I will be speaking at the Southeast Farm to School Conference in Greenville, SC, Sept 24, 2016!

Southeast F2S Conference Speakers

I am honored and excited to get the chance to speak with these amazing people and sharing the session with Beverly Girard of Sarasota County School Board.

Our session will be on Farm to School procurement of Florida produce in the school lunch program as well as the collaboration between UF/IFAS, local FNS office, and community partners.

“Partnering for an Amazing Farm to School Program” (intermediate)
Beverly Girard, Sarasota County Schools, FL
Malory Foster, University of Florida IFAS Extension
Learn how Sarasota County Schools have developed ambassadors for farm to school, both within the school district and in the greater community. Local chefs, health care professionals, school board members, local farmers, the local food bank, gardeners, Cooperative Extension – all are taking part in F2S, and making the long-term success of the program a priority in our community.

Usually held as the ASAP Growing Minds Farm to School Conference in Asheville, NC, this larger regional conference was supported by a USDA grant to grow to the Southeast US. Info and registration is here at the Growing Minds site.

Energy Producers of the Future

The dietary preferences of populations play an important role in the energy efficiency of food systems. Several times per day we decide whether or not we will eat something nourishing to our bodies, but there are always so many factors that can play into that decision: cost of food, time available for preparation, one’s mood, and present company just to name a few. Perhaps not so surprisingly, yet again, that which is good for us is also better for the planet. When we choose whole foods instead of processed foods like candy bars, fast food, and anything that comes in a box or bag, we make a healthier choice for our body and also choose a product with a smaller carbon footprint. Processed foods require more fossil fuel energy to produce, process, and transport than whole locally-grown foods, and they also create non-recyclable or compostable waste such as plastic wrappers (Pimentel et al. 2008, 468).

Unfortunately, currently the food system in the United States is powered “almost entirely by non-renewable energy sources,” and only two percent of the population works to produce energy in the form of food (Pimentel et al. 2008, 468; Fridley 2012, 75). Contrast that figure to the year 1870 in which seventy percent of the population were farmers (Fridley 2012, 75). The recent trend is bent toward more people living in cities, globalization, and demographic changes which lead to fewer people living as energy producers and more people consuming energy at a faster rate (Pelletier et al. 2011). On average through our food system, Americans burn through 2,000 liters per year in oil equivalents, nineteen percent of America’s total energy use (Pimentel et al. 2008, 459). In order to create thriving local food systems, we need to train and recruit at least forty-five million more farmers (Ackerman-Leist 2013). Among many school garden initiatives and farm to school activities which encourage students to steward the land and grow up food literate, the USDA (2015) also launched its beginning farmer programs to help support new farmers. The National Young Farmers Coalition is working to support young farmers in overcoming the barriers to entry into farming such as land acquisition and student loan forgiveness (National Young Farmers Coalition 2015). It is my hope that these cross-disciplinary collaborative efforts will help Americans to become the energy producers of the future.

Eating less processed food, more fruits and vegetables instead of animal products, and locally produced foods all help to reduce energy inefficiency in our diets (Pimentel et al. 2008, 468). When we choose local, that economic impact has a ripple effect in our community by staying many times longer in local hands. “Whenever possible, taking advantage of locally grown foods and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs will conserve energy” (Pimentel et al. 2008,468). We can support the budding farmers (energy producers) in our area by being regular customers for fresher produce. Not only is this food healthier for our body and healthier for the planet; it’s healthier for our body because it’s healthier for the planet. Healthy food comes from healthy food systems. You don’t need to read a label to know it is nourishing.

References:

Ackerman-Leist, Philip. 2013. Rebuilding the Foodshed. White River Junction: Chelsea Green.

Fridley, David. 2012. “Alternative Energy Challenges.” In The Energy Reader Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, edited by Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner, 69-76. Sausalito: The Foundation for Deep Ecology.

National  Young Farmers Coalition. 2015. “Our Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles.” Accessed December 13. http://www.youngfarmers.org/about/our-work/.

Pelletier, Nathan, Eric Audsley, Sonja Brodt, Tara Garnett, Patrik Henriksson, Alissa Kendall, Klaas Jan Kramer, David Murphy, Thomas Nemecek, and Max Troell. 2011. “Energy Intensity of Agriculture and Food Systems.” Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2011. 36:223–46.

Pimentel, David, Sean Williamson, Courtney E. Alexander, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Caitlin Kontak. Steven E. Mulkey. 2008. “Reducing Energy Inputs in the US Food System.” Hum Ecol 36:459–471.

USDA. 2015. “New Farmers.” Accessed December 13. https://newfarmers.usda.gov/.

