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Transforming the rural landscape

By Staff | Feb 3, 2012

Deb Eschmeyer, an organic farmer and co-founder and program director of FoodCorps, offered tips for success during her keynote presentation at the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s annual meeting in Des Moines on Jan. 21.

By Darcy

Dougherty

Maulsby

Farm News staff writer

Des Moines – Making healthy food available to more Americans isn’t just a goal for Deb Eschmeyer, it’s a passion.

Audience members were eager to visit with Deb Eschmeyer, right, following her keynote presentation during the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s annual meeting in Des Moines.

Eschmeyer is a 32-year-old Midwestern organic farmer and co-founder of FoodCorps, a national service program that aims to improve nutrition education for children.

“There’s so much interest in this topic,” Eschmeyer said, “and we have the power to transform the landscape.”

Eschmeyer was the keynote speaker at the Jan. 21 Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s annual meeting in Des Moines.

Farmers are in a unique position of power to bring about positive change, said Eschmeyer, who grew up on a dairy farm near New Knoxville, Ohio, and now operates a 20-acre farm, which includes five acres of organic fruits and vegetables, in west-central Ohio.

She encouraged the audience to focus on the “Silent Ps,” including:

  • People. Identify the three influential people you need to know to be successful in business. They might include a news reporter, a state lawmaker, a local business leader or another key individual to help meet goals, said Eschmeyer, a former Kellogg Food & Society Fellow who has worked as outreach director of the National Farm to School Network and a project director at the National Family Farm Coalition.
  • Passion. What motivates one each day? Eschmeyer still remembers the day in 2004 when herhusband, Jeff, was diagnosed, at age 25, with type 1, late-onset diabetes.

Deb Eschmeyer

“This sparked my passion for nutrition issues,” said Eschmeyer, who challenged her WFAN audience to determine what actions they need to make their passions a reality, whether it’s moving to a farm or earning a master’s degree.

  • Practice. Taking action is vital, said Eschmeyer, adding that FoodCorps has 50 service members working in 10 states, including Iowa, to teach children about nutrition and help them grow healthy food in school gardens.

In addition, FoodCorps partnered with Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation during the 2011 back-to-school season to raise money for school gardens.

Shoppers were encouraged to make a small contribution at the checkout, and the campaign raised more than $2 million.

“Could you do something similar in your local community?” Eschmeyer asked. “If you have the people, the power and the passion, don’t just talk about the things you could do – take action.”

  • Prose. People listen to other people who are good communicators, said Eschmeyer, who encourages farmers and local foods proponents to tell their stories.

“Determine what media outlets do you need to be connected with,” she said, “whether it’s the local chamber of commerce’s e-newsletter or national publications like the Washington Post.”

Start by offering oneself as a resource to the media, supplying them with timely story ideas that haven’t been covered and offering to put them in contact with credible sources.

“With media outlets, it takes time to build the relationships that lead to news coverage,” said Eschmeyer, who added that FoodCorps’ story has been covered in many major media outlets.

“Make the reporter your friend, and invite them to your farm to showcase all the good things going on.”

She noted that FoodCorps leaders met with New York Times columnist Mark Bittman more than four times before they received coverage, but the results were noteworthy.

In his 2011 piece entitled “Food’s New Foot Soldiers,” Bittman wrote, “FoodCorps is symbolic of just what we need: a national service program that aims to improve nutrition education for children, develop school gardening projects and change what’s being served on school lunch trays.”

  • Policy. Eschmeyer encouraged people to support common-sense, public policy solutions that benefit agriculture and food systems.

These can range from local ordinances to the farm bill. Influencing public policy can also include running for office.

“We need to be in positions of power, and we must never take for granted all the hard work that has been done previously,” Eschmeyer said.

  • Perseverance. Change takes time, sometimes years, said Eschmeyer, who encourages people to take the big-picture view.

She said that there were only two farm-to-school programs in the country in 1996, but that has soared to 2,000 programs today.

“Remember, we’re not in this alone. That’s why it’s so important to make connections and stick together.”

Membership grows

Eschmeyer emphasized that organizations like WFAN are “great places to make connections with other like-minded people.”

Leigh Adcock, executive director of WFAN, said the organization’s membership has exploded from 300 to 2,000 in just three years and shows no signs of slowing down.

“We were so pleased to have Deb as our keynote speaker,” Adcock said, “because she exemplifies the women who make up WFAN.

“She is passionate about healthy food and farming, and embodies that passion by raising and selling good food for her family and community, and by advocating for the movement on the national level through her involvement in FoodCorps.”

Eschmeyer said she is excited about the potential for healthier school foods and encourages ag leaders to embrace change.

“Map out what you’d like to see happen, review the Silent Ps and realize that we have the power to transform the landscape.”

Learn more

For more information on WFAN, log onto www.wfan.org.

To learn more about FoodCorps, visit foodcorps.org.

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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