels of nutrition in the fresh produce, but school kitchens are reducing waste. Personally, [farm to school] has given me a steady outlet to sell large volumes of product – my goal is to expand to additional schools in the Kansas City area.” —Mark Jirak, Farmer, Jirak Family Produce (Atchison, Kansas)

  • “I definitely see farm to school as an important opportunity for growth for farmers. As a farmer, I’m glad to sell to schools. I know fresh, local produce provides a healthier meal – and a better tasting one.” —Cliff Pilson, Farmer, CV Pilson Farm (Cameron, NC)

  • “Farm to school helps me plan what I grow. I work with school food directors, communicating with them about what they want and when, versus going to a farmers market with irregular sales and a diversified supply. Farm to school allows me to specialize – I plant what they order and have a secure sale.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

In our current agriculture system, farmers and ranchers receive only 16 cents of every dollar spent on food, down significantly from 31 cents in 1980.  Rural poverty and jobless rates are consistently higher than urban poverty rates, posing significant threats to rural communities and the economy as a whole. With these challenges facing America’s farmers, programs like farm to school have the power to revitalize local economies by connecting communities to local food producers. Farm to school not only provides healthy, local food options for our kids, but offers exciting new economic opportunities for our farmers. 


The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

Encouraging Future Farmers in North Carolina

NFSN Staff Friday, April 03, 2015

By Laura Fieselman, Executive Assistant

“I hope people will learn to revere farmers. And farmland too.” 
-North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler  

Farm to school doesn’t just happen in the cafeteria; it takes place in the classroom too. That was the case recently when North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of the university’s new Carolina Cooks, Carolina Eats initiative. The event afforded students an opportunity to interact with farm to school on a policy level, asking the Commissioner about North Carolina’s ports and the Department of Agriculture’s budget. It was also a chance for Commissioner Troxler to share what he’s most passionate about: farming. 


North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, speaks to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

A farmer himself, the Commissioner is no stranger to teaching and instilling ag excitement in young people. Commissioner Troxler encouraged the class to consider agriculture as a career – and not just farming, but also processing, transportation and the science of crop development. As the local food movement continues to take hold with schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutional buyers across the country, opportunities for new farmers and food businesses are expanding exponentially.  

The North Carolina Farm to School program has been serving fresh, local produce in the state’s lunchrooms since 1997. Originally a pilot project with strawberries, today the program has grown to serve tomatoes, zucchini, collards and sweet potatoes, along with blueberries, cantaloupes, apples, peaches and sprite melons. During the 2013-2014 school year, nearly a million dollars worth of North Carolina produce was served to the state’s students in farm to school programs. That’s a lot of food dollars reinvested in local and regional agriculture. 

The National Farm to School Network believes that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential for building healthy kids and healthy communities. In North Carolina, Troxler is helping students learn this in the classroom, and encouraging them to taste it too. 

Learn more about how farm to school is a win for kids, win for farmers and win for communities here.   






Feeding and Teaching the Next Generation

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest post by Wendy Allen, Organic Valley


Susan Hardy helps a PS41 student grind corn the old fashioned way. (Photo courtesy Organic Valley) 

We at Organic Valley have always believed that farm to school programs are vital to the health of our children as well as to our communities. Farm to school lets students learn creatively, physically, personally. It’s hands-on and fun, and these two qualities almost always guarantee a great learning experience for kids and adults. And it’s even better when the experiences also support local family farms and economies. Here are the stories of two schools (and two farmers) who are making a difference: 

The Harvest Challenge

Organic Valley is a cooperative of member-farms located all across the country, and many of the communities in which our farmers live also have farm to school programs. One program located near our headquarters in southwestern Wisconsin is Vernon County Farm to School. Even though this is a rural area, many of the students here had never seen, let alone grown, vegetables like garlic and eggplant. Vernon County Farm to School also organizes an after-school gardening opportunity, teaches nutrition education, runs a Harvest of the Month program, and—
the highlight of the year—hosts a Harvest Challenge.

Created as a fundraiser for Vernon County Farm to School, the Harvest Challenge matches teams of high school students with school staff mentors and local chef mentors. The teams and their mentors must create recipes that use local, seasonal foods; cost less than $1 per serving; and meet all school nutrition requirements. Oh, and of course the recipes have to taste good, too! If the recipes meet all the requirements, then they can be used in the Vernon County Schools’ lunch menus.

