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Wednesdays from Washington: On Food Assistance Programs with Kevin Concannon

August 12, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Joe Snowaert. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, is a FoodCorps alum who now works as is a salad bar educator with Fairfax County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services Office.

During our week-long immersion trip to Washington DC, we had the pleasure of meeting with Kevin Concannon, a man with an incredible history of public service, and who most recently served for nearly eight years as President Obama’s USDA Under Secretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.

When most folks think of the USDA they think of agriculture and farms, which is understandable given the Department’s name. Yet the USDA Food Nutrition Service (FNS) accounts for most of the USDA budget and with it, the agency provides critical lifelines to millions of Americans across the country. FNS operates 15 nutrition programs including: National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDIPR). Many of these programs have been in the headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic because of escalating food insecurity due to rising unemployment and school closures.

Mr. Concannon emphasized the importance of FNS being accessible to all who need the services. He was happy to see the USDA provide some program flexibilities during the pandemic, such as allowing use of SNAP for home delivery of groceries. He also described the economic stimulus role of SNAP – every spent dollar of SNAP generates $1.74 in economic activity. By multiplying that impact figure by the nearly $60 million in SNAP benefits in 2019, it became clear that SNAP is a large stimulus to local economies.

SNAP needs to be approachable for all participants, Mr. Concannon emphasized. While Under Secretary he advocated for ways to allow SNAP recipients to use their benefits without suffering negative stigma in accepting help. He encouraged us to spread the word that if individuals are eligible, they should apply for SNAP. As we learned in our budget class, SNAP is a mandatory program so one family receiving benefits does not take away from another.

During his time with the USDA, 100,000 schools were operating the NSLP serving 30 million meals per day, with 21 million of those meals reimbursed at the free and reduced rate (the other 9 million meals are reimbursed at a lower rate). He described the program as under attack because of its upgraded nutrition standards, which is ironic given that NSLP was started as a national security measure to protect the health and wellbeing of children. Another program focused on feeding those under 18 is the SFSP which normally operates during the summer months and has 80,000 summer meal programs serving 3 million children. This same program is now being operated by food service providers across the country to ensure children 18 and under are fed during the pandemic.

Kevin Concannon has dedicated his career to helping those in need. Despite his many accomplishments, he remains a humble person who speaks with passion about the importance of public service. It was a true honor for our group to meet with this great leader.

On behalf of the entire ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Cohort, we would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Kevin Concannon for taking the time to meet with us and for his years of service on behalf of the public good. 

Wednesday from Washington: Tackling advocacy with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

June 17, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Liz Broussard. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Liz serves as a project coordinator at the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), where she supports the Mississippi Food Justice Collaborative, a network of organizations working to improve access to healthy food and transform Mississippi food systems.

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Wednesdays from Washington: Agricultural research with Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young

June 10, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Dr. Angel Cruz. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Angel is the academic and extension initiatives manager at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) at NC State University where she champions sustainable ag education and career development across North Carolina. 

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Wednesdays from Washington: Talking science with Dr. Mike Stebbins

May 27, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Alaine Janosy. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Alaine works as an independent sustainability consultant specializing in agricultural production systems and procurement. Through this work Alaine engages with companies to create, enable and expand strategies that drive adoption of regenerative farming practices.

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Think you know lettuce, think again: Revelations from a visit to the winter salad bowl

May 1, 2020

As we enter our first stretch of 100 degree days, we here at the Swette Center are reminiscing back to the cool, crisp mornings of the winter.  On one of those mornings the ASU grad leadership cohort had the pleasure of visiting several farms in the Yuma area.  While many of these operations have packed up for their yearly transition to the summer season in Salinas, CA we can’t help but notice the stark contrast between our present COVID-19 reality and the relative calm of December. 

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Engrained: A Model for Sustainable Dining at ASU

April 28, 2020

As we begin the final week of the spring semester it is interesting to reflect on the stark contrast between this year and the final week of classes from years past.  This year the campus is unusually quiet; the library carrels are empty, the lawns are vacant, and few footsteps are heard in the halls.  While no-one can predict what the fall will bring, we are hoping that it brings back students and the bustle of student activity that charges our vibrant campus. 

