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National Farm to School Network

News

Meet Our New Teammates

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Meet Abby, Mackenize, Sophia, Sophia, Tiffany and Tomas below!
2021 has kicked off with exciting growth for the National Farm to School Network team! We’re thrilled to have welcomed six new teammates to our staff over the past several months, and are excited to introduce you to them. Across their different roles, they each play an important part in supporting National Farm to School Network’s vision of a just food system. Meet them below, and don’t hesitate to reach out and say hi.

Abby Katz - Policy Fellow
Abby Katz is our new Policy Fellow. Abby is completing her Master’s degree in Food Studies, with a focus on policy and history, at New York University. Her intersectional and interdisciplinary approach stems from her experience developing a major at the University of Connecticut, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Food, Culture, and Sustainable Society (Individualized) and Human Rights. She also holds a certificate in Food and Sustainability Studies from The Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy. Abby's research interests are food policy, food history, cultural analysis, social justice, health equity, and sustainability. Her identity as an Afro-Latina shapes her interest in understanding the complexities of inequitable health outcomes in Black and Latinx/e communities – collectively and respectively. She also currently works in the Section on Health Choice, Policy, and Evaluation in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, in addition to collaborating with Dr. Kristen Cooksey-Stowers in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut. You can find Abby somewhere between coastal New England and the New York metro area, cooking, watching documentaries, and connecting with friends.

Mackenize Martinez - Program Associate, Native Communities
Mackenize Martinez has joined our team as a Program Associate, supporting our work in Native Communities. Mackenize is a native of Zwolle, Louisiana, and an enrolled Tribal member of Choctaw and Apache descent. She earned her undergraduate degree from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she studied agricultural and animal sciences. Mackenize is currently enrolled in graduate courses at Arizona State University and plans to earn her Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems. Mackenize’s passions include engaging with livestock producers, implementing farm to school initiatives, and supporting Indigenous food systems through policy advocacy. Mackenize has served farmers, ranchers, and food producers in various capacities. In 2019, she advocated for farm to school efforts in Native communities while working collaboratively between the Intertribal Agriculture Council and National Farm to School Network as the Partnership Communications Intern. In the spring of 2020, Mackenize served as a congressional intern in Washington, DC, for the House Committee on Agriculture’s majority office. During her time as an intern with both the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and Native American Agriculture Fund, she was actively engaged in nationwide efforts geared towards promoting food sovereignty and supporting Indigenous farmers and ranchers.

Sophia Riemer - Programs Fellow
Sophia Riemer is our 2020 Programs Fellow. Sophia recently finished a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University of Washington's Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics. While in the program, she evaluated Washington State Department of Health’s fruit and vegetable incentive program using a community-based participatory approach. She is currently coordinating Washington State’s Farm to ECE implementation grant, where she is able to unite her passions for farm to school, healthy food access, and addressing inequities in our communities. Sophia also brings experience in farm to school nonprofit management from her time as program manager of Sprouts Cooking Club’s after school program, overseeing gardening, nutrition and culinary classes in over twenty schools across the California Bay Area. In her free time you can find her swimming or snorkeling on the Southern California coastline, cooking, gardening, reading, or hiking.

Sophia Rodriguez - Communications Intern
Sophia Rodriguez is our 2020 Communications Intern. Originally from Hinesville, Georgia, Sophia is a junior at the University of Georgia where she is studying Human Development & Family Sciences and International Affairs with a minor in Spanish. As a pottery enthusiast, aspiring community gardener, and avid 4-H'er, she enjoys using her creativity to inspire equity-informed positive youth development. Sophia currently serves on National 4-H Council's Young Alumni Advisory Board, and she’s excited to use her passions and experience to contribute to the food justice movement. Sophia has helped launch National Farm to School Network’s new TikTok account - check us out at @FarmtoSchool!

Tiffany Torres - Strategic Plan Fellow
Tiffany Torres has joined our staff as Strategic Plan Fellow and will support our efforts in working towards our new call to action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. Tiffany is based out of Florida and brings extensive experience in farm to school and working with producers. She formerly supported farm to school efforts in Florida while working for the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and is a former FoodCorps service member.

