From Farm to Cafeteria to Field

By Ivory Harlow and Hannah Scott
CFAES Center for Cooperatives

The 2018 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference brought together educators, dieticians, foodservice staff, farmers, and local food advocates from across the country in Cincinnati, Ohio in late April.

Attendees discussed how Farm to School initiatives enrich their communities, strengthen the food system, and boost local economies. Conference sessions shared best practices to boost local food consumption in the cafeteria and provide agriculture, food, health, and nutrition education to students.

The conference featured field trips to several Ohio food and farm destinations. The CFAES Center for Cooperatives guided tours “From Garden to Food Hub” and “The Science of Local Food” at the Ohio State University South Centers.
On the conference’s final morning, 20 conference attendees boarded the bus for a 2-hour scenic trip from the conference center in Cincinnati to OSU South Centers in Piketon. They participated in the award-winning food science program “The Story of the Strawberry.” The program is a partnership between OSU Extension Pike County, OSU Horticulture, and OSU Food, Nutrition, and Wellness.

Attendees learned about plasticulture strawberry production and OSU researchers’ efforts to extend the Ohio harvest season from a historical 3-week strawberry harvest to a 3-month harvest window. Attendees also gained disease prevention insights from current berry nutritional research. Hands-on activities included taste tests and strawberry DNA extraction.

Next, the group boarded a hay wagon for a tour of the South Center’s research plots. They visited the hops yard, grape vineyard, and aquaculture ponds. Attendees learned about services provided to new businesses in South Center’s unique business incubator, the 27,000-square foot Endeavor Center. The Business Team shared how they help entrepreneurs, including agricultural producers and food manufacturers, start and grow businesses in southern Ohio.

CFAES Center for Cooperatives Program Manager Hannah Scott greeted 25 conference goers on a sunny afternoon outside of the Duke Energy Convention Center for a tour focused on local food aggregation and distribution. Attendees visited the facilities of Our Harvest Cooperative and Ohio Valley Food Connection located in The Incubator, a commercial kitchen and food aggregation incubator in northern Kentucky, to learn about the collaboration between the two southwest Ohio food hubs to move more local food to institutions. The field trip also took attendees to Fox Tail Farm in New Richmond, Ohio, a small produce farm marketing produce like carrots and greens through a hub. Participants learned about the farm’s production techniques and the advantages the farm experiences marketing through a hub.  

The unique challenges of moving locally produced food from farms to restaurants, cafeterias, and retailers have been a focus of the Center for Cooperatives since 2014 through the Ohio & West Virginia Food Hub Network and technical assistance work with food hubs. According to a recently released study from Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems and Wallace Center at Winrock International, approximately 31% of U.S. food hubs marketed products to K-12 schools in 2017. Despite challenges, food hubs can help producers access larger markets than they may be able to working on their own. In 2017, approximately 18% of food hubs in the U.S. were cooperatively owned.