Similarly, the Farm to Work program was developed in 2007 through a partnership with Andrew representing SFC, Lindsay Rodgers from Department of State Health Services (now with Texas Health and Human Services Commission), and Eric Leversen of WebChronic Consulting that uses a custom-made online ordering and administrative system to connect employees at partner worksites with farmers who deliver baskets of produce directly to their offices. That program has grown to generate $200,000 in sales for local farmers every year and has spawned replications across the country.
The Farm to School effort is, perhaps, Andrew’s most notable ongoing accomplishment. Through an organizational planning process in 2006 and ‘07, SFC identified its strengths in farm-direct marketing, nutrition education, and gardening with diverse populations. Those areas of expertise, it was determined, are ideally suited to address what was considered the epidemic of childhood obesity. In 2007, SFC developed the Sprouting Healthy Kids project in an expansively collaborative effort, received an endorsement from the AISD School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), and entered into a partnership with Austin ISD to bring local foods to school cafeterias and to provide food systems education in the lunchroom, the classroom, and afterschool. During the three-year pilot project, Dr. Sandra Evans with UT School of Public Health worked alongside SFC staff to conduct an in-depth evaluation. That study provided clear evidence of the efficacy of SFC’s Sprouting Healthy Kids farm to school and food systems education approach. In addition to the study being published in the journal Health Promotion Practice, the work earned SFC the Congressional Hunger Center “Victory Against Hunger” award with the support of Rep. Lloyd Doggett. Local food purchasing within the district has grown over the years to now be an official aspect of school nutrition policy and food procurement, while SFC and other organizations continue to offer educational and programming support.
The impact of Sprouting Healthy Kids extends beyond Austin, though. In 2008 Andrew worked closely with board member Andrea Abel (now with Farmshare Austin) to craft a policy paper about farm to school for presentation to Texas legislators. State Senator Kirk Watson used the paper as the background for a bill, SB 1027, introduced in the 81st legislature that would create the Texas Interagency Farm to School Coordination Task Force. Andrew’s advocacy and active partnership-building were critical in the passage of the bill. The task force, of which Andrew was an enthusiastic member, would ultimately make recommendations leading to the creation of a dedicated farm to school manager position within Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and other department support for farm to school.
The farm to school concept would continue to take hold in Texas and beyond through consultations and trainings. SFC’s program replication training, developed by SFC staff under Andrew’s direction, resulted in farm to school programming being initiated in Arkansas and Louisiana as well as Texas. Other recognition of the farm to school movement in Austin came in 2014 when the National Farm to School Network selected Austin as the host-city for their biennial conference. SFC received funding from the USDA Farm to School Grant Program in 2015 to produce the Texas Farm to School Roundup in conjunction with TDA and Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA). Andrew directed the planning and delivery of the training program with several partners, which included a day-long workshop prior to the 2016 TOFGA conference plus multiple sessions during the conference. Positive responses led to the production of the 2017 Farm to School Roundup at the TOFGA conference. Farm to school helps children with access to healthy food and benefits farmers with access to marketing outlets; for Andrew, it is also representative of the early interactions with food and agriculture which led to his 25-year career in food systems.
Andrew often notes the drastic changes in the local food landscape in these past 12 years – just a couple farmers markets in 2005 now share producers and shoppers with a total of 17 markets in the area; consumers can find local foods in retail grocery outlets or have them brought right to their doors with home delivery services; regional produce distributors are actively sourcing and marketing local foods; and a growing number of farm-to-table restaurants are satisfying the ever-younger urban Austin resident who often prefers dining out to cooking at home. Meanwhile, family farmers still struggle to ensure the viability of their businesses and lifestyles, and disparities in economic and geographic access to good food exacerbate the health inequities in our communities.
The successes that can be credited to Andrew are to be lauded. Ask Andrew, though, and he’ll brush off the praise and ask that we keep the work going – there’s plenty of work to go around. Or, to use Andrew’s exact language, “It’s not that it’s always something. It’s just that it’s never nothing!”
Andrew’s last day in the SFC office is June 30, although he will be available for input and guidance as needed during the transition. Andrew’s plan for the next few months is to focus on projects at home, spend time with aging parents in other parts of the country, and go fishing. His overdue sabbatical will ultimately conclude with a yet-to-be-determined position that will, no doubt, reflect Andrew’s commitment to sustainability and equity combined with his innovative and visionary spirit.