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Growing the Next Generation of Food Lovers

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guest post by Andrew Nowak, Director of Slow Food USA’s National School Garden Program    

A celebration of Farm to School Month would not be complete without children enjoying the fruits (and vegetables!) of their labor in school gardens.

Through the efforts of 150+ local Slow Food USA chapters and thousands of volunteers around the country, school children are getting hands-on experiences in more than just growing and harvesting food. They are learning about preparing, cooking and sharing the “good, clean and fair” bounty from their gardens. 

Our gardening and cooking classes are helping to equip a new generation of eaters with the skills and knowledge to make healthy food choices for greater success in the classroom and in life. Students learn about the role they play in the larger food system of their community and the impact that fresh food can have on the lives of their family and friends.

Information about Slow Food USA's National School Garden Program has been collected on a new website that features resources (everything from garden design through evaluation) as well as information about the many successful garden projects organized by Slow Food USA chapters across the country. Here are just a few of their success stories: 

In Temecula Valley, CA, Slow Food USA volunteers do cooking classes with students to prepare a cultural dish from the fresh produce. Through experiences like this, the students are learning how to handle fresh food so that they can feed themselves, while enjoying deliciously diverse foods with their friends. With these skills, a child does not need to be dependent on anyone else for a snack or even a simple meal, and starts to ask important questions about the “good” aspects of the food they are consuming.

In Long Island, NY, Slow Food East End supports school garden programs that supply school cafeterias with fresh produce for the lunchtime salad bar. These “Garden to Cafeteria” programs teach children how to grow and harvest “clean,” fresh food that is safe to use in school lunches. In some cases, the students participate in the procurement process by handling invoices and selling the fresh produce to the food service operation, which raises money to support their garden program. Students learn how to participate in the food supply chain and begin to understand the complexities of the large-scale food system. 

Students in Colorado, as part of Slow Food Denver’s “Seed-To-Table” program, use the garden produce to set up Youth Farmers Markets on school grounds.  Often situated in declared food deserts, these markets allow children to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to the surrounding community. The students handle all aspects of the markets, including promotion, harvesting, sales and cleanup.  Each week, they see some of the same people returning to the market for the fresh produce, and begin to appreciate the value that the community places on healthy food. 

Collaboration between Slow Food Charlotte (NC) and Friendship Gardens gives school gardens the opportunity to supply fresh produce to the local “Meals-on-Wheels” program.  Their fruits and vegetables are used in the daily preparation of healthy meals for homebound ill and low-income households. This teaches children about the issues of hunger and food justice in their local community, reinforcing the value of “fair” access to fresh food for all.

Every October, as we gather to celebrate Farm to School Month, it is encouraging to see the tremendous progress in the transformation of school food culture.  We are seeing great progress from the activities in school gardens and classrooms to include fresh, local food in the cafeterias – and, especially, to establish relationships between the local producers and the school community. 

At the heart of all of these programs is the involvement of the children as active participants in the food systems that bring nourishing food to their lunch trays and to their dinner plates at home.  Slow Food USA, our chapters, and thousands of dedicated volunteers believe that kids who know and value where food comes from will become the next generation of advocates for good, clean and fair food for all. And that it all starts in the school garden.

National Farm to School Month: a path to our future!

NFSN Staff Monday, October 20, 2014

Guest post by Melody Meyer, UNFI Foundation 

Growing up in Iowa in a much simpler era, we did not have one “food day." Farm fresh food was as much a part of our lives as the billowy clouds that rolled across the sky. My German grandparents cultivated a garden instead of grass for a backyard. Arbors of succulent concord grapes defined rows of string beans, tomatoes and sweet corn. My grandfather was in charge of the growing while my grandmother commanded the preserving, basting, baking and pickling! Pretty much everything we ate every day was farm to table! How else would one eat?

How else indeed: Let’s fast forward 50 years. After decades of corn and soy subsidies, many children think a meal sprouts magically from a box and that chickens have nuggets! We have edged so far away from our food supply that we have cultivated generations of eaters who simply don’t know where their food comes from.

In 2010, Congress designated October National Farm to School Month as a way to change that harrowing trend. This was promising recognition that Farm to School programs can improve the health and nutrition of our youth. These initiatives educate the next generation of mindful consumers. They connect our youth to days when fresh organic food was plucked from trees and pulled from the ground. It was washed, chopped, basted and baked. Farm to table becomes a delicious adventure into eating differently. It changes the relationship children have with the soil, the sun and the seasons. The natural environment becomes the playground, the classroom and the food pantry all in one!