To Find Your Path, Look Under Your Feet

I still remember a funny interaction that took place when I worked in the Thomas G. Carpenter Library at the University of North Florida. Because I was a student employee, when I would request books to be purchased by the library, they usually arrived. I ordered books like Food Not Lawns, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, and The Urban Homestead; they were books about food, gardening, and permaculture. One time, my boss who processed the requests asked, “Is this your major?” I was confused, “What?” He searched his mind for an explanation to encompass all of the foodie-gardening books I was requesting. After a pause, I said, “I wish!”

Now, I’m glowing to declare that sustainable food systems is my major at Green Mountain College. The program has been impressive beyond belief, and there are more and more out there each year. Here’s a recent review of food systems programs in higher education from Civil Eats.

I waited five years after graduating from my undergraduate degree in nutrition to begin my master’s degree. I knew when I graduated from undergrad that if I were to go on to grad school, I wanted to specialize and not get another degree in general nutrition, which is what my major really was. Through those five years I learned so much. I worked for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program and began to understand why it is people choose to have kids. I did my internship at Virginia State University, lived outside Florida for the first time, and became a dietitian and a barista who appreciated the quirky independent coffehouse. I quit my first job post-internship to become a wwoofer, one of the best experiences of my life so far, and I got plenty of mountain dirt under my nails that somehow worked its way into my heart. I told myself I was in the school of life. I went to herbal classes and completed a special yoga teacher training to learn about true preventive health. I sold some homegrown vegetables at a farmers’ market, moved to a new city, worked at WIC again, and finally got a job I could sink my teeth into as the farm to school liaison. I have endless gratitude for all those who helped me on my path.

As I’ve told my wonderful boss, my job as farm to school liaison has been a life changer. The opportunity gave me the confidence to finally begin my master’s program, which has shaped my life tremendously. I finally feel the purpose in my work that I felt in that drive to order all those books from my college library, an unquenchable desire to learn more and more about not only food and sustainability, but humans’ place in the world and “how we ought to live” (to quote Daniel Quinn). Somehow, being patient and authentic has allowed me to find a bite of sustenance on the path I’ve been walking for so long without knowing I was on it. Nature’s forms of efficiency are not usually straight lines, and the path of authenticity can be quite curvy.

river

This is just my story so far. As a wise person once told me, the way to move forward is one foot in front of the other. If the next step brings you closer to who you want to be, it’s the right one. And if it doesn’t, you can take a step back and you’ll probably learn even more about yourself in the process.

Growing Regional Procurement

Thank you to Meredith and Hannah for the opportunity to write the blog post below for The Edible Schoolyard Network!

While it is often challenging to venture from the daily demands of running a school food service operation to begin something new or develop an existing program, regional procurement is one improvement that is well worth the effort! The resulting improvement in the quality of school meals, participation, and employee job satisfaction are just the beginning. Local procurement also boosts the local economy, can reduce environmental impacts related to long distance transport, and potentially decreases cost through supply chain simplification.

When considering buying regional foods, first realize that your district is completely wonderfully unique. No two districts are exactly alike and no two approach procurement in the exactly same fashion. There are many ways to procure from local producers. Smaller districts might connect directly with farms, while others might partner with nonprofits who source from local producers or work with a regional distributor. Key practices that will help all districts to procure more local food include creating a more seasonal school menu, developing the relationship and communication with your distributor, and encouraging food service to get involved in the local food and farming community.

Creating a seasonal menu would be daunting for the concerned citizen who has a healthy budget and a family to cook for, but it is even more challenging for school districts with limited budgets, strict federal nutrition guidelines, and thousands of mouths to feed every day. But you can do it! Creating a seasonal produce chart organized by vegetable subgroup, shown below, can help. Per federal guidelines, school districts must provide a variety of vegetables per week, and this chart helps menu planners maximize seasonal foods by their subgroup and their corresponding color, and nutritional benefits. Your nearest land grant university likely has a list of crops in season. Start there and cross-reference the list with the varieties your distributor is able to find. Remember, you are the customer, so let your distributor know what your needs and priorities are with local procurement.

Florida Seasonal Produce Availability Chart

Florida Seasonal Produce Availability Chart by Vegetable Subgroup

Record-keeping of local purchases can provide valuable metrics to leverage procurement in subsequent seasons or years. Distributors are more frequently able to provide a weekly or monthly report to the food service department showing which produce items are sourced within the state or region. Mapping local farms also helps track from what regional areas foods are coming and serves as a great educational tool!

Opening the lines of communication between integral farm to school players, such as farmers, distributors, local food nonprofits, and food service is invaluable to making local procurement a success. A great way to do this is to organize a farm to school focus group. Furthermore, involving food service personnel in the local food scene in your town helps to further efforts to improve school meals. Such efforts could include Chefs Move to Schools events, garden-to-cafeteria initiatives, and cross-disciplinary partnerships with local nonprofits like Slow Food chapters or the US Green Building Council. When food service staff is embraced in the food community, the teamwork that results produces nothing short of awesome results!

