Reauthorization, Farm Bill, food cost
management were top of mind.
To many, the SNA Annual National Conference is simply “the school nutrition event of the year,” but to outgoing SNA President Mary Hill, SNS, the gathering is more like a big reunion. At the opening ceremony of this year's Philly conference, Hill said she saw the SNA as “one big family committed to providing good, healthy nutrition to 30 million school children each day.”
In July, Hill's “family” met up in the halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center, the surrounding streets, local restaurants and hotel lobbies between July 20-23.
Like any family, members of the SNA confronted some common challenges — rising food costs, tightening nutrition standards, and challenging revenue dynamics, to name a few. For attendees struggling with these and other issues, the conference provided a little group therapy.
The more than 6,000 school lunch professionals attending also had the chance to see and taste a wide variety of products on display in the SNA exhibit hall.
“I'm looking for to find new, nutritious products we can afford,” attendee Ray Denniston of Johnson, NY said as he bumped into some old friends while exiting the general session on Monday.
The need to look ahead to next year's school lunch reauthorization bill was a major focus of legislative and planning sessions. “SNA has introduced many initiatives in the past year that will have far-reaching impact,” said SNA Executive Director Barbara Belmont. She added that, in numerous cases, “SNA has not only endorsed standards, but has raised standards.”
Emphasizing the legislative goals that were an underlying theme of the Philly conference, one of the city's many Ben Franklin impersonators introduced SNA legal counsel Marshall Matz by observing that “A penny saved is a penny earned for SNA's PAC.”
Both the pennies and SNA's high energy levels are being focused on achieving those objectives, Matz said. He reminded the group of the sway they hold over politicians, especially in an election year.
“You have enormous power,” Matz said. “You control the photograph they want most for elections: sitting in desks next to the kids.
“Remind them that we want their support,'” Matz advised. “Next year we want a reauthorization that is truly historic.”
USDA Dept. of Agriculture Under Secretary Nancy Montanez Johner relayed her experiences visiting schools around the country and emphasized the partnerships USDA is looking to build with the schools.
Johner said USDA has been working with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to update NSLA menu planning guidelines, with a Phase 1 report from that effort scheduled for release in the next few months. Johner also encouraged the crowd to take full advantage of USDA's commodity program and pointed out that the 08 Farm Bill should provide new resources in terms of fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Anticipating legislative changes for next year, Johner told the SNA, “We will need your energy and your passion.”