The UNFI Foundation supports The National Farm to School Network (NFSN), which provides resources to implement and celebrate Farm to School Month and similar projects all year long. For example, the Toddle-Inn, Saco Maine preschool used a grant from UNFI and NFSN to give preschoolers a better understanding of where their food comes from. They planted a vegetable garden for the center and made field trips to local dairy farms and apple orchards.  The toddlers even got to experience making applesauce and then gobbled it with lunch!  

The New Foundations Charter High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is in an urban area greatly in need of nutrition programs. They used grant funds to take high school students to a local farm that holds a farmer’s market at another K-8 school. After learning about eating farm fresh, they collaborated with school staff on the Food Day celebrations in order to activate their peers.

One innovative twist took place at Daniel High School in South Carolina, where ninth-grade students embarked on a project that integrated English Common Core Standards with a garden, growing vegetables and culinary herbs. Gardening and farming were woven throughout the course through reading, listening to guest speakers, and investigating outside sources of information. This course culminated in the students conducting an oral history investigation of food and farming, and then organizing a guided garden tour that took place on Food Day!

National Farm to School Month lasts through all of October, and many activities will climax on Food Day, October 24th! The National Farm to School Network has resources and activities to promote Farm to School Month in schools, communities and media outlets including a new Communications Toolkit. The toolkit contains an explanation of this year’s Farm to School Month activities, a sample press release, and suggested social media posts. 

Let’s ensure that our children have the tools they need to make healthy food choices every day. Let’s provide resources so they create a future with healthy bodies and a connection to the natural world. Farm to school provides a legacy so that our youth can establish a future of environmental stewardship through nutritious, delicious and wholesome food. Won’t you please be part of that future? Support Farm to school projects! 

Beets Galore: The Full Circle of Farm to School

NFSN Staff Saturday, October 18, 2014

Guest post by Nicki Jimenez, FoodCorps Fellow


FoodCorps Fellow Nicki Jimenez. 

Last February, as a FoodCorps service member in Montana, I guided a healthy, local product all the way from the farm into classrooms on a large scale. It all started with a perfect storm of beets: local Montana growers had an abundance of them and I knew that they were a great vegetable to use for Valentine’s Day lessons with students.

As the FoodCorps service member at Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center (MMFEC) in Ronan, Montana, I was in a unique position. MMEC is a fully inspected and certified community-based food processing center, so I was extremely well situated to carry out FoodCorps’ mission of connecting kids to real food.  They’re positioned between the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC) and some of the biggest and most committed K-12 buyers of local food in Montana. Not only do they have the equipment to process fresh fruits and vegetables, they have staff members who are knowledgeable and experienced in food safety and product development.

Over the winter, I leveraged our processing staff’s expertise to develop new beet products—different cuts, frozen raw cubes, and roasted cubes. In early February, I rallied orders for beets from eight school districts in WMGC’s distribution area. FoodCorps members in other districts bought boxes to use in the classroom or cafeteria. Nearby districts bought roasted beet cubes to serve as a cooked Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) snack. WMGC dropped off 775 pounds of local beets, MMFEC processed them, and WMGC distributed to the schools.

Five of the eight districts that received deliveries are small, rural communities with populations under 5,000; three have under 2,000. But thanks to enthusiastic large buyers like Jenny Montague, the Food Service Director in Kalispell, and bold small-district buyers like JB Capdeville, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator in Polson, we fulfilled small orders. Without pooling orders to achieve volume, it is economically infeasible for WMGC  to distribute or MMFEC to process the local produce. Coordination is essential to creating access to healthy, local foods for small, rural schools in Montana.

Many times, my involvement with helping schools procure local product ended here: in the school kitchen. This time, though, I took a couple more steps to bring students a deeper experience with the local food in their classrooms. Working with champion teachers in each grade at the elementary school, I scheduled beet lessons with eleven classes. A local farmer—Nicole Jarvis of Ploughshare Farm—visited each class with me. Her four year-old daughter passed around beet seeds for students to examine as we discussed how beets grow. Nicole even led the fourth graders in some beet math, asking them to calculate how much space on her farm it took to grow the beets for their class—and their school!

