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The Henry Ford Carver-Carson Moveable Feast Dinner Launches School Lunch Initiative

Bottom pic: Alice Waters, Douglas Brinkley and Jane Fonda. Photo credit: Chaz Ebert.

This past week, I had the privilege of attending the Carver-Carson Society's Moveable Feast dinner held in Detroit's Greenfield Village, where Patricia Mooradian, President and CEO of The Henry Ford, announced a Farm to School Lunch Across America program and an endowment for Henry Ford Academy's locally-sourced farm to school lunches. The Society is named after the groundbreaking Black agricultural scientist George Washington Carver and marine biologist/author Rachel Carson. Chef (Chez Panisse) and farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters joined Oscar-winning actor and climate activist Jane Fonda in an engaging onstage conversation at the event moderated by celebrated historian Douglas Brinkley. The audience gave an enthusiastic welcome to this trio. Douglas Brinkley's new book "Silent Spring Revolution" details all of these actions and solutions. 

As a young student interested in science, both Mr. Carver and Ms. Carson were heroes of mine. George Washington Carver's knowledge of agriculture, and particularly of peanuts and soil rotation helped to revolutionize the science of soil depletion, leading to increased sustainability of food sources. Booker T. Washington appointed him head of the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Institute where he also served as a Professor for forty-seven years. 

My sister Adele, who was interested in the environment, encouraged me to read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" when I was in grade school. Carson sounded an early alarm warning against once verdant lands filled with flowers and insects, becoming barren and silent from the unabated use of pesticides, thus resulting in a silent spring. Both Carver and Carson were studied by Henry Ford, and I know that at least Carver met with him. They are both prominent icons in the environmentalist movement.

George Washington Carver, front row, center, poses with fellow faculty of the Tuskegee Institute in this photograph taken circa 1902 by Frances Benjamin Johnston. 

"The Henry Ford is activating its mission and collaborating with a wide-variety of thought leaders and influencers to address the issues of climate change, nutrition and accessibility," said Mooradian. "We are using our collections and historic expertise to help advocate for free, accessible, locally-sourced and cooked from scratch school lunches for every student in America, starting with our own students at Henry Ford Academy. Our farm to school lunch program will now be endowed in perpetuity and perhaps be a model for institutions across the country."

The Henry Ford announced a fundraising goal of $7 million to endow the school lunch program for its Henry Ford Academy, the public charter high school that educates 500 ninth through twelfth grade students on its campus. The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is committing a gift of $1 million to this endeavor while Ford Motor Company Fund is donating $500,000 to help launch the Farm to School Lunch Across America initiative, a national program during October Farm to School Month in 2024, serving schoolchildren, teachers, and families locally sourced meals. 

Receiving the inaugural Carver Prize at the event was Melvin Parson, founder of the We the People Opportunity Farm, a nonprofit organization which provides employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to assist in improving the environment through soil-changing measures. Mr. Parson received a standing ovation and spoke eloquently of his joy and purpose of striving for a better future where innovation, sustainability and education thrive through regenerative farming and feeding people. He received an award of $10,000 to continue his good works.

From Left: Jane Fonda, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Douglas Brinkley, Alice Waters, Melvin Parson and Patricia Mooradian.

The Strolling Dinner at the event was served by local farmers who exhibited their foods at eleven different stations around the room. The hearty fare consisted of everything from fresh, locally grown sweet corn and peaches to tomato bisque soup and savory mozzarella ice cream.

"The Community Foundation congratulates The Henry Ford for leading the farm-to-school lunch program," said Ric DeVore, president, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. "We have long supported food access programs in southeast Michigan, and we believe The Henry Ford initiative has the potential to not only improve health outcomes for participants and their families, but to teach others about the power of sustainable food systems."

Conceptually, this advocacy effort will focus on the importance of healthy and in-season lunch programs for K-12 students and involve schools across the nation through programming and assemblies. Henry Ford Academy partners with a dozen local farms and organizations to serve its students in-season regional food every day.

"More than 34 million Americans including nine million children face food insecurity," said Mary Culler, president of Ford Fund. "That's why we're so proud to build on our longstanding partnership with The Henry Ford to transform access to fresh, healthy food for school children across the country." 

I also had the extraordinary opportunity at the nearby Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation to sit in the actual bus seat from which Rosa Parks famously refused to move, galvanizing the Civil Rights movement. It was a very emotional experience. Ms. Parks lived in Michigan in her latter years and helped with her thoughts about the exhibit. The Museum contains many artifacts of various aspects of American History, including many from Mr. Carver (you can sample them here). It was initially called the Edison Institute because Thomas Alva Edison was Henry Ford's mentor. It is well worth a visit.

Chaz Ebert sits on the bus seat from which Rosa Parks refused to be moved. Photo credit: Chaz Ebert.

For more information, visit the official site of The Henry Ford. 

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of RogerEbert.com, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 24th year.

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