The National Farm to School Network (NFSN), a project of Tides Center, celebrates 10 years of tremendous growth and maturity for farm to school in 2017. This first decade of NFSN’s efforts have focused on developing a strong network of partnerships across sectors, building awareness about farm to school, and increasing activities at the state and regional levels through training, capacity building, and policy advocacy. This approach resulted in the unprecedented growth of farm to school from a handful of sites in the late 1990s to more than 42,000 schools
in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. Territories – or 42% of all schools – benefiting more than 23.6 million children. Since 2011, NFSN has prioritized early care and education settings (ECE) as touch points for expanding our network and activities. A 2015 Survey of Early Care and Education Providers
conducted by NFSN indicates farm to ECE activity in 850 sites covering 48 states and Washington, D.C.
NFSN is an information, advocacy, and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into school systems and ECE settings. Farm to school and ECE empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. NFSN’s more than 15,000 members and Core Partners reflect our tagline “Growing Stronger Together” and a belief that robust movement building is possible only when we work collaboratively across sectors and locations.
NFSN has a record of extraordinary accomplishment, pioneering a national and budding international farm to school movement and placing farm to school and ECE as a ubiquitous part of food systems change work, federal and state policy, and cross-sectoral connections. NFSN was instrumental in establishing the USDA Farm to School Grant program that has disbursed $20 million in federal grants in the last four years, and has institutionalized national and regional farm to school staffing within USDA. As of 2014, over 25 states have farm to school supportive policies
such as the Healthy Tots Act
in Washington, D.C. (farm to ECE), and as of 2015, there are an estimated 28.5 full time staff equivalents dedicated to expanding farm to school efforts within State Departments of Agriculture, Education,and Health. NFSN has developed innovative resources such as Evaluation for Transformation
, Benefits of Farm to School
, and State Farm to School Legislative Survey
to support and guide farm to school stakeholders. Beginning in 2011, NFSN expanded the farm to school model into ECE settings and continues to build partnerships to expand capacity for farm to ECE.
While the growth over the last decade is impressive, there are significant disparities in implementation and access across states and communities. For example, there are several states with less than 30% of school districts participating in farm to school activities. Nationwide, only 39% of children participating in free or reduced price meals have access to farm to school activities. This represents a gap in access especially for children from low-income families for whom school meals are a significant source of nutrition. Additionally, only about half the states in the U.S. have farm to school coordinator positions at state agencies or extension, critical to sustained support for technical assistance and guidance to schools and farmers.
**View a larger version of this map here. Map updated on Dec. 21, 2016.**
For farm to ECE, disparities in implementation and access are more dramatic. Only 14% of school-based ECE sites participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and of those just 5% purchase local foods. To date, Washington, D.C. alone has passed a specific farm to ECE supportive policy. In comparison to 50% of U.S. states that have farm to school coordinator positions, only 8 states have dedicated staff time to support farm to ECE. There is significant room for growth in farm to ECE practices as a strategy for providing a high-quality learning environment in ECE settings.
The next phase of NFSN’s work will continue to build on the gains of the last decade but prioritize areas of high-need, specifically locations with low farm to school and ECE penetration, high poverty and obesity rates, high free and reduced price meal eligibility, lack of state agency support, policy support or dedicated coordinator positions, weak or nonexistent state networks, and minimal funds to support farm to school and ECE. The work undertaken by selected Core Partners will scale up network activities and impacts by strengthening farm to ECE, facilitating expanded engagement in farm to school through diverse partnerships and promotion, advancing social equity and preserving cultural traditions, and promoting institutionalization and sustainability for farm to school and ECE activities nationwide.
Several high-impact strategies have resulted in significant growth and coverage across states, and these will be the cornerstones of NFSN’s future engagement, especially in high-need locations:
- Dedicated farm to school and ECE coordinator positions within state agencies (e.g., HI, VT);
- State-wide grants to jumpstart activities (e.g., OR);
- Leveraging state dollars for school meal reimbursements by prioritizing local products (e.g., MI, DC);
- Robust state farm to school and ECE networks (e.g., CA and MS, and MO which hosts a quad partnership-led network with Extension and state Departments of Education, Agriculture, and Health); and
- Partnerships with organizations building local food infrastructure (e.g., NC and WI).
NFSN’s goal is to institutionalize farm to school and ECE so that it is a norm in all K-12 schools and ECE settings, and benefits all children and communities. The selection of Core Partners through this Request for Applications is a critical first step in laying the groundwork towards this goal.