Beets were a (potentially scary) new vegetable for most of the students, so we first made sure everyone understood the “don’t yuck my yum” principle and then promised a fun sticker to whoever tried at least two bites of beets. Every student raised his or her hand, holding a beet cube high into the air, and cha-cha-cha-ed, “we love remolacha!” (that’s “beet” in Spanish) then bit into the roasted purple vegetable. Pretty much everyone joined the Two Bite Club that day, and there were many rave reviews.

The farmer grew the beets. The farmer came to the classroom to eat the beets she grew with students. And I got to orchestrate all the steps in between. This is what it means to be a FoodCorps member at MMFEC: facilitating the full circle of farm to school.

Nicki was a FoodCorps service member in Ronan, MT for two year, and is now the FoodCorps fellow in Arizona.

How can CNR 2015 support farm to school?

NFSN Staff Friday, October 17, 2014


Carrots for Ventura Unified School District, grown at Join the Farm.

Amy Grossman, executive director of Join the Farm, is in the market for a new delivery van. 

"Just in time for Farm to School Month, [our farm] had our largest delivery ever to the school district in the first week of October, maxing out the capacity of our delivery van," she explains. 

Large orders weren't always the norm for the small farm, which is a project of The Abundant Table, a California nonprofit. Everything changed after their county's school district was awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant.

"Farm to school sales now represent a significant portion of our business model and enabled us to take on more acreage and deliveries," Amy says. "Our farmers take enormous pride in knowing their produce is regularly on the cafeteria plates of more than 5,000 children in our county."

The success of Join the Farm is just one story from among the 139 USDA Farm to School Grants awarded in the first two years of the program. In the coming months, the National Farm to School Network and our partners will be telling more stories like these. That’s because in less than a year, a federal piece of legislation that supports farm to school and other child nutrition programs is set to expire. About every five years, in a process known as the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Congress reviews and updates these programs. The most recent version—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—expires September 30, 2015. 

The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (or CNR for short) authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, among others. The last CNR in 2010 was groundbreaking: For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for NFSN and farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. 

The process to reauthorize the USDA Farm to School Grants and other child nutrition programs has already begun. The CNR conversations have already started in the two congressional committees overseeing the process: the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the House Education and Workforce Committee. The Senate Agriculture Committee held two CNR hearings this summer, including a hearing featuring Betti Wiggins, executive director in the Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools and advisory board member for NFSN. 

To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, NFSN hosted nearly two-dozen CNR listening sessions over the last year-and-a-half to gather input from stakeholders. These listening sessions provided key input for the policies within CNR that would be most beneficial to the farm to school community. Here’s what we learned: 

In order to build on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program’s success, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization must include increased funding for the program. Demand for the USDA Farm to School Grants outweighs the current available funding by more than 5 times. USDA received 718 applications in the first two years but was only able to fund 139. 

The scope of the program should be expanded beyond its current focus on K-12 schools to also include early care education settings. The first few years of life are formative years of life for developing healthy habits, and farm to preschool shows promising results for starting kids on the right path to lifelong wellbeing. 

The program’s scope should also be expanded for summer food service program sites and after school programs. 

The listening sessions provided ideas on how to improve farm to school in tribal communities, specifically including by connecting tribal communities with traditional, native foods grown and raised by tribal producers.

NFSN is partnering up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to call upon Congress to provide additional mandatory funding for the grant program, both to address the tremendous demand but also to support the proposed expanded scope. For more information, check out the NFSN webinar on CNR and join our network. Let’s make sure the 2015 CNR further supports and strengthens farm to school initiatives! 

Feeding and Teaching the Next Generation

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest post by Wendy Allen, Organic Valley


Susan Hardy helps a PS41 student grind corn the old fashioned way. (Photo courtesy Organic Valley) 

We at Organic Valley have always believed that farm to school programs are vital to the health of our children as well as to our communities. Farm to school lets students learn creatively, physically, personally. It’s hands-on and fun, and these two qualities almost always guarantee a great learning experience for kids and adults. And it’s even better when the experiences also support local family farms and economies. Here are the stories of two schools (and two farmers) who are making a difference: 

The Harvest Challenge

Organic Valley is a cooperative of member-farms located all across the country, and many of the communities in which our farmers live also have farm to school programs. One program located near our headquarters in southwestern Wisconsin is Vernon County Farm to School. Even though this is a rural area, many of the students here had never seen, let alone grown, vegetables like garlic and eggplant. Vernon County Farm to School also organizes an after-school gardening opportunity, teaches nutrition education, runs a Harvest of the Month program, and—
the highlight of the year—hosts a Harvest Challenge.

