The Florida School Nutrition State Conference in Daytona Beach
I know, I know- a little bit much to start with. That’s me and my pal, Mike Burke. Mike and I are two of the very few fortunate people who are in the food service equipment industry that work as ambassadors to School Nutrition. Actually, he’s an ambassador; my title is “Guru.” So a little much is sometimes what we’re about. We’ve taken photos in this pose all over the country, but this one by far was the most “colorful!”
We were standing at the entrance of the main event at the Florida School Nutrition Conference in Daytona Beach. And it was fun and LOUD! We were all instructed to wear bright colors in order to pick up the dozens of black lights that surrounded the room.
It was awesome to watch. This conference, titled Runnin’ Down a Dream, is not only the name of Gainesville, Florida native Tom Petty’s tune, but it was Florida School Nutrition President Lori Drenth’s mantra for her year as chief.
See, Lori had a goal of upping the membership in the state of Florida. She will tell you herself the membership numbers in Georgia have haunted her. She swore at the beginning of her tenure that she was coming after Georgia and she did! Georgia boasts the best membership numbers in the U.S., but this year Lori’s hard work paid off. Florida has the distinction of being the fastest growing school nutrition membership in America.
Lori’s determination didn’t stop there. She was one of 50 school districts to apply for the Winston School Nutrition Grant. Ten pieces of equipment were selected to go to the winning district and Lori’s district, Hernando County was chosen. Talk about good fortune. I asked her to buy me some lottery tickets!
There have been some historic Florida Association State Presidents in the last few years that have dealt with really important issues from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, children and family food insecurity, community eligibility and so much more. These two were among the best, Ida Daniels of Hamilton County Schools up in the panhandle and Donna Wolter of Osceola County Schools, south of Orlando.
I go to a lot of state school nutrition conferences and they are all great in their own way. Florida of course is Florida. And there’s just something about having to work at the beach that is pretty special!
The Georgia School Nutrition State Conference in Savannah
And while it was great opening conversation, it was the conversation at the conference that really showed off what Georgia School Nutrition has to offer.
GSNA boasts the largest membership in the U.S. and there’s good reason why.
Here’s a term you may not have heard of: School District Owned Memberships otherwise known as SDMs. These are memberships that school districts can keep even if a member leaves or retires from the district. Then that membership can be transferred. This is a money-saving way of getting more school nutrition personnel to get involved with the program without another startup cost.
The total number of SDMs for March, 2016 was almost 30,000 strong. And since SDMs currently account for 50% of the total national School Nutrition Association membership, you can see how a program like this positively impacts the numbers. All state associations are now participating in SDM. Take a look at who’s on top!
This year’s festivities included a visit and performance from the one and only Paula Deen. She told the story of how hard she worked to overcome the obstacles in her life to become the owner of Lady and Sons restaurant, an author and TV personality.
Kern Halls, proprietor of Ingenious Culinary, a one stop consultancy for the purpose of consistently successful school food service operations, engaged the audience with concepts that enlightened and energized the crowd.
The conference for 2016 was titled “Aiming High in The Low Country” and it was GSNA State President Vanessa Hayes’ mantra for the year. Vanessa is one of the most dynamic people you’ll ever meet. Truly a gifted speaker/motivator and awesome director of the Tift County Schools, Georgia Program. Here, she’s pictured with the legendary Josephine Martin a resident of Georgia who is the living history of modern school nutrition.
These are just some highlights of this event, but believe me; it was educational, informational, engaging, absorbing, and entertaining. Honestly, words don’t do it justice. Check out this shot of the last evening titled, “Throw down in the Lowdown.” A huge seafood boil served buffet style right on the Hutchinson Island side of the river.
Working with State and National School Nutrition Associations
The School Nutrition State Conference schedule started in March. Alabama and Oregon were the first to kick off their events from March 11-12. I’m fortunate enough to serve on both the Executive Board and the Exhibit or Expo Board in Alabama as an Industry member. I also serve as the Industry representative to the Membership committee for the School Nutrition National Association. That’s why I’m very proud of the work Alabama has accomplished in recent years. Alabama’s School Nutrition membership has had steady growth for the last four years. I’ve actually witnessed the sheer amount of people that now attend the Conference and Expo compared to 2012.
With every state conference and exhibit it’s all about support. All of the state associations run with varying degrees of staff and help depending on the support they get. One major factor is industry support. These are the companies that buy space at annual exhibits to show food products, kitchen equipment, software and other technology that could easily help each kitchen run more efficiently.
As each vendor gets ready to load in, the first day looked like this:
But in just a few hours it looked like this:
Some states have two-day shows with selected hours on the floor of the exhibition that are designated strictly for purchasers. Alabama had a one-day show this year. Typically, each state tries to mix things up to get the best out of what is likely their biggest support event of the year.
Most of the time the conference eclipses with an awards banquet. This year it was exceptional…particularly for me.
I work with a School Nutrition Foundation committee assigned to interviewing School Nutrition Heroes. These are people who not only perform in their jobs, but actually work in the program. They go above and beyond, sometimes with difficult odds and outcomes to help super serve their communities. These people are honored each year along with a new group of five at School Nutrition’s Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Alabama is one of only two states that has two heroes. 2013’s Karen Watson from Sylacauga City Schools (left) and 2016’s Samantha Ingram from Geneva County Schools (right).
No doubt I have gotten as much from the experience as they have, just by knowing them and seeing the things they’ve accomplished. This photo was taken less than two weeks after Samantha was honored in DC at the Alabama SNA awards banquet. It really is all about support. The membership, the State Association, the Vendors, Superintendents, Principals, PTA, and on and on. A lot of effort from a lot of different places. But I can tell you, in my experience, the reward is awesome.