Last week's National Farm to School conference draws 700, showcases city's food system innovations

More than 700 food activists, farmers, school administrators and city officials packed the Renaissance Center from May 17 to 19 for the fifth annual National Farm to Cafeteria Conference. Hosted by the National Farm to School Network, attendees were immersed in the politics and logistics of incorporating fresh, local food into school meals.

Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of the USDA, was the conference's keynote speaker. She focused on how Michigan agriculture can tap into the economic opportunity of local and regional food markets and the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which is USDA's effort to rebuild and revitalize rural communities and help farmers stay on the farm. While in town, she visited the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network's 2-acre D-Town Farm.

James Johnson-Piett of Philadelphia was in attendance, both for his role as a consultant to the Detroit Green Grocer Project (formerly Fresh Food Access Initiative) and as a board member of the Community Food Security Coalition. He said that Detroit itself clearly shone through as an item on the conference agenda. "We came together in a place that isn't seen as innovative and (everyone could see) how innovative and avant-garde Detroit is around food," he says. "(Farm to Cafeteria) showcased the place in a way that other conferences don't really."

To Johnson-Piett, local standouts are Greening of Detroit and Gleaners. "I love what they are doing with training," he says. "Everyone is talking about vacant land, no one is talking about (vocational training) -- you don't become a farmer after six months or even a year."

Source: James Johnson-Piett, Urbane Development
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

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