Created as a fundraiser for Vernon County Farm to School, the Harvest Challenge matches teams of high school students with school staff mentors and local chef mentors. The teams and their mentors must create recipes that use local, seasonal foods; cost less than $1 per serving; and meet all school nutrition requirements. Oh, and of course the recipes have to taste good, too! If the recipes meet all the requirements, then they can be used in the Vernon County Schools’ lunch menus.

After the judging—which rates the recipes on presentation, use of local food, knowledge of school nutrition requirements, taste and aesthetics—the teams are then truly put to the test: They prepare their recipe for about 300 community members, who then vote on their favorites.

“We are really able to reach out to the high school students in our county with the Harvest Challenge,” says Ashlee Gabrielson, outreach coordinator for Vernon County Farm to School. “They are not only able to connect with a staff member but also a local chef who has volunteered to help their team out. This really connects our communities to our schools and gives them support. Also, students really learn an appreciation for their food service staff and how challenging and how much work it is to make these meals on a budget and at the quantity they make them.”

Susan Hardy and her husband, David, walk the pastures of their organic family farm in New York State. (Photo by David Nevala for Organic Valley) 

Farmers visit the big city

Many Organic Valley farmers enjoy visiting local schools to talk about organic farming with the students. David and Susan Hardy and Maureen Knapp, organic farmers in New York State, travel into New York City to visit Public School 41 (PS41) a couple times a year. Coming with them to the classroom are jars of organic cream that will be shaken into butter by little hands and sometimes the peeping of fluffy chicks, which the kids hold in their hands with wide-eyed wonder. These visits connect students to farm life and give them food and farm experiences they would never get otherwise. Our farmers may be too humble to brag, but these personal visits make such an impact on young minds. We are proud to brag on their behalf.


We believe family farming is the key to healthy food systems, healthy communities and healthy children. Not only are organic family farmers growing food for us, but they are being good stewards of the land by reducing their impact on it and passing on important knowledge to our children, who most certainly will be the next generation of responsible, conscious eaters, and who just might be the next generation of farmers to care for the land that feeds us all. 

Happy Farm to Preschool Day!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Farm to school isn't just for school-age children: Good nutrition and food education are perhaps even more important for our littlest learners. That's where farm to preschool comes in. 

Farm to preschool is a natural extension of the farm to school model, and works to connect early care and education settings (preschools, Head Start, center-based programs, programs in K-12 school districts, and family child care programs) to local food producers. 

Farm to preschool implementation includes the same core elements as farm to school. Farm to preschool differs by location but always includes one or more of the following:

  • Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted and served at mealtime or as a snack or taste test;
  • Education: Children participate in education activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition; and
  • School gardens: Children engage in hands-on learning through gardening.

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) began working to expand its robust farm to school networks and expertise to include early child care settings in 2011. Since then, NFSN has acted as a lead convener and facilitator for the farm to preschool movement, providing vision, leadership, and support at state, regional, and national levels. Visit our new farm to preschool landing page for more information. 

Many organizations across the country are developing fantastic farm to preschool resources. One of the latest and greatest is this toolkit created by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. In addition to a farm to preschool overview, the new toolkit includes the following pages full of information, links, resources, and ideas to support farm to preschool programs in any location:

Farm to Preschool Curriculum

Engaging Children in Farm to Preschool Activities

Health and Safety for Childcare Meals and School Gardens

Nutritious Meals and Snacks for Preschoolers

Do you have a great resource or a story about farm to preschool success? Share it with us for a chance to win a drawing for $1,000. 


Healthy Habits Take Root

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest post by Deborah Kane, National Director, USDA Farm to School Program


Everyone’s a star during National Farm to School Month. In fact, the spotlight shines brightly on the National Farm to School Network itself. Without the Network and its role in building a coalition in support of healthy kids and local food, there wouldn’t be a USDA Farm to School Program. But because there is, today USDA is charged with providing training and technical assistance to school districts all across the country to help them transform school food and create a healthier next generation.

Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics --  how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our Fact Sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planningmarketing and more.