After the judging—which rates the recipes on presentation, use of local food, knowledge of school nutrition requirements, taste and aesthetics—the teams are then truly put to the test: They prepare their recipe for about 300 community members, who then vote on their favorites.

“We are really able to reach out to the high school students in our county with the Harvest Challenge,” says Ashlee Gabrielson, outreach coordinator for Vernon County Farm to School. “They are not only able to connect with a staff member but also a local chef who has volunteered to help their team out. This really connects our communities to our schools and gives them support. Also, students really learn an appreciation for their food service staff and how challenging and how much work it is to make these meals on a budget and at the quantity they make them.”

Susan Hardy and her husband, David, walk the pastures of their organic family farm in New York State. (Photo by David Nevala for Organic Valley) 

Farmers visit the big city

Many Organic Valley farmers enjoy visiting local schools to talk about organic farming with the students. David and Susan Hardy and Maureen Knapp, organic farmers in New York State, travel into New York City to visit Public School 41 (PS41) a couple times a year. Coming with them to the classroom are jars of organic cream that will be shaken into butter by little hands and sometimes the peeping of fluffy chicks, which the kids hold in their hands with wide-eyed wonder. These visits connect students to farm life and give them food and farm experiences they would never get otherwise. Our farmers may be too humble to brag, but these personal visits make such an impact on young minds. We are proud to brag on their behalf.


We believe family farming is the key to healthy food systems, healthy communities and healthy children. Not only are organic family farmers growing food for us, but they are being good stewards of the land by reducing their impact on it and passing on important knowledge to our children, who most certainly will be the next generation of responsible, conscious eaters, and who just might be the next generation of farmers to care for the land that feeds us all. 

The people factor: Funding farm to school

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest post by Gary Matteson, The Farm Credit System 


Linking local farms and schools is about building a network of supply and demand. That sounds like a terribly sterile economics class lecture until you insert the “people” factor into it. Where farm to school is concerned, the people are kids, who are empowered to make better food choices and learn where their food comes from, and farmers, who are able to expand their market.

The long-term effect of farm to school is yet to be seen, but I speculate that getting local food into schools is a powerful way to maintain local communities. This applies both to supporting farm businesses that keep economic activity circulating in the region as well as the mindset of kids who grow up knowing that some of their food is local—and maybe even that a career in farming is something to pursue.

Farm Credit lends money to farmers so that they can operate successful businesses. Part of being a successful farm business is finding a place to sell what you grow. Farm to school increases access to markets for farmers and educates the community in the richness of having local food from local farms.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Farm Credit supports farm to school, since farm to school also helps farmers. But it may be a surprise that Farm Credit does this in different ways, in all sorts of communities. 

Here in Washington, DC, the Farm Credit organization known as CoBank gave two refrigerated trucks to the DC Central Kitchen. The trucks travel to auctions where local farmers sell their fruits and vegetables.  Those fruits and vegetables become part of the 2,500 meals provided daily to eight DC public and two private schools.  Another portion of what those trucks carry is taken to small “bodega” corner stores in communities where access to fresh produce is limited.  And, finally, those trucks carry some of the 5,000 meals a day that DC Central Kitchen prepares for the city’s homeless population.

In New Hampshire, Farm Credit East sponsored the second annual New Hampshire Farm to School conference, which brought together farmers, fishermen, teachers, school food service directors, non-profits and others to look at school gardens, composting, fundraising, institutional procurement, opportunities for new and beginner farmers, communications, and farm-based education and curricula.

 The Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit sponsored the Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest.  The winners were chosen from Arkansas schools, grades pre-K through 12, that had a school garden open during the 2013-14 school year.

These examples from around the country are all local efforts, aimed at improving local communities.  Farm Credit seeks to build public understanding of agriculture in many ways, and it often involves making connections between farms and schools.  Supporting farm to school programs is our way of keeping the “people” factor in mind, so that school kids, teachers, farmers and others can share knowledge, eat better and benefit the local economy at a scale that communities can absorb and learn from.

Gary Matteson works for the trade organization of the Farm Credit System in Washington, DC as Vice President, Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach. A former farmer and agricultural entrepreneur, he now works in local foods and emerging markets.

In celebration of farmers

NFSN Staff Friday, October 03, 2014

Guest post by Kathie Starkweather, Center for Rural Affairs
Center for Rural Affairs and the National Center for Appropriate Technology serve as the Midwest Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Farm to School Month than to honor the reason farm to school exists: Farmers.

