The Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, which narrows in on the Farm Bill, is just one of many initiatives the foundation is pushing to shift the culture. 

By Maria Yagoda
Updated August 21, 2018
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Shelburne Farms in Burlington, VT
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This September, sixteen chefs from around the country will convene in Burlington, Vermont, to discuss a pressing topic in the food world: the Farm Bill. The James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) 16th Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, which will take place at Shelburne Farms, trains and educates invited chefs on topics ranging from social media campaign creation to devising action plans, with the goal of empowering restaurant industry leaders to protect and advocate for sustainable, fair farm policy.

“Now, while Congress is negotiating changes to the Farm Bill, which is set to expire on September 30th, it is imperative that these leaders are informed and mobilized to amplify the voices of farmers, veterans, conservationists, and children," said Katherine Miller, the James Beard Foundation’s vice president of Impact, in a statement. "The Farm Bill sets America’s food and farm policies for the next five years. Together with the hundreds of chefs who’ve been through Boot Camp before, this class of leaders will help ensure that farmers are protected and families have access to nutritious meals.”

Miller will lead the boot camp sessions, which will include "How Policy Happens" and "A Is for Advocacy," which are taking place at Shelburne Farms for the fourth year. Chefs including Ashley Christensen, Edouardo Jordan, Lisa Donovan, and Kate Williams will be among the participants.

While the James Beard Foundation launched the Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change in 2012, the organization seems to have significantly amped up advocacy efforts over the past few months, with a growing number of JBF Impact programs aimed at addressing inequities within the food industry and tackling food waste, sustainability, and environmental policy.

At the kick-off event for Taste America in New York City in June, CEO Clare Reichenbach spoke to Food & Wine about the expansion of Impact programs. In addition to Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, Reichenbach said that a big focus this year will be to "do more in the space of women's ownership." Earlier this June, the foundation announced the 20 fellows attending its Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, an initiative that Reichenbach hopes to grow by encouraging restaurant ownership among women, offering tools and resources on a broader scale.

"The restaurant culture is not conducive to women; you need more women at the helm," she said. "Less than seven percent of restaurants are helmed by women. Our hypothesis is that if you get more women running big restaurant groups, that will help with that watershed moment. That will shift the culture."

Reichenbach says the foundation is "looking to build a program around 'Owning It;'" that is, to build a network of female leaders within the industry to help share resources.

"There’s only so much you can do through the education—that’s such a critical component," she said. "It's nurturing those networks and sharing lessons learned and best practices after the event, too."