Partnership Spotlight 3: Virginia Farm to School (F2S) Efforts

Some children participants at Families, Food, and Fun after-school program

For many years, the whole farm to fork movement, and the increased demand for children to have access to more fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthier lifestyles, have propelled great strides in the National Farm to School movement.  Collaborations between Virginia Cooperative Extension and folks working on various Farm to School efforts in Virginia are nothing new.  For example, lots of work has been done with the Family Nutrition Program in public schools, such as programs like “Families, Food, and Fun”–a partnership with Harrisonburg City Schools and VCE–in which some of the food used for cooking on site highlighted locally sourced produce and meats.  There are many other similar initiatives, too numerous to mention here.

More recently, the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team has been partnering with the Virginia Department of Education Farm to School program, working closely with F2S specialist Trista Grigsby.  A series of eight regional meetings were held around the state in February and March, 2018.  These meetings included an overview on food safety, procurement, and delivery/ distribution issues.  A key part of these interactive meetings was to develop networks and establish a roadmap for next steps in the Virginia F2S movement.  Participants ranged from school cafeteria and nutrition directors and school affiliated program leads, to recycling program directors, distributors, food hubs, farmers, non-profit groups, and other folks working with regional food systems.

One of eight regional kickoff meetings held in Virginia in February 2018, in which Trista Grigsby enthusiastically engaged key stakeholders to develop a vision for increasing access to more locally-grown foods in schools
Procurement talk sharing how ingredients can be locally sourced and used in breakfast, lunch, and after-school programs

Another outcome of the regional meetings, was that relationships among participants, both old and new, were fostered.  In fact, a direct outcome was a collaboration with FRESH and VCE-Fauquier.   FRESH (Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health) is a county-wide program to create a culture of health and wellness for students, staff and the community. The program is funded by a grant from the PATH Foundation, and focuses on creating positive and healthy changes in classrooms, cafeterias, after-school settings, and within the community.

In August, FRESH held a Farm to School Food Safety Training at Airlie Farm and Conference Center.  The training consisted of plenary sessions, along with two break-outs for Fauquier County School Nutrition Department staff.  The first breakout session, “Think Fresh and Fly”,  gave hands-on experience thinking on the fly to incorporate last minute additions of locally grown, seasonal produce into the current menu cycle with less than a day’s notice.  The second breakout session, “On farm food safety”,  gave participants an opportunity to see the farm side of ‘farm to school’ in order to help them be better prepared for the sorts of things to look for when sourcing produce locally.

Participants visiting Airlie’s Local Food Project garden as part of the second breakout session
Tim Ohlwiler, VCE-Fauquier, and I co-taught about on-farm food safety risks, including a walk around the garden and an exercise in which small groups identified risks given different scenarios.
One of the laminated photos used in the identification exercise

The training was a wonderful opportunity for staff to learn more about on-farm food safety risks, and how they can be more aware of possible contamination issues of produce they might purchase and handle.  We look so forward to our continued collaboration with Farm to School efforts in Virginia.  If you are interested in becoming involved and joining the Virginia Farm to School Network, complete this form

Partnerships Spotlight 2: Tricycle Urban Agriculture Fellowship Program

RVA’s Urban Farm on Bainbridge St & W 9th St

Tricycle Urban Agriculture  has been working with Richmond communities  since 2010, when it began Richmond’s first Urban Farm.  The work of Tricycle has not only grown literally in the size and number of its various farm and garden sites, but in its many partnerships geared to their outreach efforts around the Richmond area.  One of their successful programs is the Fellowship and Certificate program –“the first program of it’s kind designed in partnership with the USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service.”  Each year, fellows participate in an 11-month period that includes instruction and hands-on experiences about production practices, handling, marketing,  and the unique interests of each fellow.

RVA’s Urban Farm with Richmond in background
RVA’s Urban Farm tricycle mascot

For the last two years, Laura Strawn and I have been asked to come to teach the fellows about on-farm food safety risks and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  For Laura and I, this has been one of the highlights of our annual teaching together!   We typically provide an overview of how to assess risks–either in the classroom or on the farm, followed by an on-farm walk to provide lots of opportunities for questions and answers related to risks, GAP, monitoring, corrective actions, and documentation.

Laura teaching about on-farm risks and how to identify them on the farm
Fellows in break-out groups assessing risks for different scenarios

Between 2017 and 2018, we were impressed by the way Tricycle’s RVA Urban Farm had incorporated many changes  based on our walk through, including a covered packing area with stainless steel tables, and also the growth of the farm in terms of infrastructure and planting areas.

New covered packing area in front of walk-in cooler
Newer planting area on upper part of the farm

The relationship with Tricycle Urban Agriculture has been a rewarding one for all of us, especially knowing the fellows are learning about on-farm food safety so as to best equip them in whatever their future farming-related endeavors are.  Our training demonstrates how our team is taking bigger picture, on-farm food safety principles and applying them to different situations such as urban farm settings.  Our partnership also has helped us to better understand unique challenges facing our varied stakeholders and discussing possible solutions together.  We look very forward to more opportunities to work with Tricycle Urban Agriculture in the future!

Partnerships are a Vital Part of the Work of the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Team

On-farm Risk Assessment at Garner’s Produce in Warsaw, VA, along with VCE-Westmoreland, Conservation Fund, and FRESHFARM Market Staff. ©The Conservation Fund

Like all the efforts within Virginia Cooperative Extension, a critical component of the work of the Virginia Fresh Produce Food Safety Team is fostering and strengthening relationships with our many stakeholders.  It is within these valued relationships that we can discuss and better understand the felt and expressed needs of the various communities in which we live, and can together find the most strategic ways to tackle the issues and help address these needs.

Sometimes, the issues represent broader-based societal concerns that are challenging to remedy.  Other times, the needs may be more related to finding ways to take complex information and skills, and to distill it down into understandable resources, applied practices, and more easy-to-follow approaches.  Again, a fundamental part of being successful is working side by side with a diversity of partners–individuals, farms, community groups, market outlets, school and university systems, state and federal agencies, non-profit groups, etc..

In the next several blog posts, we wanted to share about some of those wonderful partnerships, so we can highlight several of the projects we are actively a part of and the ways we are working together for the common good!