Talking Farm to School on World Food Day, Milan, Italy
In October, I flew off to Milan, Italy, but not for a vacation. As the Project Director of VT FEED (Vermont Food Education Every Day) and Northeast Regional Lead for the National Farm to School Network, I was invited to speak on World Food Day at the 3rd International Conference on Food Education at the EXPO Milan 2015.
We were honored to represent Vermont and share the State’s experience with, knowledge of, and leadership in food and farm education. A project of Shelburne Farms and NOFA-VT, VT FEED acts as a catalyst for rebuilding healthy food systems by helping to grow farm to school programs in classrooms, cafeterias, and communities and raising awareness about healthy food, good nutrition, and the role of Vermont farms and farmers in helping sustain a healthy community.
My presentation, “How Farm to School is Creating a More Sustainable Future,” looked at Vermont’s growing farm to school culture. I stressed the importance of connecting farms to schools in the classroom, cafeteria, and local communities—and the impact that has on creating a more sustainable economy and environment, and improved social equity, through a foundation of education.
The theme for the six-month-long Universal Exhibition was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” More than 149 participating countries showcased the best of their cultures and emerging technologies to address problems we face in the areas of global nutrition and resources. The Conference on Food Education was developed specifically to showcase food-related educational projects and best practices that involve schools, consumers, farms, and other organizations. It was also an opportunity to establish an international dialogue to share valuable knowledge around the common goal of engaging young people in building more sustainable food systems. Other speakers at the Conference included institutions from the Lombardy region of Italy, Italian farmers, a representative of the European Union, and representatives from organizations in Switzerland, Scotland, Cameroon, and England. It proved to be an important international stage for sharing the Vermont farm to school model and values.
I was amazed at the similarities between the issues and work being done in the U.S. and Europe. Everywhere, it seems, children are increasingly disconnected from their sources of food. In many areas, farmers are aging, yet the younger generation is disinterested in farming and doesn’t really know how to continue that work anyway. We discussed the need to shift from educating consumers to educating citizens to fight some of these trends. Italy has a great network of Learning Farms, which reminded me of the successes of the Farm-Based Education Network that Shelburne Farms spearheads.
All of it just emphasized to me how important it is to educate and engage students with food and farms in classrooms, cafeterias, and communities. I certainly left Italy with a renewed commitment to this work that I do with VT FEED and the wider Farm to School movement. And I left feeling a stronger bond with the international community that is dedicated to a similar vision.