Last week, I, along with Stacy Kannawin from the Local Orbit team, attended the 2016 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison, WI and it was inspiring! The theme of “Moving Forward Together” was prevalent throughout the words of the keynote speakers and the content and discussions of the workshops & lightning talks. We met with a wide range of attendees from foodservice directors, to farmers, to policy makers and many other folks that are working hard to get fresh, locally grown food into cafeterias across the country.

We heard from a diverse range of speakers who spoke about some of the key challenges, issues and successes experienced by those working to shift more local food into cafeterias. Some of the highlights:

Debra Eschmeyer, Let's Move!

Debra Eschmeyer, Let’s Move!

Debra Eschmeyer, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition in the Office of the First Lady at the White House, spoke about the important progress that is being made on Farm to Cafeteria initiatives and the efforts of the First Lady Michelle Obama to implement policies that help keep the momentum going.

Ricardo Salvador, Director and Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists spoke eloquently about the need to work towards creating “a food movement driving the creation of integrated food systems, that will nourish thriving land and people and can unite us by drawing upon our vision, diversity and creativity.”

Hearing these dedicated folks speaking about these issues reminds me of the incredible progress that has been made–and also about work that still needs to be done to help reshape our local food systems. Another theme that was threaded throughout each discussion was the need for more information and tools. We heard from foodservice directors about the many barriers they face in trying to source locally. We heard from suppliers and food hubs that want to sell to institutions, but don’t know how to get started.

It was encouraging to see that there are many organizations working to support both producers and foodservice buyers through a variety of initiatives. We learned about state extension offices facilitating Group GAP certifications and we heard how foodservice directors are finding creative ways to offer fresh, local foods in their cafeterias. We learned about how organizations such as Healthcare Without Harm, Real Food Challenge and School Food FOCUS are collaborating to leverage their collective power to transform local supply chains. And the most fun initiative of all, the Great Apple Crunch, which encourages schools to “crunch” into local apples on the same day and time to show support for local foods.

Producers, distributor and Foodservice Operators need tools and resources to help them grow their local food systems, and Local Orbit’s priority is to help make these resources widely available, through our online tools, resources such as The Local Food Distribution Toolkit, as well as our consulting and training services.

Photo credit: Chelsey Simpson

Photo credit: Chelsey Simpson

We are excited to continue discussions from the Farm to Cafeteria Conference as Local Orbit plans the next iteration of its acclaimed Hub Camps. We’re taking what we’ve learned from our first five Hub Camps and continued work with food hubs, distribution entrepreneurs, and institutional purchasers and applying this to Hub Camp 2.0 – Transparency, Collaboration & Shared Value in Local Food Economies. We’re adding new curriculum designed to support growing food hubs and non-commercial foodservice professionals working to expand their local sourcing impact, as well as food banks and Feeding America partners who are exploring their role in local distribution.

I’d like to thank The National Farm to School Network for their hard work to make this conference a valuable learning experience. I walked away with a deeper understanding of the challenges that foodservice directors and farmers face, which I can integrate into my work as Local Orbit’s Product Manager, with a responsibility for developing tools and services to re-link local food systems. Events like the 2016 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference give us the opportunity to step out of the daily work of running a business and hear people’s stories which, in turn, gives us a better understanding of how we can best support them in our daily work. We look forward to supporting the continuing momentum as we move forward together.

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