In October 2018, the Hollings Center sponsored a small grant that created an exchange program between representatives of Tunisia and the U.S. state of Oregon to compare best practices for Farm to School Food Programs. Led by grantees Andy Fisher, Amy Gilroy, and Maria Lukyanova, officials from both countries had an opportunity to share insights about their respective programs and compare best practices.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Farm to School Network, such programs are defined as having three legs: “school-based agriculture and nutrition education, school gardens, and procurement of local foods for the school cafeteria.” According to the exchange organizers, these activities empower children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.
During the exchange visits, the Tunisian officials visited a food innovation center, Oregon local farms, representatives of Portland Public Schools and Oregon State University, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Later that month, American representatives visited Tunis to discuss programs with Tunisian officials, visit schools in the Zaghouan Governate, and learn from Tunisia’s school nutrition programs.
Grantees reported the initial exchange to be a strong success and reported the following takeaways.
- Tunisians gained insight into multiple aspects that make for successful farm to school programs in Oregon, including state and federal policies around procurement and school gardening; warehousing; purchasing of local food products; and food service management. This information will help to guide them in the implementation of their Homegrown School Feeding Program, as they take it beyond the pilot stage.
- The grantees authored a Farm to School Policy Road Map that will help chart out considerations for Tunisia as they design their national school meals program.
- American participants gained a better understanding of the school feeding context in the developing world through Global Child Nutrition Forum, especially of the WFP’s Homegrown School Feeding Program, and of the similarities and differences with the US. Of the program in Tunisia, they gained a deeper appreciation of the challenges farmers face in marketing their crops; of maintaining a consistent supply of food for Tunisian schools; and of the impressive connections between school farms and local women farmers. They further gained insights into the challenges the Tunisian government faces in decentralization and building capacity at the local and regional levels, especially around food procurement.
- The Americans gained a much greater appreciation of the Tunisian culture, people, and landscapes. The level of respect gained for each other’s work and culture was very important in building lasting connections.