Andrea Northup

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) honors remarkable food visionaries every year with their Growing Green Awards

“These vanguards are serving up a food system with generous portions of workplace justice, economic viability and ecological integrity,” said Jonathan Kaplan, Director of Food and Agriculture at NRDC. “They are living proof that we can grow and eat food that is good for us, our communities and the planet.”

One of this year’s award winners is 25-year-old Andrea Northup, founder of the D.C. Farm to School Network. Passionate about local food and children’s health, this young woman is responsible for connecting local D.C. area farmers and food producers with over 200 public schools and 90 charter schools in the D.C. school district. 

The D.C. Farm to School Network started out of an internship that Northup received, and grew from their into a program she envisioned, started, and fought to fund. Today, the Network hosts two huge, district-wide food events each year: Farm to School Week in October and the Strawberries and Salad Greens day focused around a day of fresh berries and local greens right before school lets out in the spring.

Andrea Northup

The rest of the Network’s mission is focused on training and technical assistance for the schools in the district, direct education that connects children and food producers, and advocacy for healthier, local foods in lunchrooms.

One of Northup’s proudest achievements was the Healthy Schools Act the Network helped to get passed. “We helped pass a law that provides schools with a financial incentive to serve local foods,” she said. “Schools get an extra five cents for every meal they serve that includes a locally grown fruit or vegetable component.”

The Network’s education programs seem to be having the desired effect. When compared with winning the NRDC award, some of her proudest moments with the program seem small, but they have a big impact. “More and more I’m seeing kids who are not looking at a sweet potato in dismay,” she says. “It’s the formative years for them, and they will remember petting a chicken on a farm and talking about the differences between that chicken and the chicken that goes into nuggets. They’ll remember being able to pull a carrot out of the ground and taste it. Familiarizing them with those experiences and getting them excited about eating food that comes from the earth is incredibly rewarding.”

Andrea Northup as a grumpy carrot

Northup has had to start from the ground up, so to speak, winning support from two of her most important constituents: kids and cafeteria workers. “The biggest resistance has come from two groups: students who haven’t been… primed for the drastic changes that are happening in their school meals [and] the cafeteria staff, because the switch to more unprocessed ingredients as opposed to warming meals is a big deal.”

But Northup has found her best tool to engage reluctant participants is just to listen. “Do a whole lot of listening,” she suggests for parents and others seeking to enact similar reforms in their home towns. “A lot of times school food service directors, staff, growers, are doing a whole lot with very little, and a lot of times, what they want is for someone to hear their struggle. That’s how you get a foot in the door. Make friends with your farm-to-school stakeholders and respond to their needs before you push your own agenda.”

Clearly, her strategy is working, as the Network reaches more and more children every year. “Farm-to school is a household name in D.C. now,” Northup says. “A lot of folks understand what it means and why it’s important. That is, I think, something I’m really proud of.”

Images: Andrea Northup