We recently caught up with Danielle Whitmore, YoloArts Executive Director, with whom our firm, Evans & Brennan, works professionally on the Yolo Farm to School Project. She spoke at the National Farm to School Conference in Austin, TX to find out her take on what she experienced and how attendees responded to her message of art and agriculture.
“Dani” brings her thirty years of administrative experience, knowledge and tireless advocacy for the arts to benefit Yolo County. With a professional background in the field of marketing and public relations, she promotes the relationships between artists and the community, while working to strengthen YoloArts’ partnerships with a keen eye on using art as a tool for economic development.
Evans & Brennan (E&B): You are the Director of the Yolo Arts Council. What is its purpose and how does this relate to agriculture and school food? Dani: YoloArts is dedicated to cultivating and enriching people’s lives through the arts. We accomplish this mission by supporting art education programs, exhibitions, galleries, businesses, ranches and public places with art – and use our signature program The Art and Ag Project to connect the arts to agriculture, food and now school food.
E &B: We understand this was your first time attending the conference and that you presented on a panel. What caused you to want to go? Dani: Any time YoloArts can lend a voice to the concept of art as a collaborative, community building tool we are pleased to present. We believe in leveraging the power of the arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest – The Art and Ag Project is a powerful combination of art, food, and community.
What is your message, with your Art and Agriculture Program, as it relates to school lunch and those who cook it every day? Did you get a good reaction on the panel? The panel was very interested in the unique connection this program offers. There are multiple opportunities to teach and connect but none better that reaching students. The Art and Ag Program K-12 platform provides an educational opportunity – teaching the next generation about their agricultural heritage, the importance of land preservation and healthy eating in the context of creative experiences. I also see this as an opportunity to introduce and educate kids on healthy foods. In short a way to break down the yuckyness of a vegetable…you know make kale – cool.
What was the “feel” of the conference as a first time participant, and one who is indirectly related to a school lunch program? Were there unusual twists, speakers or sessions? The conference was a warm and inviting place to be….I mean we all love food right? And I can talk about food anytime. What I found interesting was the opening comments by the director. She noted a key vision for this conference was the planners desire to bring the unexpected to the table…and they did…they brought art~ ! It was fun to watch the reaction as I introduced myself – I felt I represented the twist…in a good way!
What kind of food was served? Did it reflect the southern heritage of Austin, TX? Did you have BBQ? If so, what kind (pork or beef? Tomato or vinegar based?) The food was locally sourced and provided a great introduction to the region. Quite frankly we all got full fast as we downed pulled pork sliders with coleslaw….I don’t recall the sauce….but it’s probably on my shirt somewhere! (J
Did you meet and interact with people from other regions around the country? What are serving in their cafeterias? How are they approaching farm to school any differently? Are they doing anything with art and agriculture that interested you? I had the pleasure of meeting many folks from all over the United States – Phoenix, Maine, Texas of course and California. I found their work in cafeterias and school gardens really amazing, especially those who are growing and cooking their own food with students. My fellow conference goers were keenly interested in including the art in their programming…it’s a concept they didn’t consider. I was surprised by the newness of the farm to cafeteria initiative – I didn’t realize it was so young. But its strong…over 1,000 people attended this conference. Amazing.
Yolo Arts Council recently did the design work for Yolo Farm to School’s soon to be launched Guidebook: California Specialty Crops: A Guide for Their Use in School Lunch. Was this good background for you at the conference? Why was your organization selected to do this and what does Yolo Arts Council bring to the table of more fresh flavorful and seasonal food in the school cafeteria? Yes thanks to Ann Evans and Georgeanne Brennan – YoloArts has the distinct opportunity to design the soon to be launched guidebook, which includes images of art we have commissioned or has been inspired by our county’s agriculture and local foods. I believe it’s our passion for connecting through the arts that inspired Ann and Georgann to ask us. Because of our unique and fortunate partnership with John Young, Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner – we are included in many key conversations, meeting and collaborative opportunities. Not only was our work on the guidebook good background for the conference, it continues to support the role of our organization as a strong player in promoting healthy foods, the use of local farms and our county – creatively.