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On Tuesday, May 24, REAP Food Group, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Food and Nutrition, zoomed into classrooms for our second Virtual Farm Tour, this time with farmers Patty and Ky of Wonka's Harvest in Hollandale.   Geared to grades K-5, the live presentation included an experiment demonstrating the benefits of no-till agriculture using various soil mediums. Patty and Ky answered questions from students about the favorite crops they grow, and they shared their love of bees. Watch a recording of the tour, and consider following Patty and Ky's lead and improve your own garden soils with compost! Virtual Farm Tours are made possible through a grant and brought to classrooms by REAP Food Group, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Food and Nutrition in an effort to deliver the sights and smells of Wisconsin-grown foods to MMSD classrooms through virtual farm tours, videos, and books. Shiftology Communication Virtual Farm Trips® facilitated the tours. The unique PR firm offers "one-of-a-kind learning experiences by connecting participants to real working farms from the comfort of their computers, classrooms, conference rooms and living rooms." https://youtu.be/hmk7bahUJCQ ...

On Thursday, May 5, REAP Food Group, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Food and Nutrition, zoomed into eighty-three classrooms for a Virtual Farm Tour at Vitruvian Farms in McFarland. The tour marked the first in an ongoing series to deliver the sights and smells of Wisconsin-grown foods to MMSD classrooms through virtual farm tours, videos, and books.  Geared to grades K-5, the live presentation included a tour of the farm led by co-owner Tommy Stauffer*, poll questions for the nearly 1,500 students gauging their knowledge of, and like--or dislike--of mushrooms, and a Q&A for Tommy. Hosts discovered that the students already had a rich vocabulary in mushroom varieties, and were at least amenable to tasting them! Watch a recording and stay tuned for the next tour at Wonka's Harvest in Hollandale before schools close for the summer. Virtual Farm Tour is made possible through a grant and brought to classrooms by REAP Food Group, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Food and Nutrition. Shiftology Communication Virtual Farm Trips® facilitated the tour. The unique PR firm offers "one-of-a-kind learning experiences by connecting participants to real working farms from the comfort of their computers, classrooms, conference rooms and living rooms." *Tommy Stauffer is also a REAP Food Group board member. https://youtu.be/FxqWG0x0Mgs ...

REAP Food Group's staff and board are thrilled to welcome Philip Kauth as our new Executive Director. After earning a Ph.D. in Horticultural Sciences, Phil spent eight years working with the Iowa-based non-profit Seed Savers Exchange. As Director of Preservation, Phil led a team that stewarded a living collection of 25,000 open-pollinated seed and plant varieties and a historic apple orchard. With Seed Savers Exchange, Phil's work fused his scientific training with the organization's mission to preserve and share seeds, their integrity, and culturally significant stories. "For communities to have control over their foodways, they need to have control over the seeds they want to grow and share," Phil explains. In pursuit of REAP's mission to make healthy food grown well, accessible to all, and in a manner that honors communities' agency over their foodways, Phil brings open ears and a collaborative spirit. He embraces a leadership style that emphasizes learning and building trust to maximize the values and strengths people bring to the table, and he draws from experiences partnering with historically underrepresented groups. Phil’s work with Seed Savers Exchange has included collaborations with Asian American farmers on the West Coast searching for linkages to ancestral food crops, the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network to restore seeds to tribal communities, and the organization's multi-disciplinary collaboration, the Heirloom Collard Project. “REAP has exciting times on the horizon and happily welcomes Phil Kauth to lead the organization into the future[.]...

We are thrilled to announce that Madison Community Foundation (MCF) has awarded REAP Food Group a $50,000 Community Impact Grant to expand our development and fundraising capacity. We will use the funds to hire a grant writer and train our board of directors in fundraising skills in order to grow support for our efforts to build a sustainable and just local food system. COVID-19 laid bare for REAP the unreliability of in-person events as fundraising drivers. Meanwhile, it presented an opportunity to collaboratively problem solve with community partners on the ground. In 2020 we co-created the Farms to Families Fund with Roots4Change to get food into the hands of families who needed it. The impact we saw from that collaboration showed us that we have even more work to do in the community. A focus on strengthening our development capacity in the immediate future will allow REAP to focus our energy into our core goals and on mission-oriented events without relying on restaurant partners to donate time and resources, especially as the food service industry deals with challenges exacerbated by a pandemic. We have big dreams to realize in our efforts to expand Farm to School programming beyond the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), to plan for future disruptions in our local food and farming value chain, and advocate for policies that support sustainable agriculture and a fair food system. “REAP is taking a strategic approach to long-term financial sustainability, recognizing the importance of using not just the development director but also the executive director and board members to build a strong culture of philanthropy[.]...