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Got Milk? A Visit to Arizona’s Kerr Family Dairy

April 22, 2020

As we post this blog, we are witnessing devastation in the dairy industry brought about by the COVID19 pandemic. Wes Kerr and his family are struggling to survive, as are dairy farmers across the country. It is heartbreaking.  The United Dairymen of Arizona sent a letter to USDA stating that this is the biggest market crash the industry has seen in 60 years and, without timely and significant support, many dairies will not survive. More on what’s going on with the Kerr Family Farm and dairies in Arizona can be found in this 4/17/20 article in West Valley View.

-Note from Swette Center Director Kathleen Merrigan

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Deliciously sustainable: A visit to Tucson's Senae Thai Bistro

April 9, 2020

Thai style fish entree

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues spread across the globe and around the U.S., the restaurant industry has been hit particularly hard. Stay-at-home orders have decimated these establishments, forcing many talented small-business owners to move to reduced hours, lay off staff members, or close outright. Fortunately, for the time being some businesses, such as Senae featured below, have been able to continue offering food for take-out and delivery. If you live in the Tucson area, consider ordering from Senae today! Or, wherever you are, remember to keep supporting local businesses and restaurants. 

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Alaine Janosy. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Alaine works as an independent sustainability consultant specializing in agricultural production systems and procurement. Through this work Alaine engages with companies to create, enable and expand strategies that drive adoption of regenerative farming practices.

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Feeding the hungry: A day with the United Food Bank

March 31, 2020

Students packaging food. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the globe and the U.S., more and more Americans are facing food insecurity. Now more than ever, organizations like United Food Bank  and other Feeding America members are critical to ensuring that no one goes to bed hungry — but they can't do it alone. Please consider donating your time, talent, or treasure here, and together we can weather this crisis! 

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Liz Broussard. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Liz serves as a project coordinator at the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), where she supports the Mississippi Food Justice Collaborative, a network of organizations working to improve access to healthy food and transform Mississippi food systems.   

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Letter to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee

March 6, 2020

By Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University, and professor with appointments in the School of Sustainability, College of Health Solutions, and School of Public Affairs

Today a letter was sent to government leaders charged with developing the next iteration of the DGAs – Dietary Guidelines for Americans, an activity undertaken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services every five years. I am a signatory on this letter and believe that it is past time for sustainability criteria to be integrated into dietary guidance. I will let the letter speak for itself.

Read the organizational letter submitted to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on March 4, 2020 here.

Organic in the valley: A visit to Litchfield's Blue Sky Organic Farm

March 3, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Brandee Kitzmiller. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Brandee works hard empowering children to make healthy eating choices as the garden educator for the nonprofit Island Grown Schools on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  

Situated about 30 minutes from downtown Phoenix, Arizona sits the 35-acre Blue Sky Organic Farm. As the ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership cohort approaches the main farm house, we are welcomed by a handful of happy goats. We continue through a cluster of citrus trees and meet Sara Dolan.

Sara Dolan and David Vose have been farming since 1995 and their farm is 100% certified organic, meaning they meet strict regulations for the growing of all produce on their farm. Upon our arrival to the farm we were told repeatedly to walk only on the paths. If we had stepped into a field the whole area would not be allowed to be sold. Food safety is serious business.

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New experiences with old grains: A transformative trip to Arizona’s Hayden Flour Mills

February 25, 2020

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Ali Kelley. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Ali is working hard to foster a regional grain economy by starting a grain business of her own in her home state of Colorado. 

Arizona is not known for bagels, but one of the best I’ve had can be found on the plains bordering Phoenix. With a tender dough and glistening, golden crust, this bagel rivaled any I’ve experienced in New York, or elsewhere. Was fresh water from the nearby Salt River responsible for this culinary gem? Hardly. The bagel’s unparalleled taste and texture resulted from the quality and freshness of the wheat flour, grown and milled on site. Whereas commercial All Purpose flour comes from modern wheat varieties (bred for yield and resistance) and is processed months or even years before it reaches the end user, this flour came from heritage varieties (known for flavor and nutrition) and was milled within a week of being consumed.

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