Anybody out there who has tried to grow food in a pot, a small garden, vertically, horizontally … you name it, you know what a challenge it can be. Pests gravitate to your lovely plants. Weather conditions are rarely perfect: too much heat, too much rain, not enough rain, not enough heat…. Growing food isn’t easy. 

So what gets you through all of trials and frustrations? Love and enjoyment for what you are doing. The sense of accomplishment you feel as you see your plants grow, flower and produce. The amazing taste and color of the foods you’ve toiled over. Providing for your family. 

Most of us raise food as a hobby. If we have a hailstorm or a drought, we are disappointed and frustrated, but it doesn’t impact our income or our family very much. You might miss out on the pleasure of eating fresh peas right off the vine, but if you have a farmers’ market in your area, you can find a farmer who is selling them.

Take that love of growing things and eating good food and all those challenges and risks, multiply them many times, and you have a farmer. I want to tell you about three farmers I know and why they do what they do: 

Darlin' Reds Farm

I know two young women who started a small vegetable farm called Darlin' Reds. They both have off-farm jobs, as many farmers and farm families do in order to get by. And while they are fortunate to do work they enjoy in their off-farm jobs, their true passion is growing food and providing it to people like you and me. 

They want children, some of whom have never tasted a fresh vegetable, to eat their tasty squash, peppers and carrots. They want kids to know where their food comes from and that the veggies on their lunch tray come with a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears and love. 

So they toil in 110-degree weather, making sure their plants are okay. Since they farm organically, they pull weeds instead of spraying them. They invest in their farm by adding season-extending hoop houses so they can provide schools with a few more months of fresh vegetables.

It’s hard work, but they think it is worth it if just one more child can experience the taste of a fresh green bean or learn that asparagus tastes pretty darned good. 

Prairie Pride Poultry

A young farmer-veteran I know named Dan raises chickens and sells eggs. He first connected to the land through his grandparent’s farm. Prairie Pride Poultry was started about a year and a half ago, and today has over 500 chickens. Visit his farm and you’ll find those 500 chickens clucking through greening grass and clambering for bugs. With over 450 eggs collected every day, he is pleased and expanding his markets. In the fall of 2013, Dan sought out the food service director at York Public Schools, which is close to his farm. As both of them tell the story, a mutually beneficial relationship began.

The food service director recognized that pasture-raised birds produce healthier eggs. Providing the best food to students was important to her. It has become a great partnership, not only for the students and Dan but also for the teachers and office staff who are now buying eggs from Prairie Pride Poultry.

I write this blog post to celebrate farmers and thank them for what they do. Without them we would have no farm to school program, and we would have no access to fresh, healthy food. 

See if you can find a farmer and thank him or her today in honor of National Farm to School Month. And next time there is a 110-degree day or a month-long drought, remember how lucky you are that somebody is out there, growing food for you and making sure our kids have the best possible food on their cafeteria trays. 

Profile: Desiree and Cal Wineland, American Butchers & Veterans Vineyard and Winery

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 01, 2014


Editor's note: This week we are profiling a few of the wonderful people we met at the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin last month. More than 1,100 farm to cafeteria movers and shakers gathered for four days of inspiring field trips, workshops, keynotes and more. We are excited to share their stories. 

Heading west

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Desiree and Calvin Wineland’s two young boys, Calvin and Austin, were in the Pentagon daycare center. They had arrived a week earlier because Desiree had been selected for an Army Congressional Fellowship. Both Desiree and Cal were helicopter pilots in the Army, but they never expected they would bring their kids anywhere near a battlefield. They all made it home safe that night, and while discussing the day’s events and the consequences that would surely follow, the Winelands made a solemn promise to their children that they would keep them out of harms way, and the middle of Nebraska, near where Cal's great-grandparents homesteaded, seemed like the place to do it. It would take a few years before they were able to retire and make their move.

 

Generations before, Cal’s family had made a similar journey, pushing west across the Great Plains, settling on the shores of the Republican River near Cambridge, Nebr., about 300 miles shy of the Rocky Mountains. It was here that Calvin, Desiree and their two kids would make a new life.

Once they had decided to move to Nebraska, Desiree began studying local history, trying to figure out what to do. She learned that early settlers planted grapes. The idea that they would be following in the steps of the pioneers appealed to them, and so did the idea of giving their friends a reason to visit rural Nebraska. But first, they needed to figure out how to grow grapes and make wine.

