Happy New Year and welcome back to our Urban School Food Alliance blog! This is a real journey into the unknown for a “seasoned” professional such as myself. You see, my generation did not grow up with computers, cell phones, or cars that talk to you. We used to write letters and send them in the mail if we wanted to communicate with someone. To share your opinion you had to write a column in the local newspaper. Clearly, nothing was as instantaneous as it is today. Here I am at the ripe old age of… (that is for another day) and I am learning to blog. So, let’s talk about something that I have learned is critical for success as a professional or within one’s personal life: partnerships.
We have always used partnerships to our advantage in school nutrition. Within this field, we are not in competition with one another for the most part. We cooperate, share ideas, and help each other when called upon. I found the same idea to hold true as I embarked on this adventure as the Executive Director for the Urban School Food Alliance. I realized very quickly that the partnerships we set to develop were critically important to expanding our work. With that comes the responsibility to choose those we partner with both carefully and strategically. Because, you see, when you have the membership of the 17 largest districts in the country, there are a lot of entities that would love to be your “partner!”
I looked up the word partnership on the internet to see what I could find. In a few places it is described as “parties agreeing to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.” That means I need to be very careful to identify what our “mutual interest” is. For the Alliance, it is not sales numbers of a specific product but about increasing the quality of food prepared and served. It’s about moving policy makers to better understand the value of school meals to the children and communities we serve.
Once that concept was considered the team at the Alliance was on the road to deciding who the best partners would be. We started with the idea of increasing the quality of food prepared and served. That line of thinking led us to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where chefs are trained and educated in all aspects of food preparation and serving (see the connection?). We are proud to be a part of the Healthy Kids Collaborative, created by the CIA, where school nutrition directors, menu planners and chefs gather annually to share ideas for plant forward meals, culinary skills training, and creating healthy, low-cost meals utilizing local food items.
We have also partnered with Pilot Light, a non-profit started by chefs in Chicago that teaches “food education” to teachers in school districts, connecting the healthy meals in the kitchen to education lessons in the classroom. This partnership has enabled us to engage with educators in the districts we represent and give them an opportunity to learn and incorporate academic lessons in the classroom using local, healthy food.
This brings us to our partnership with Share Our Strength – No Kid Hungry (NKH), working together, with mutual interest, to ensure that ALL students have access to food, no matter what a student’s circumstances are. With the strength of NKH partnerships, we have been able to broaden our outreach to policy makers, decision makers, and local authorities to make sure as many possible doors have been opened for children to receive food, particularly through this pandemic crisis.
University partnerships have also evolved with the Alliance as we find available funding. The Alliance has already partnered with Harvard, Temple U, Tufts, and Colorado State to gather data on a variety of subjects: what happened when schools shut down, the cost of purchasing higher quality food, and why students choose not to participate in school meals. These partnerships give us data to synthesize and use in the formation of decisions to improve the school meal service in our schools.
Finally, I will mention a brand new partnership with Carroll Services, Inc., publishing practical ideas for foodservice professionals by easily finding solutions at any time and at no cost. Educating ourselves, sharing ideas, and constantly learning is the only way to stay on top of the field. When an organization such as Carroll Services finds a way to share educational opportunities at no cost to districts, this is a win-win for all considered.
As I close this blog about partnerships, I find myself thinking about the benefits the Alliance has received by developing these partnerships. In each of these collaborations, we have bridged a gap in expertise and knowledge. These opportunities to share have advanced our “mutual interests” for the benefit of children. I can’t think of anything I would rather be involved with.
Stay well. Check out our website and donate if you can so we can keep this great work moving forward. Until next time – remember to drink a lot of water during these winter months.