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National Farm to School Network

News

Giving Thanks for Partnerships and Innovation

NFSN Staff Wednesday, November 26, 2014

By Mary Stein, Deputy Director

As we arrive at the eve of my favorite day of the year, I am feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the amazing network of people that has taken the farm to school movement from a few classrooms to all 50 states, reaching more than 23 million children across the nation. What may appear at first to be a simple act of serving local apples during National Farm to School Month in October, is part of a much more complex national effort impacting the health of our kids, the viability of family farms and community well-being.

We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the selfless work and enthusiasm for sharing new ideas that our many partners bring to the National Farm to School Network. Farm to school connects disciplines that previously operated independently. The obvious example is local farms that are now connecting to schools. But when we dig more deeply, we see that there are many more partners at the table, including food banks, educators, state and federal agencies, philanthropists, foodservice professionals, mental health and public health practitioners, economic development organizations, tribal nation leaders, elected officials… the list goes on. It is at these intersections that innovation happens and through these partnerships that we are building a broad, deep and resilient foundation for the future.

I’ll be honest – pumpkin pie smothered in fresh whipped cream is probably the factor that tips Thanksgiving into the “my favorite holiday” category. But slowing down to tune our senses to what is right, beautiful and generous in our lives is even sweeter. 

Thank you to all of our incredible core partners, practitioners in the field, school lunch specialists, parents, farmers and policymakers. And to everyone who believes that together we can shape the next generation of healthy eaters. 

First Graders Don’t Care about Michelin Stars

NFSN Staff Friday, November 21, 2014

By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director

Chefs have played a significant role in the farm to school movement since Alice Waters started the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. And as the movement has grown, so has their impact. From Tom Colicchio testifying in Congress for improved child nutrition standards to the Chef Action Network Boot Camp for Policy and Change, celebrity chefs across the country are activating their notoriety and influence to propel the conversation about kids and healthy food into the mainstream.

But on a recent visit to New York, I was reminded that chefs bring more than a high-profile name to this fight. At the James Beard Foundation Food Conference, I met Michael Anthony, a Chefs Boot Camp graduate and the Executive Chef and Partner at Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Upon hearing that I work for the National Farm to School Network, he excitedly shared how he and his team at Gramercy Tavern and its sister restaurants volunteer at P.S. 41 in Manhattan, teaching cooking and nutrition to first grade students.

From left to right: Chef Michael Anthony, Chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Chef Bill Telepan
(Photo courtesy of Wellness in the Schools)

Michael connected with P.S. 41 through Wellness in the Schools (WITS), an organization co-founded by Nancy Easton and Chef Bill Telepan of Telepan Restaurant to “inspire healthy eating, environmental awareness and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools.” Since 2005, WITS has been harnessing the creativity, energy and dedication of chefs to create a huge presence in NYC public schools. Their Cooking for Kids program enlists 26 chefs to participate in cooking and nutrition education programs in schools across all five boroughs of New York City.

A few days later, I found myself at P.S. 84 Brooklyn in Williamsburg, warmly greeted by Ting Chang, a registered dietician and WITS Program Coordinator, and Chef George Weld of Egg, a tiny Williamsburg restaurant with a huge reputation. Ting explained how WITS tries to introduce chefs to schools in their own communities, helping connect local residents, schools and businesses. Chef George is not only a local business owner; he is a resident who sends his own children to P.S. 84 and is invested in ensuring children have every opportunity to access healthy food and develop knowledge around good eating habits. His business partner Evan Hanczor is a graduate of Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, and together they are striving to make a difference in their community – both with adults and the increasing number of children who live in their thriving neighborhood.

As Chef George helped students at P.S. 84 prepare a kale, apple and couscous salad, I couldn’t help but think how these 7 and 8-year-olds had no idea that he has been written up in The New York Times. But they could sense his interest in them and his enthusiasm for the fresh, healthy food they were eating, and that positive experience is what builds kids’ interest and willingness to try new foods. As busy, successful chefs step up to the proverbial plate to use their skills, creativity and passion to change the health trajectory for children across the country, I ask, if we all approached farm to school creatively, utilizing our own skills (doused with the same patience and dedication), how many more children could we impact? 

Collaboration and Innovation with Newman’s Own Foundation

NFSN Staff Wednesday, November 19, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director and Co-founder 

Newman’s Own Foundation announced today the formation of an innovative Nutrition Cohort, a coalition of organizations including the National Farm to School Network that will work to improve health among children and families in underserved communities through fresh food access and nutrition education. Together with five other nonprofits and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the National Farm to School Network will share its knowledge, experience and deep network of expert practitioners to help accelerate systems change on a national level. 

