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MFIN Gathering 2019 Keynote Speech

Diane Golzynski, Director, Office of Health and Nutrition Services, Michigan Department of Education 

In November, 2019, the Michigan Farm to Institution Network convened to reflect on their past and envision a new future. Nearly 100 members of the Network spent a day reflecting on their successes and challenges over the last six years, using that as inspiration for determining where they wanted to go as a network and strategizing for how to grow membership and the impact of their work. Diane Golzynski, Director of the Office of Health and Nutrition Services at the Michigan Department of Education and member of the MFIN Leadership Team, opened up the day inspiring the audience with her enthusiasm, passion, and personal conviction. The following is the recording and transcript of her keynote speech.

Transcription

Good morning! Thank you so much for allowing me some time to celebrate all that we have done and how far we have come.

As Colleen said, I started my career in Michigan at the Michigan Department of Community Health, which is not what it is even called anymore, that’s how long ago it was. Dinosaurs roamed the earth at the time. I was the Michigan Fruit & Vegetable Nutrition Coordinator. I remember getting the job, walking in on the first day – now you have to picture, I’d just moved across country, my husband was still in California, I had a baby three weeks before. I was walking into this new job, and I said, “Okay, what am I supposed to do?” and they put me in a room full of papers and they said, “Figure it out.”

I had no idea, but I was allowed the opportunity to design the job as I wished. At that time, I met Mike Hamm, and Mike Hamm explained to me the idea of triaging purchases to look at Michigan grown foods. Buying Michigan first and foremost when you can, when you can’t looking regionally to the Great Lakes region, and when you can’t do that looking at those grown in the United States.

That really opened up my eyes to the idea of what local foods could and should be, and man have we come a long way since then. I remember thinking: farm to school was a new emerging idea. Wow, right? We started a state level advisory group for farm to school and we were one of the first states to do that. It was really exciting. During my time at Community Health, we were able to work on food policy councils. We were able to work on developing farmers markets. We were working on getting EBT machines into farmers markets so those with food stamps could spend their funds at farmers markets. That’s how long ago that work was. My team who’s here to do would tell you that they like to call me Do-It-Now-Diane, and that’s because I really wish we moved faster.

Fast forward 15 years later and we are better than we were then. We have come a long way. In this room are friends that we have made along the way – friends that we have worked with from the beginning – Chris was stuck with me even before I left for California and then when I came back. Chris was working with me when I was working on my PhD. We have gotten to the point where we work together, and sometimes the lines of where we work are blurred. I forget that there’s Extension and Center for Regional Food Systems differences. I forget that there are differences between the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education, sometimes. I forget that we have our School Nutrition Association, which is different than our ISD partners and our K-12 partners and our Early Childcare partners, because we’ve all come together around the same thing.

So, as you were talking about your food memories, I hope they brought back great memories, but I hope they also gave you some grounding and some reason for why you’re passionate about this work. I’m passionate about this work because it goes all the way back to my childhood, and it really means something to me to promote good, healthy food. So, for those of you who haven’t heard me tell the story about my dad, my dad grew up poor in Yale, Michigan. Anyone know where Yale, Michigan is? A rural, farming community on the eastern side in the thumb. He grew up poor to the point where there were many, many days where he didn’t have food at all. He didn’t know where his next meal would come from. He would tell stories about sneaking out in the middle of the night to pilfer from neighbors’ gardens to get food for his siblings because that’s how hungry they were.

He worked on local crop farms and eventually got a job at the Pontiac auto plant, and my mom tells stories of him bringing home $200 a week, and they thought they were rich. They had made it. It was incredible. But for him, it wasn’t $200 a week that made him rich, it was the fact that he had enough food every day. He no longer had to worry where his next meal was coming from. In fact, we would joke that the table had to be full of food including the counter behind us. If you put food away in the refrigerator, you had to slam your body against the refrigerator door when you were done, and pray that that door would stay shut.

Today, I still find myself remembering what those experiences were like, because if there was a small amount of food in the refrigerator that was about to go bad, you didn’t throw that food away. This was early food waste, right? Early food waste conversations. You ate that food because there were hungry people out there, so you ate that food, and I still find myself doing that now and then. “There’s no mold on that, we should eat that, right?”

At the end of my dad’s life, through a series of health complications he lost the ability to chew and swallow. I’m a dietician, I became a dietician because I loved food and I loved talking about food and loved working with food. I knew there were ways to keep him alive through those dietary means. We could use all these things, I was smart, I had a college degree, I knew we could do this. But what I missed was that he needed to chew and swallow. He needed that experience. He called us in and he said “I can’t do that again.” It had been 60 years since that man had known hunger, and he chose death over having to be fed through a tube, because he needed to experience eating. It is personal for me, and I hope it’s personal for you. I believe that’s probably why you’re in the room. Whatever your story is, it’s personal. It brings you to the table, and it makes you become that advocate - that person who fights for those locally grown foods, those foods that sustain our neighbors and keeps their kids going to school and in ballet class. It keeps our Michigan farmers going. That’s what we have to celebrate!

Now, I want you to high five your neighbor if you participated in the Cherry Slurp, if you knew about the Cherry Slurp, or if you promoted the Cherry Slurp! High five your neighbor if you participated in the Apple Crunch, or the Cucumber Crunch. These are big deals! They take a lot of effort to plan but they also bring knowledge and awareness to the issues for those who may not otherwise even be aware of where their food is coming from or why they should care about where their food is coming from.