Growing regional procurement is just like building the relationships imperative to making it a success: a little at a time. It’s fine to start small with pilot schools or with one local farm. Challenges will arise, so be sure to stay focused on the myriad of long-term benefits that come from reorganizing procurement to invest in your very own regional food supply.

“Say Hello to the 100 Trillion Bacteria That Make Up Your Microbiome”

Despite the bias that I am a seasoned fermenter by now, this Michael Pollan article “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs” was one of the best health and nutrition articles I’ve read in a long time. Interesting, thoughtful, research-based, and well-rounded, it opened my eyes to many underlying relationships between bacteria and health which are present in our current Western lifestyle.

“A growing number of medical researchers are coming around to the idea that the common denominator of many, if not most, of the chronic diseases from which we suffer today may be inflammation — a heightened and persistent immune response by the body to a real or perceived threat. Various markers for inflammation are common in people with metabolic syndrome, the complex of abnormalities that predisposes people to illnesses like cardiovascular disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and perhaps cancer

One theory is that the problem begins in the gut, with a disorder of the microbiota, specifically of the all-important epithelium that lines our digestive tract. This internal skin — the surface area of which is large enough to cover a tennis court — mediates our relationship to the world outside our bodies; more than 50 tons of food pass through it in a lifetime. The microbiota play a critical role in maintaining the health of the epithelium: some bacteria, like the bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus plantarum (common in fermented vegetables), seem to directly enhance its function. These and other gut bacteria also contribute to its welfare by feeding it. Unlike most tissues, which take their nourishment from the bloodstream, epithelial cells in the colon obtain much of theirs from the short-chain fatty acids that gut bacteria produce as a byproduct of their fermentation of plant fiber in the large intestine.”

So, Pollan describes a theory on the root cause of many chronic diseases, but the plot thickens… Also discussed in the article are fecal transplants, the importance of vaginal birth and breastfeeding, the microbial “resistome” (resistant bacteria), the difference between the gut microbiota of city dwellers versus hunter gatherer tribes, how families tend to harbor similar bacterial types and quantities, and sooo much more utterly fascinating research and theories. As I was reading this article, I got so enthralled that I sent it to my coworkers, my former coworkers, my doctor, my dad, my grandma… and I don’t even recall who else! I thought, “People need to know this!”

I thought the following was a great nutritional recommendation:

“The big problem with the Western diet is that it doesn’t feed the gut, only the upper GI. All the food has been processed to be readily absorbed, leaving nothing for the lower GI. But it turns out that one of the keys to health is fermentation in the large intestine. And the key to feeding the fermentation in the large intestine is giving it lots of plants with their various types of fiber, including resistant starch (found in bananas, oats, beans); soluble fiber (in onions and other root vegetables, nuts); and insoluble fiber (in whole grains, especially bran, and avocados). With our diet of swiftly absorbed sugars and fats, we’re eating for one and depriving the trillion of the food they like best: complex carbohydrates and fermentable plant fibers. The byproduct of fermentation is the short-chain fatty acids that nourish the gut barrier and help prevent inflammation.”

I could go on quoting the whole article – just read it and enjoy!

What is an RDN?

What is an RDN?

An RD is a registered dietitian, and an RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a new optional title. See my post about the new title here. RDs/RDNs are the food and nutrition experts, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. RDNs work in a variety of settings from clinical practice in hospitals, to public health WIC (Women, Infants & Children) offices, to menu planning consulting businesses, to school gardens.

In order to earn certification, one must complete a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition, earn and complete an accredited internship of over 900 practical hours, and pass the national exam. Many states also require licensure to practice, as does Florida. This means an extra fee ($355 every two years) if you’re already a nationally-recognized RDN as well as mandatory continuing education. Continuing education and fees are also needed to keep an RDN certification valid, which is evaluated every five years.

What is a Nutritionist?

RDs/RDNs are always considered nutritionists; however, not all nutritionists are RDs/RDNs. Many states require licensure or certification to practice, and if so, likely regulate the use of the term “nutritionist.” Now, the new optional credential RDN includes the “nutritionist” title as well. Use of the term “nutritionist” is not legally defined; therefore, does not require any formal training for use. This means you should look into your nutritionist’s training and your state’s status on licensure. If she or he is state-licensed, they’ll probably use term “licensed dietitian/nutritionist” (LDN), which does bear legal weight.

Nutrition for You: Bio-Individuality

With all of the fad diets out there, what’s a person to eat? The one true diet is the one that’s right for you, makes you feel strong, and satisfies you to the core. Learn the components of eating for bio-individuality, the theory that you are a unique individual in bodily requirements, constitution, and preferences. We’ll discuss ways to turn inside to find out what your body’s ideal fuel consists of, the rules of balance, and how to stay on the right track with some simple food rules. Check the Class Calendar for upcoming sessions of Nutrition for You!