Farm to school practices that connect children to healthy food through local sourcing and experiential education have been shown to improve the eating habits and health of children of all ages and their families while also strengthening local agriculture and economies. Several studies, like this one taking place in Vermont, also show that kids who participate in farm to school/preschool education opportunities, like cooking lessons and school gardens, are more likely to try new foods and perform better in school, both academically and socially. More than 23 million students across the country now participate in farm to school activities, a huge increase over the handful of programs that were in place when the National Farm to School Network was founded in 2007.  

As part of the Nutrition Cohort, National Farm to School Network has been awarded a three-year $600,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation to support innovative programmatic expansions and further build capacity for providing relevant information, networking opportunities and policy advocacy for the farm to school community. We are honored to be part of the Nutrition Cohort, which also includes the Fair Food Network, FoodCorps, Inc., The Food Trust, Wellness in the Schools and Wholesome Wave. Newman's Own Foundation is providing a total of $4.5 million in grants for the Cohort program as part of its overall $10 million support of nonprofits that increase fresh food access and nutrition education in underserved communities.

Download our Benefits Fact Sheet to learn more about the impact of farm to school. 

New Resource and Funding Ideas for Grassroots Organizations

NFSN Staff Friday, November 14, 2014
By Barbara Patterson, NFSN Policy Intern
This week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released a Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs. The 2014 Farm Bill contained reauthorization of several programs that promote local and sustainable food systems. This new resource helps farmers, conservationists, entrepreneurs, researchers, and rural and urban community groups navigate new and existing federal farm and food programs to create a more sustainable agriculture system.
In particular, this guide offers accessible and easy-to-understand overviews and examples of federal programs that support farm to school efforts.  Some examples of programs featured in the guide that support farm to school are Farm to School Grants, Value-Added Producer GrantsSpecialty Crop Block Grants and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program Grants.
For each program, NSAC outlines eligibility, program history, authorizing legislation, application information and examples of success stories.  
Checkout the Grassroots Guide here.  

Farm to School Month 2014: Success and Celebration

NFSN Staff Thursday, November 13, 2014


Thank you for celebrating National Farm to School Month with us! Throughout October, kids in all 50 states plus D.C. ate local food in their school cafeterias and participated in garden events, farm field trips and more.

We know that many of you were involved in local events and helped spread the word about Farm to School Month, and we want you to know that your hard work and outreach made a huge impact. Local media across the country covered farm to school events, more than 38,000 people visited FarmtoSchool.org last month, and our messaging reached an audience of 800,000+, thanks to the support of our partners. Together we are creating new markets for local farms while helping build the next generation of healthy, informed eaters - thank you!

We also want to congratulate the winners of our Farm to School Month contest! Dan Sharp in Grand Junction, Colo., won $1,000 from NFSN for a farm to school project in his community, and five additional winners will receive a free Project Learning Garden lesson kit from the Captain Planet Foundation.

Through a special grant from UNFI Foundation, NFSN also awarded Farm to School Month funding to schools in 10 states to host harvest events, local food tastings and more to spread the word about the benefits of farm to school.

Thank you to all of our incredible sponsors: Organic Valley, Captain Planet Foundation, Orfalea Foundation, UNFI Foundation, Chartwells and Truitt Family Foods.


Farm to Preschool with Pumpkins

NFSN Staff Friday, October 31, 2014

Guest post by Brittany Wager, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project 

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project serves as the Southeast Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 


One by one, preschool students at Fairview Head Start in Jackson County, North Carolina removed handfuls of pumpkin seeds and examined them carefully before washing them in bowls of water and preparing them to roast.

Christina Shupe, the leader for the activity, answered their inquiries about the different varieties of local pumpkins she had brought to their school that day. “It looks like a spider web in there,” one student commented when she looked down into the pumpkin. “Where’s the spider?”

Christina is a junior at Western Carolina University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program, and is in her second year of involvement with ASAP’s Growing Minds @ University project. The experiences at the "learning lab" sites and the training offered by ASAP builds the capacity of future nutrition professionals like Christina, as well as future teachers and health professionals, to incorporate local food and farm based experiences in their work.