Wine making and grape growing involves a surprising amount of chemistry. Desiree commuted to Denver every weekend for a year to get certified through the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) and became involved with the American Chemical Society. As they learned more, they expanded their vision for the vineyard to include using it as a field lab for students. With approval from the local school district, they started teaching kids how to grow grapes, taking them through the process from soil samples through BRIX testing. 

Another new venture

It takes grape vines 3-5 years to produce fruit after they are planted, so once the work of choosing the right grapes and establishing the vines was done, the Winelands needed another projects to keep them busy. While they now knew a lot about viticulture, all of their new friends were mostly interested in cattle, a topic Desiree knew nothing about. Their interest grew, however, and soon the Winelands enrolled in the University of Nebraska to become certified in all things beef.

 

As the Winelands learned more about agriculture and the dwindling incomes farmers face, they started to think of ways they could cut out the middle-men so that farmers could keep more of their own profits. Farm to school programs emerged as a great solution for produce, but because all meat processing is centralized, there were logistical hurdles to selling local beef to local schools. 

 

Having hit a dead end, the Winelands needed a sign. A few nights later, they got one. A local preacher, Bill Weaver, came to the door of their farmhouse. He said that if they wanted to create jobs and support agriculture, he had a great opportunity. He started describing a facility that needed new management. It was a "locker," he told them. The only problem was that if this "locker" wasn’t part of a locker room at a gym, then Desiree had no idea what it was.

 

The following Monday, the Winelands travelled to the neighboring town of Beaver City to get their first look at the locker. It was a meat locker, and it was in a state of disrepair. 

In the military, officers are constantly put into situations where they are totally unfamiliar with their surroundings. They are trained to learn quickly and rely on the expertise of people around them. Where many people would have walked away, the Winelands used their training to assess the situation, quickly realizing that the locker was the key to processing meat for local farmers and delivering it to local schools. They decided to set up shop, and American Butchers was established in April 2011.

 

A community focus

Instead of focusing on scale, they focused on the relationship they had with farmers. They established a set price for farmers to use the locker and encouraged farmers to sell their beef for whatever they could get, keeping the difference. That stood in stark contrast to the big corporate operations that buy cattle for rock bottom prices and churn out as much beef as they can, as quickly as possible. 

In communities like Cambridge, Nebr., trust trumps money. Cal and Desiree set out to earn the trust of local farmers and ranchers by cleaning up their facility and establishing high standards. They also started working with schools, donating organs to biology classes and engaging with FFA and 4-H groups. They are currently working on a new program through which show animals raised by 4-H and FFA students will be purchased by local business leaders, processed, then sold to schools at a discount. Posters on the cafeteria wall will advertise the student's hard work: "Now serving Amelia's pork.

 

The Winelands have learned that there are many ways to start a farm to school program and many potential leaders. Sometimes the change-maker is the superintendent, sometimes it's the nutrition director, and sometimes it's the passionate owner of a meat locker.

 

We are showing kids how they can build businesses and how their English and business teachers can help them build business plans while their math teachers are helping with the finances," Desiree says. "There are setbacks and delays, but like plants or anything that grows, it takes a lot of elements working together. And it takes time.”

 

Through their efforts, the Winelands have won awards and have even been honored by the governor of Nebraska. But the highest honor they have received is the respect of the farmers and ranchers in their community. Desiree knew she had earned this respect on the day she received the simplest of invitations.

There's a table at Shirley K’s coffee shop in Cambridge where a group of farmers gather for coffee every day. Seats at this table are more coveted than seats on the city council. But recently, when Desiree dropped into Shirley K’s, one of the old men called her over and asked her to join them so they could hear about all about what she and Calvin had been up to. It’s hard to overstate this honor.

 

Meanwhile, the grapes that were planted in the spring of 2011 are growing. If all goes well, their first harvest will be in the summer of 2016. In the Army, Desiree would inspect her troops as they stood at attention to see how they were doing and to make sure they were mission-ready. Now she says that each one of the vines is like a formation of soldiers. She inspects them as she walks the fields – from top to bottom – correcting anything that is out of order.

 

After a career in the military where she always had a mission to accomplish, Desiree says she spent her first years in Nebraska searching for her next mission. "When I arrived, I was lost," she said. "But through agriculture I found a mission and my purpose. Agriculture saved me.”

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