Free school meals pack a punch. They improve students’ learning readiness, behavior, and health outcomes, address racial disparities, eliminate stigma around free and reduced school meals, and support working families. They also have the potential to strengthen our local economy by creating jobs and bolstering our local agriculture.  The fate of free school meals, meanwhile, faces a reckoning. When COVID-19 forced the closure of schools and childcare providers nationwide in March 2020, the USDA changed the rules governing access to school meals. They ripped away bureaucratic layers and among other moves, made free, healthy meals available to all students, regardless of financial need. As the June 2022 expiration date for universal free school meals approaches, Wisconsin State Representatives Kristina Shelton and Francesca Hong, State Senator Chris Larson, and WI State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly have introduced the Healthy School Meals for All Act (LRB 4605), which would permanently provide state aid to reimburse public and private schools that provide free meals to all students for the costs of those meals. "[W]hat must be our core value in Wisconsin is that no child should go hungry because a guardian in their life cannot afford a school meal."Rep. Francesca Hong “As a mom, chef and legislator I know first-hand the importance of building community through food. And what must be our core value in Wisconsin is that no child should go hungry because a guardian in their life cannot afford a school meal. All across this state, from our farmers and teachers to our students and school staff, we have learned that we must provide our children with more support during the school day,” Rep. Hong explained in a press release. REAP supports the Healthy School Meals For All legislation, and we hope you join us in raising our voices for healthy, reliable school meals for all by contacting your legislators today. Learn more about the bill at the Healthy School Meals for All Website and find additional tools for helping spread the word through the School Nutrition Association. ...

Dear REAP Friends, We are all still cheering over a strong year-end campaign, excited that countless hours of deliberation on how to grow and deepen our impact is starting to come to fruition and that your support and investment means we hit the ground running in 2022. In that context, there is another big change coming: this spring, I will be moving on after serving as the Executive Director of this vital community organization for the past five and a half years. My family has an opportunity to temporarily relocate overseas, and as we see the window of time as a family of 4 get ever-smaller, we feel this was the right time to take the leap if we do this together. It has been a true honor and deep privilege to learn, listen, work and celebrate with so many smart and passionate people who choose to work to make the world a better place. Given the scale of our global - and local - problems, it’s tempting to give in to cynicism, maybe too easy to convince yourself you can’t do anything about it. And yet, every single day, I am surrounded by caring, creative humans who - to quote Theodore Roosevelt - step into the arena and dare greatly to rise to the challenge of dismantling racism, rebuilding a just food system, reversing environmental destruction and co-creating the community that reflects our diversity and shared values. And as I listen to the conversations of my own young teens, I feel even more hopeful that we are in good company with the next generation of changemakers coming our way. REAP is doing important work at the nexus of food systems, social justice and environmental protection and we are seeking that next dynamic leader to harness the momentum, continue to forge deep partnerships and lift up the ridiculously talented team at REAP who serve farmers, children, chefs, and food businesses and dare greatly every day to build a just and sustainable local food system. Maybe you know that person? Maybe you are that person?  I couldn’t imagine a better place to land, or a better time to be joining REAP. And I look forward to joyously writing those checks, attending farm dinners and contacting elected officials as a proud member of REAP Food Group. The position description is posted on our website, please help us spread the word. Yours truly, Helen Sarakinos ...

We’re pleased to announce that REAP Food Group recently received a USDA Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) grant through the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP) Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). The $250,000 award will be used to design and pilot a Wholesale Farm Fresh Atlas and readiness program to serve small- and medium-scale farmers in southern Wisconsin.   Building off of the strengths of the direct-to-consumer Farm Fresh Atlas, REAP will design and pilot a digital Wholesale version of the Farm Fresh Atlas. It also plans to create a Wholesale Readiness technical assistance program for small- to medium-scale farmers who want to sell wholesale in southern Wisconsin. This includes sales to aggregators, food hubs, grocery stores, restaurants, and anchor institutions such as hospitals and schools. With a projected cost of $256,284, the planning project will focus this program in southern Wisconsin, though many of the technical assistance materials will be available and useful to producers and buyers statewide.  “With many years assisting Wisconsin’s second largest school district with local food procurement, our farmer connections and our partnerships with hospitals and higher ed, REAP is well positioned to help both food producers and buyers understand and overcome the hurdles to get local food into institutional kitchens,” says REAP Executive Director Helen Sarakinos.  REAP Farm to Business Director Anna Landmark adds, “With the wealth of family farms and anchor institutions in southern WI, this region can really reap the economic benefit of investing in local and sustainably-grown food.”  The USDA invested a total of $75.4 million across 41 states to 172 LAMP projects within the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). LMLFPP grantees’ efforts support the development, coordination, and expansion of direct producer-to-consumer markets and local and regional food business enterprises.   “These grants will help maximize opportunities for economic growth and ingenuity in local and regional food systems. The [LAMP] grants have a history of generating new income sources for small, beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and creating new market opportunities for value-added and niche products.” -Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Meanwhile, we’re thrilled to congratulate Madison-based FairShare CSA Coalition on their own LFPP grant to build capacity and increase access to markets through an aggregated CSA model. ...

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