The lesson began with students passing around a "mystery bag" containing miniature winter squash. They reached inside the bag, felt the items inside, and offered up guesses as to what it contained. “I think it’s a bird,” one student guessed. Christina opened the bag and explained to the students what was inside, and they had an additional opportunity to smell and touch the squash.

“After that we looked at the different varieties of local pumpkins I had brought with me,” said Christina. “The students voted as to which one they wanted to open up and look inside.”

After inspecting the inside of the pumpkin, they each reached in and got a handful of seeds, rinsed off the goo in water, and put them on wax paper to bake. “The kids seemed to really enjoy washing off the goo, they were very careful and deliberate about it and were really engaged in the activity,” Christina said. “And of course they wanted to know when they could eat the seeds!”

Experiences like these are having a positive impact on Head Start and elementary students, their families and the university students. In recent family surveys, 74 percent of respondents indicated that their child’s experiences with the project have had a positive impact on how their family eats and thinks about food. The teachers of the project’s elementary and Head Start schools report a substantial change in children’s willingness to try new foods and to eat healthy snacks and lunches. The teachers also report that the multi-faceted approach of farm to school benefits the children academically, nutritionally and socially.

Christina sees the value in the way the project is preparing her to be a leader in her career. “As a future dietitian I hope to continually work to educate all people on healthy and sustainable foods, as well as to provide people of all ages positive experiences with local and healthy produce.”

If you’d like to lead a pumpkin exploration activity with young children, check out the lesson plan Christina used on ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program website.

Captain Planet Foundation helps Learning Gardens grow

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest post by Leesa Carter, Executive Director, Captain Planet Foundation 




Based on the critically-acclaimed animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was co-founded in 1991 by media mogul Ted Turner and producer Barbara Pyle. Since then, CPF has played a critical role in helping to ensure that the next generation of business leaders and policy makers are environmentally literate citizens who leverage technology and information to manage and protect the air, land and water upon which all life depends.


CPF is a grant-making foundation that has distributed more than $2.5 million to over 1,800 hands-on environmental education projects with schools and youth-serving non-profits in all 50 U.S. states and 23 countries. More than 1 million children have directly participated in and benefited from these educational projects. In addition to its Small Grants Program, the Captain Planet Foundation also operates: Project Learning Garden (PLG), the Leadership Center, SAGES, Planeteer Clubs and a number of other science education initiatives that exploit the intersections between technology, innovation, the environment and personal action. 


In its first 20 years, CPF’s Small Grants Program funded over 750 school or community gardens, outdoor learning labs and pollinator gardens. Captain Planet Foundation’s innovative Project Learning Garden was developed using the best practices and models from those grantees in order to provide schools with strategies for building effective and sustainable garden-based learning programs. The goal of PLG is to: integrate school gardens with core subject lessons; connect gardens to school cafeterias; help students develop an affinity for nature and an early palate for fruits and vegetables; and increase teacher capacity for providing project-based learning for students.

"One key element often overlooked in getting kids to eat better is the importance of how they eat at school," says Kyla Van Deusen, CPF's Project Learning Gardens program manager. "Kids learn how to enjoy fruits, vegetables and salads as a part of lunch, and this program has a direct impact on developing their palates from an early age. That palate development can also have an impact on how their parents eat, home meal preparation and childhood obesity prevention. Parents often report that their children ask them to buy new vegetables at the grocery store after growing and cooking the veggies themselves as part of a school garden program. One five-year-old said she preferred eating raw Brussels sprouts in the garden to her sour gummy worm treat!"

Teachers at CPF Learning Garden schools receive hands-on training, garden-based lessons aligned to national standards, lesson kits filled with supplies, a schoolyard garden, a fully-equipped mobile cooking cart and summer garden management. By the end of 2014, the program will have 135+ PLG schools in public schools around metro-Atlanta and in a pilot program in Ventura County, Calif.

This Fall, FoodCorps came to Georgia and CPF was thrilled to be selected as a service site for four amazing service members: Andrea Blanton, Sarah Dasher, Lauren Ladov and Bang Tran. FoodCorps is providing support to Project Learning Garden schools by doing garden tastings with the mobile cooking cart, supporting teachers as they perform PLG lessons for the first time, working with cafeteria teams to encourage local procurement decisions, and connecting chefs and farmers to schools for future support of the PLG program.

