Farm to School Person of the Year 2011: Whitney Bateson

Since she was hired almost four years ago as the Resident Dietician for D.C. Public Schools at Chartwells-Thompsons, there has never been a doubt that Whitney Bateson wasn’t in the business to serve the children of the District of Columbia. Whitney has been a driving force in making DCPS school meals healthier, more sustainable, and more locally-sourced. At Chartwells she was tasked with creating menus and assuring compliance for approximately 125 school DCPS sites serving breakfast, lunch and in some cases dinner each day. Planning approximately 70,000 meals each day is no small task, but Whitney Bateson took the challenge head-on.

Here ia Whitney with Jeff Mills, Director of Food & Nutrition Services for DCPS,
learning from a vendor at a healthy food showcase.  Look at the concentration!!!
When I first met Whitney, we were both new to Washington, DC. I called her up to talk about farm to school programs, and she patiently walked me through the process of how food travels from farm to tray in the D.C. school meal system. I immediately sensed that she shared my enthusiasm, and she took on the challenge of sourcing more local produce for DCPS school meals.

Whitney fast went from farm to school novice to expert at Chartwells. She scheduled meetings with produce distributors, researched local farms, worked out the logistics of local purchasing for special events (like Strawberries & Salad Greens), and enthusiastically participated in many of the farm to school workshops, events, field trips and meetings hosted by the D.C. Farm to School Network. It’s truly been a pleasure watching her knowledge and passion for farm to school grow over the years.

Whitney was our most enthusiastic Farm to School Field Trip participant! 
Here she is holding sweetcorn on our trip to Delaware (third from right).

Not only do I respect Whitney’s work, I admire her incredible dedication to child nutrition; her willingness to push for change against great odds; her consistently positive and outgoing attitude; her natural curiosity (including a willingness to ask difficult questions); and her unwavering work ethic. These traits will take Whitney far as she moves on from her position at DCPS to become Director of Wellness Initiatives at Chartwells, where she will take on the role of coordinating sustainability and wellness programs for Chartwells across the country.

As someone who’s seen what DCPS school meals menus looked like four years ago, I commend Chartwells for now serving minimally-processed, healthy meals featuring a local food almost every day in the spring and fall (and a few days per week in the winter). I want to acknowledge Whitney Bateson for playing a lead role in this transformation to more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and local produce. Granted school meal reform in Washington, DC has been a result of local and national partnerships, government agencies, and policies, but Whitney Bateson is one of the true unsung heroes of the movement. We are sad to see her move on to the national arena, but glad she still calls Washington, DC home!


Farm to School Field Trip - Blue Ridge Produce!

I can't think of a better way to spend a weekday morning than travelling to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley to connect local growers with D.C. schools.  Earlier this week, eight of my favorite school food service providers and farm-to-school stakeholders from Washington, DC took a field trip out to Elkwood, VA to visit Blue Ridge Produce.  We got a first class tour of their new facility, which serves as a local food distribution "hub" for Northern Virginia and Washington, DC markets.

Jim and Mark, the co-founders of Blue Ridge, brought us up to speed with a history of the new organization and how it got started.  We began our tour in the huge warehouse and freezer space, which will be brimming with produce come spring for wholesale buyers around the region. 

We moved our way in to the (thankfully warmer) greenhouses, with thousands of square feet of space ready to grow hydroponic vegetables, herbs and greens.  The potential for the space is huge - Jim and Mark described plans for a commercial kitchen, demonstration compost operation, and sustainable farm in the works.

Many thanks to Jim, Mark, Craig and the Blue Ridge team for a wonderful and informative visit.  And thank you to Beatriz, Sofia, Lisa, Jaime, Benjamin, Jeff, and Whitney for coming on the trip.  I look forward to working with all of you to make more healthy, local food available to Washington, DC schoolkids!