USDA also supports farm to school programs by distributing up to $5 million annually in grants, and there we get to shine the spotlight on some fantastic projects. New this year USDA is offering grants that support farm to school events and trainings. In Alaska, the Southeast Conference will use funds to host a statewide gathering connecting school food buyers with local producers with an emphasis on culturally appropriate local foods, including seafood and traditional Native foods; while in New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension will host five regional trainings on agriculture-based curriculum for educators across the state. In the Mid-Atlantic, the Virginia Department of Agriculture will host a statewide farm to school conference and use it as a forum to establish a peer-to-peer mentoring program for school food service directors.


Beyond grants for events, other USDA Farm to School grantees have been implementing all sorts of exciting projects to bring the farm to school. See for yourself; in celebration of National Farm to School Month, we’re excited to announce a five-part video series featuring testimonials from more than 30 USDA Farm to School grantees.  

“We’re actually seeing our farmers have hope. The farm to school program allows them to see an opportunity for a sustainable living for themselves and their families,” says Daaiyah Salaam from the Southwest Georgia Project in a video on the impacts of farm to school programs.

According to USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census, 44 percent of school districts across the country were operating farm to school programs as of the 2012-2013 school year and another 13 percent had plans to start in the future. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country.  In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased over $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. 

So hats off to the National Farm to School Network and its myriad members who sought to institutionalize farm to school at the Federal level. I’d say it was a job well done.

Editor’s Note: A new video will be released each week throughout the month of October. Access the complete series here. To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for our Farm to School E-letter


Farm to School taking root in Indian Country

NFSN Staff Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest post by Alena Paisano, Farm to Table New Mexico

Farm to Table New Mexico serves as the Southwest 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. 


Randy Chatto 

Randy Chatto from the community of Ramah, New Mexico has been working with a team of community members on the “Empowering Ramah Navajos to Eat Healthy” project (ERNEH) for more than two years. This project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is the first step in developing a community-wide effort to grow fresh food for community families and the school.

The goal of the ERNEH project is to provide fresh and locally grown food for community families and for students and staff with the K-12 Pine Hill School. The food that is being brought to the school and used in meals and celebrations are traditional Navajo foods such as Navajo gray Hubbard squash, Navajo yellow corn, and blue corn. There are now over 50 family gardens spread across the community that provide local, fresh and traditional healthy foods.  

Randy has undoubtedly been a leader in the project: He designed the small grow boxes that use gravity-fed irrigation systems, went door-to-door to get people on board,  and even supports each individual garden with education and training. Randy is also working with external partners such as the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to share best practices with other Native groups and help build project sustainability. He attended the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this past April as a participant in NFSN's Native Nations convening and will continue to work with regional partners throughout this year.

The Ramah Navajo community is a very isolated, rural, desert-like community that lacks sufficient good growing soil and adequate precipitation to easily grow fresh vegetables and fruits. Another challenge Randy sees is that folks have had to learn how to garden again, as they used to, instead of relying solely on retail markets that are 50-60 miles away.

At its core, ERNEH is about community transformation - working with young children, families and elders to revitalize a local and traditional food system for the Ramah Navajo people. 

AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. RANDY CHATTO (2012)

What’s your favorite thing about being involved in your traditional foods project?      
Being a part of history: “Traditional foods” is probably one of the most important elements in any Native American/Alaskan Native’s culture. In that culture there is someone keeping that practice moving forward, keeping it alive through sowing, hunting, gathering, reaping and harvesting. You are a key component to keeping your land and your people healthy, informed, encouraged and appreciated. I feel very fortunate and blessed to know that I, in some way, am helping my people.

How has this project impacted your community?  
Many of our community members are excited to take part in a program that encourages them to plant, harvest and prepare their own traditional plant foods. Many of our families and even departments within our organization are beginning to eat healthy as they are seeing and realizing the significance of the re-introduction of family gardens, community gardens and dry land farming.   

What are your plans to sustain this project?  
This project is not a temporary spark for this community but a lifestyle deeply rooted in our Diné culture. We must continue this effort to eat healthy and keep moving. We must all lend a hand and be part of a voice in keeping our people healthy. We are our own resource, and we need to continue to tap into it. The spirit of self sufficiency has always been with us but we have to carry on that community action. It’s about raising champions in every facet of our peoples’ lives: in body, in mind and in spirit!    

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