I’ll never forget the first time I put one of those darn pre-roasted chickens from the store on the table. My son, who was about two or three at the time, went running up tot eh table, he was so excited dinner was ready, and he looked at that chicken and he started screaming. He said, “Oh my god it looks like an animal!” That’s when I realized I had done him no service by serving boneless, skinless chicken breasts as the dietician of the house. We have to teach our kids where their food is coming from. That’s why we have pizza gardens, right? We know if the kids grow it, they will eat it, and our kids are our future. They deserve to have a future where they know that their neighbors can handle growing food and supplying food for all of us in a way that’s sustainable, where they can make a living and everyone else around them can make a living as well.

As Colleen talked about the Cultivate Michigan featured foods, those are incredible products. If we’re not promoting that and getting that out to those we work with, we’re forgetting to promote the work that we do. Sometimes it can be difficult to promote what we do, right? We get busy, or we think that others think about the world the same way we do. One of the things we’ve been talking about at the Department of Education lately is we’ve done such a great job of downplaying our work, that we’ve now allowed others to decide the value of our work. I think some of that has happened in these circles as well. We do such a great job with what we do, but we downplay it. We don’t promote it the way that we should.

We have incredible partners in this room and we have new and emerging companies, like Farm to Freezer and Farm-Logix and Cherry Capital Foods and others who are promoting this work, and we need to promote that as well. We need to help others know that those options are available, and why those are important options – why is it important to spend a limited food budget on the healthy foods we can get that are grown in Michigan, rather than the processed foods we can get from some other company? What does that promote? We’re talking lifelong health for our Michigan residents, we’re talking our kids being able to grow up and know what healthy food looks like, know why they need to eat healthy food, know what that provides to them when they graduate and when they become adults.

We have Healthy Kids Healthy Michigan – where’s Tina? I saw Tina in the room earlier. Healthy Kids Healthy Michigan, their most active group is their Healthy Food Access group. They are promoting statewide policies that support healthy food access. That’s also relatively new and something most other states don’t have. We have great opportunities happening.

We have counties who have come together and said “Supporting healthy food access is so important to us that we’re willing to put county money into this.” Not just state money. We have county superintendents coming together and saying, “This isn’t anything we can ignore anymore. Our kids deserve to have reliable, healthy food access every day of the year.” I don’t know about you, but I like to eat every day of the year, and so do our kids, right? But they deserve to have healthy food access, not just some kind of processed product that’s put in front of them. They deserve to know what healthy foods are.

We’ve gone far beyond farm to school. Farm to early childcare institutions – we know that if we introduce those healthy products to the youngest kids, they grow up liking those products. Farm to early childcare is emerging and really growing across the state. We also have farm to summer where we have goats who help kids read books. If you haven’t made it to South Haven to see the goats that actually do look like they’re reading books, it’s quite incredible! What a great way to get kids excited about reading as well as healthy food and where that food comes from. We are one of the only states that actually promotes farm to summer, and yet we have a short growing season.

Look at the work we’ve done in our state with hoophouses. I can remember when hoophouses first started and how innovative that was, and how important it was to extending the growing season. Now we have Hoophouses for Health, where we can help promote hoophouses, getting those healthy products to those who need it, and helping those farmers pay off the loans to be able to get that hoophouse. We have more food councils than I know how to count, I know there are folks here who can help us do that. We have more healthy policies, we have colleges who are promoting healthy foods and also helping our hungry college students be able to have access to foods. We have programs where we are promoting healthy food in newsletters, and local PTAs are doing farmraisers, where fundraisers are promoting healthy farm products.

We have so much going on, but when you think about it – were we the first state to have a good food charter? No, but we were the best. Why do I say that? Because I can tell you, I helped with the first Good Food Charter and I had call after call after call – how is Michigan doing that? How did that happen? I need to understand from you where that went, how that got there.

I remember the first conference that I ever put on where I planned the meal. It was at the Lansing Center. It was local product, as much as we could get the Lansing Center to purchase, and we didn’t serve meat for lunch. We served butternut squash ravioli. People were not happy with me. I was not the most favorite person in the room at that time, but how things have changed! You can now go to conferences and have access to healthy foods at conferences. You can now go to meetings where you know that there are ways you’re going to be able to get up, move, participate, network and engage with those around you because over this small amount of time we’ve really made a difference.

So where are we going? That’s what we get to help decide today. We have had so much success in this room. Whether you’re aware of all of it or not, so many good things have come out of this room. At the time when I started in 2004, I think I was one of the only state employees that worked on that. Now how many state employees do we have in this room? Look at that, that’s incredible, right? State employees who are actually able to do this work and help promote this work with all of you.

So where are we going? Do we look at procurement values? What does that mean, how do we do that, where are our opportunities there to promote sustainability and fair wages and healthy foods and local foods? What does that look like? We know we need to address racial equity; we talked about that with Colleen. Economic equity, as well. Recognizing that not everyone in our state has the resources or the resilience to be able to make the choices that those of us in this room are able to make, and how do we improve that. We know that farmer stress is a real issue. We know that we are losing farmers on a regular basis. We had one of the rare, state-promoted programs of local products in 10-Cents-a Meal, and we lost it. Why? We got caught up in the politics, sure, I can use that excuse all day long and I do use that excuse all day long. But, it’s also because we didn’t do a great job of promoting ourselves and helping others understand our value and what we had to do.

So what do we need to do to grow this network? Get the people at the table who need to have a voice at this work. That’s all part of what we’re going to do today. So for me, I just want to say thank you for being here. Thank you for making the time. Thank you to the Center for Regional Food Systems and Michigan Farm to Institution Network for making scholarships available so we can have additional people at the table. Thank you for your open and honest conversation today because it’s only because of you that we will continue to grow and expand this work. Thank you.