Support our friends @ 'An Evening of Carnivory'

Looking to celebrate the New Year with meat? Our friend, Andrew, at Farmrun, is screening his new documentary, 'On the Anatomy of Thrift' at Big Bear Cafe on January 1. Movie to be followed by a delicious meal by Clementina Russo, (chef extraordinaire and supporter of Arcadia!!)
Check out the Big Bear website for more information and hope to meat you there.


The struggle to access healthy food meets the Mobile Market

Just received a new report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), which highlights the difficulty in accessing health food, particularly for low-income people. In Washington, DC, more than 12 percent of residents reported an inability to access and afford fresh fruits and vegetables in the communities where they live.

D.C. Hunger Solutions, a local initiative founded by FRAC, has been actively working to reverse this trend for nearly a decade. According to Alex Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions, "it is essential to support families’ ability to purchase healthier food items. That includes efforts at the federal level to improve SNAP benefits [formerly known as "food stamps'] so they go further ..."

To that effect, Arcadia's Mobile Market will bring affordable, healthy food to these D.C. communities, as well as accept SNAP and other forms of food assistance. Moreover, we're working to offer a "matching dollar" program to further incentivize the use of these benefits, similar to the initiative we last blogged about.

It's been a lot of work getting our bus up-and-running, but I'm excited to be hitting the road in the spring of 2012. Please stay tuned for information on market stops!


Top 5 Awesomest Things in the Groundhog Garden

Things at Arcadia Farm's Groundhog Garden were pretty awesome this fall, but here are some of the awesomest things of all:

1) Farmer for a day! All of the kids who go on a field trip to Arcadia Farm get to try their hands at farming, and in doing so, learn what it takes to grow food sustainably. From planting seeds to tending to bees, they get hands-on experience in the day-to-day life of a farmer. And they get to wear great hats!

2) Salad Bar: Our friends at Whole Foods donated a salad bar to the farm, which was both a great teaching tool and a fun way to eat healthy food straight from the ground.

If nothing else, we hope that field trips to the farm will make students more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they see them on their cafeteria trays. Since more and more DC schools have salad bars, they are one way we connect the farm to the cafeteria.
3) Chef demonstrations: Chefs from all over DC and Virginia came to the farm to teach our students simple, healthy recipes using fresh food. Special thanks go out to the chefs themselves: Alison Reed, Robert Weidmaier, Michael Bonk, Tianna Feaster, Chef Indigo (at right), Chef Jamie and our very own Benjamin Bartley.

4) New shed: With the help of builder Jesse Cooper and some generous volunteers, we designed and built a new shed especially for our Farm to School programming. It will serve not only as an education station and storage space, but also a place for kids to explore and play. Plus, it's pretty darn cute.

5) Arcadia staff in vegetable costumes: It's no surprise: (DC Farm to School Network Director) Andrea makes a great carrot. The awesomest moment of the whole season might have been when a kindergartener grabbed her and yelled: "I'm gonna eat you!"

Ready to sign your class up for a spring field trip? Email katherine@dcfarmtoschool.org and ask her to add you to our list!


Help Support our Friends on December 14!

Save the date: on Wednesday December 14 -- Whole Foods will donate 5% of all sales for Bloomingdale, 14&U, Mt Pleasant and NoMafarmers' markets to grow Food Stamp/WIC programs

Need to stock up on staples for the winter? Olive oil? Maple syrup? Wine? Bulk nuts for baking cookies, perhaps? Chicken stock for savory soups to get you through the cold months? Amaryllis plants? Start your list, but come in on Dec 14th that's when Whole Foods P Street and Gtown are having a "5% Day" to create double dollar food stamp and WiC/Senior programs for the markets.

How it works: You shop like any other day, EXCEPT that 5% of ALL sales at Whole Foods P St and Gtown on Wednesday December 14th will go towards doubling the WIC and SNAP (food stamp) programs at BFM, 14&U, Mount Pleasant, and NoMa farmers' markets during their 2012 season.

And if you stock up, we can match more Food Stamp/WIC dollars!


Intern at Arcadia!