Project Learning Garden lessons are available free and can be downloaded from the CPF website. CPF recently launched a partnership with Pratt Industries that will allow any U.S. elementary school (with an existing garden) to order the classroom lesson supply kits at cost – which is about $400 for 18 lesson kits (3 lessons per grade, K-5). Schools can also order the Project Learning Garden mobile cooking cart at cost (about $725 – shipping included).  

As part of our Farm to School Month sponsorship this year, CPF is donating the full-school lesson supply kits (K-5) and mobile cooking carts to five lucky, winning schools! Find all the contest details here. For more information about PLG or to order kits and carts, visit projectlearninggarden.com.

Educational Support Professionals: Creative Partners in Farm to School

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guest post by Jonathan Falk, National Education Association, and Simca Horwitz, Massachusetts Farm to School Project 

Nancy Burke (right) and student Taylor Warren (left) in the Haverhill High School garden. (Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Farm to School Project) 

In the US, more than 2 million Education Support Professionals (ESPs) play vital roles in helping create great public schools for our students. Nearly 500,000 of these educators are members of the National Education Association (NEA).  Working as bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, classroom paraeducators, food service staff, and in many other jobs, these essential educators help ensure that children are safe, healthy, well-nourished and well-educated. 

ESPs are committed to their careers, their students and their communities. Seventy-five percent of NEA ESP members live in their school districts, and on average they have worked more than 11 years in their jobs. ESPs interact with student in different places than teachers do – on the school bus, in the cafeteria and at recess  – and they often have multi-year relationships with students and their families and care deeply about their students’ welfare.

All of this makes ESPs tremendous resources for helping to connect students, parents and community allies with farm to school activities.  Yet while thousands of schools across the country are engaged in farm to school work, there are very few places where ESPs are helping to lead these efforts.

The National Education Association and its state affiliate, the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), recognized this missed opportunity began a farm to school pilot project in 2012 to develop and support ESP-led farm to school activities. NEA/MTA quickly realized that Massachusetts Farm to School (MFTS), the state lead organization for the National Farm to School Network, could be a key ally, and the organizations began collaborating to engage MTA ESP members in farm to school.

With technical assistance from MFTS and from NEA’s own Health Information Network, MTA’s project has had three principal components:

  1. Providing training and resources to MTA ESP members about student nutrition, farm to school and how they can be involved.
  2. Identifying ESP groups that want to work in their school districts to develop or expand farm to school.
  3. Sponsoring a mini-grant program to support these local programs.

In the 2013-2014 school year, NEA and MFTS identified the Haverhill Education Association as a group to help implement a pilot farm to school grant program. Haverhill is a diverse gateway city in northeastern Massachusetts, and the school district had already engaged in some basic farm to school activities.  

Nancy Burke, an ESP who works as a paraeducator with students with disabilities at Haverhill High School, was inspired to start a school garden after participating in a workshop led by MFTS at Massachusetts Teacher’s Association’s annual ESP Conference. 

"I sat back and said to myself, this would be wonderful for our children, who could be exposed to the garden, grow vegetables and know where their food comes from," Burke explains. "They may never have that experience at home because of their disabilities.”  

With great tenacity, Burke enlisted a local Boy Scout to build a wheelchair-accessible raised bed garden in an under-utilized interior courtyard at Haverhill High School. He also built ramps to make the quad accessible to her students. 

According to Burke, development of the school garden program was a transformative experience. “It empowered me to take on a leadership role, which I've never had before.”

A Haverhill High School students displays a harvest from the school's garden. (Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Farm to School Project.) 

With funds from an NEA/ MTA farm to school mini-grant, Burke and the other ESPs in Haverhill have made additional investments in their school gardens, such as automated watering equipment and small tools. Encouraged by MTA to work collaboratively, teachers and paraeducators at three Haverhill schools are now working together on farm to school, with students at the alternative high school growing seedlings in their large greenhouse for other school gardens in the district.  

"Most of our students come from disadvantaged urban neighborhoods," explains Alternative School teacher Neil Wilkins. "Ninety-five percent of our students receive free or reduced lunch assistance. We hope that providing them access to their own garden from start to finish can be a life-changing experience."

NEA/MTA and MFTS continue to work together, providing training and technical assistance to ESPs throughout the state to help them undertake farm to school projects. We hope to expand the mini-grant program to an additional three districts and watch the role of ESPs in the farm to school movement flourish in Massachusetts. 

For more information about the NEA/MTA farm to school project, or if you are interested in working with ESPs in your community to develop farm to school programs, contact Jonathan Falk at the NEA’s Education Support Personnel Quality Department.

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