Working Together to Improve School Food: Shelburne Farms Hosts the James Beard Foundation’s 8th Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change

Last month, Shelburne Farms hosted the James Beard Foundation (JBF)’s eighth Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, a three-day intensive training for chefs in policy and advocacy. A partnership with the Chef Action Network (CAN), JBF boot camps leverage prominent chefs as changemakers on food issues. It’s a mission in step with our work here at the Farm. Since boot camp, I’ve been reflecting on the synchronicities between our organizations, despite our differing roles within the food sector.

JBF celebrates, nurtures, and honors America's diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. Like Shelburne Farms, which coaches teachers to educate for sustainability to transform schools, JBF prepares chefs to advocate to transform food systems. Teachers have the potential to touch the lives of hundreds of young people, as chefs inspire broad changes in consumer tastes and industry preferences. Now, more chefs are taking their work beyond the kitchen, using their voices to call on business and policymakers to support a more sustainable, just, and nutritious food system.

The focus of this JBF Boot Camp – improving school food and childhood nutrition – gets at the heart of Shelburne Farms’ work. Through Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), our project with NOFA-VT, and our role as Northeast Lead of the National Farm to School Network, we’ve so far supported over 30% of Vermont public schools and reached more than 27,000 students with farm to school programs. Vermont schools with farm to school programs report greater school meal participation, better ability to provide a variety of vegetables in school lunch, and twice the national average in vegetable consumption.

We’re widening our farm to school efforts for broader impact, too. In 2013, we published a kitchen-ready first-of-its-kind cookbook for and by school chefs that features local foods and follows USDA school meal guidelines. This year, thanks to a $100,000 USDA grant, we hosted the country’s first-ever regional farm to school gathering as part of our year-long Northeast Farm to School Institute.

There’s much to improve around school food and childhood nutrition, where politics are complex. (Check out this Civil Eats article and National Farm to School blog for a lowdown). As Betsy Rosenbluth, VT FEED’s Project Director, discussed in an earlier post, we need to support school food and child nutrition policies with programming that connects kids with food at multiple levels: in the classroom, cafeteria, and community. To accomplish this, we need more voices at the table.

This is where chefs come in. Chef-advocates at the latest JBF Boot Camp included Ann Cooper (aka “the Renegade Lunch Lady”), a powerful national voice for school food reform; Bill Yosses, the former White House Pastry Chef who recently left his post to help integrate cooking into schools across the nation; and others. As community members, business owners, economic drivers, and even celebrity figures, chefs have the potential to be powerful food systems change leaders, including positively affecting the lives of children, our future. We’re glad to unite in efforts with JBF, CAN, and the 13 other Chefs Boot Camp participants who joined us on the farm to create greater school food transformation in years to come.

Stay up to date with Shelburne Farms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and the James Beard Foundation (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) on social media. You can follow CAN chefs via Twitter or the hashtag #chefsleads. October is National Farm to School Month. See what’s happening across the country via #F2SMonth

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