Do you know someone who is energetic, passionate about sustainable agriculture and looking for an internship? We're a small staff at Arcadia, so we truly rely on great interns and volunteers to make our programs run and our farm grow. We're looking for a few good interns for the spring season now - help us spread the word!

Also, we know what's like to be an unpaid intern, so we want to make the experience as valuable as possible. For example, Mo has cooked up a mini farm school for her intern. Plus, we definitely have the best snack breaks around.

Check out the position descriptions for the following gigs - Farm Educator Internship and Sustainable Farm Internship - and pass them along to interested folks. Thanks in advance!

DCPS Wellness Policy includes Farm to School

D.C. youth have among the highest child obesity, hunger, and poverty rates in the nation.  Since these kids spend a lot of time each day at school, we have a great opportunity to influence their health and wellness by making positive changes to the school environment.

D.C. Public Schools worked with community partners to design a Local Wellness Policy.  This document lays out a road map to make DCPS schools healthy, safe, and green.  Over the past few months, Arcadia's D.C. Farm to School Network was a part of this coalition that updated the Local Wellness Policy for its launch this week.  The policy sets ambitious targets for physical activity, nutrition, and environmental sustainability for DCPS. It also outlines a community engagement and implementation plan.  Download a copy of the wellness policy HERE.

We're excited to see Farm to School in the Wellness Policy!
  • School meals will include fresh, locally-grown foods from farms engaged in sustainable practices whenever possible.
  • Schools should encourage more student interaction with the food preparation process, including farm visits, cooking demonstrations and taste tests.
  • DCPS will incorporate farm to school/food origin education into its standard curriculum.

We look forward to working together with DCPS to make the vision articulated in the Local Wellness Policy a reality.


What makes a great farm summer camp?

The first farm I ever worked on was part of a summer camp in the northern Adirondacks. I have fond memories of waking early to harvest kale with bleary-eyed 7-year-olds, who brought the fruits of our labor into the cafeteris for their lunch.

So when I heard that Arcadia was thinking about starting a summer day camp at our farm, I was on board right away. Teaching young people where their food comes from is clearly one of my favorite things, so combining farm education with fun and adventure sounded pretty darn perfect for me.

After doing some reading, I started to get a sense of what I had gotten myself into. So many camps to choose from! So many details to consider!

So I decided to ask you, blog readers, for help. What makes a great farm camp? What are your best summer camp memories? (Personally, I love this episode of This American Life). Parents, what are you looking for in summer camps for your kids this year?

Leave a comment or shoot me an email at liz@arcadiafood.org.


The Neverending Season

Like a lot of farmers, I see December 1 as a time I can take a deep breath, stretch my back and eat potato chips for the winter. It's the time when the cold wind blows and the snows start to threaten. Mother Nature this year does not seem to be on the same clock...

With the last few weeks of warm weather, my lettuces, spinach and hearty greens are growing in earnest and are delicious! I have rogue radishes sprouting up everywhere (I think leftover from some kindergardeners eager hands), and I even saw a tomato seedling emerge! A tomato plant in December?!

Many farmers look forward to winter because it is not only a time to rest our bodies, but a time to let the ground relax for awhile and take a break too. Snow is great for the ground and kills off cover crop to prepare the soil for the spring. The Farmer's Almanac is predicting a snowy winter for the midwest and the east coast, but so far, I'm not buying it.

So, I'll be back on the farm tomorrow, harvesting mache and spinach and radishes, enjoying the sun and waiting for the snows.

-Farmer Mo

Farmer Liz is BACK!

Liz Whitehurst was Arcadia's fabulous part-time Farm Educator this past fall.  She spearheaded the design of Groundhog Garden (the space at Arcadia Farm that kids explore during field trips) and the development and implementation of our fall field trip program.

We're happy to say that Liz is back, this time in full force!  She'll be with us full time as Arcadia's Farm Education Coordinator.  Her main projects will be leading spring and fall field trips, developing summer camp program, and starting up a series of Family Fun Days on the farm.  Welcome back Liz!