Tomas Delgado - Program Manager
Tomas Delgado has joined our staff as Program Manager, focused on supporting our work in Native Communities and with farmers and producers. Based in Illinois, the Prairie State, Tomas is passionate about building and supporting socially equitable and environmentally resilient communities. Tomas has experience in public and non-profit administration, scientific and policy research, ecological restoration efforts, and community organizing for social, environmental, and food justice. Tomas has a background in geography from Eastern Illinois University where he obtained a Bachelors of Science in Human Geography and is currently finishing a Masters degree in Geographic Information Sciences (GIS). Tomas’ academic background concentrates on the nexus of community-based, environmental resilience as it relates to land use and natural areas conservation policy, with a heightened focus on BIPOC and ancestral environmental stewardship. In his role as Program Manager, Tomas will oversee NFSN’s support of projects in Native communities and will serve as the lead for the NFSN’s work on Bringing the Farm to School, a new training program for agricultural producers across the country. Tomas currently resides in Urbana, Illinois where he is involved in local mutual aid systems and serves on a number of public boards and advisory commissions. Tomas enjoys collecting music, traveling, cartography, cycling, hiking, and coffee.

Innovations in Farm to CACFP: Colorado's CACFP Matchmaking Survey

NFSN Staff Friday, March 19, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

March 14-20, 2021 is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part three of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series. Read Part 1: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program here and Part 2: Arizona's CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge here.



Colorado’s Addressing Knowledge Gaps with Educational Materials & a Matchmaking Survey
Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), along with state and local partners, have made efforts to address the knowledge related barriers to implementing farm to ECE. In 2016, using funding from a Team Nutrition Grant, Cooking Up Healthy Options with Plants (CHOP), they were able to develop full day culinary training across the state. However “not everyone could take the eight hours to attend and we couldn’t take the training everywhere we wanted to because of our travel budget limitations”, explained Brittany Martens, Nutrition Consultant and Farm to ECE Coordinator at CDPHE.

In partnership with Nourish Colorado, CDPHE developed Quick Bites, eight online videos covering food safety that take less than an hour to complete and are available in both Spanish and English. The intent was to use these online videos to draw in an audience for hands-on knife skills classes, however, due to COVID-19 the knife skills class was moved online. Special attention was paid to reducing barriers to online participation; the class was paired with technical assistance for those not used to virtual classrooms and two weeks before the class attendees were sent a box with a gift card to purchase materials, notes and handouts.

Martens explained the importance of the culinary training CDPHE has been able to offer, noting the high turnover of staff in CACFP centers. “We saw a need...we want centers to buy and use local produce, but if they don’t know how to use this produce they won’t buy it.” The training not only focuses on technical skills, but emphasizes empowerment, asking attendees to reflect on why they chose their career and the influence they have over a child’s lifetime habits. “That empowerment piece allows us to build those relationships...it brings the group together” Martens explained. She believes this, along with their wonderful chef instructor, are the reasons they’ve seen many repeat attendees. Empowerment, knowledge and skills can be a strong combination, and Colorado has seen the benefit. There has been an increase in fresh produce on menus since the implementation of the culinary classes and attendees are retaining the knowledge six months after the training.

Colorado is focusing its efforts on other common barriers to local food procurement as well. They have found the largest barriers to be cost, knowledge around how to find a farmer and storage space. CDPHE has addressed cost through a MiniCoIIn grant awarded by ASPHN, providing local produce to providers in the San Luis Valley. In 2020, they received their second MiniCoIIn grant, allowing them to send CSA boxes to home providers and families during quarantine.

They were able to address the barrier of finding farmers by creating a CACFP matching survey. Due to COVID-19, many farmers have lost their market, highlighting an opportunity to help both farmers and providers. Surveys for both providers and farmers were created and are online for any provider or farmer in the state. The survey gathers information on the needs and abilities of each party, allowing Martens to connect providers to appropriate farmers. According to Martens, this matchmaking process has succeeded in building relationships. “Farmers are planting entire rows this season for providers they were matched with because they know the center will purchase their produce.” When asked what advice she would give to other states looking to implement similar work, she highlighted the importance of community buy-in. “Working from the provider perspective and understanding their experience, what they know and see and where there is potential, is really important.”

Innovations in Farm to CACFP: Arizona's CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 17, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

March 14-20, 2021 is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part three of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series. Read Part 1: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program here.

 
Arizona’s Building Awareness & Efficacy with a CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge
Arizona’s Department of Education has found a way to build excitement, awareness and recognition around farm to ECE while honoring CACFP providers through a CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge that takes place during CACFP week. To finish the challenge, early care providers have to complete three tasks: serve at least one locally sourced CACFP meal component, host at least one activity that educates students where food comes from and share at least one social media post about the challenge.

Ashley Schimke, Farm to School Program Specialist at the Department of Education, Health and Nutrition Services, explained how the winners of the challenge receive a trophy. “Any state recognition carries weight for centers”, Schimke explained. There are other benefits to participating in the challenge as well, such as providing the opportunity for staff to do something fun and different.

In fact, the department decided to keep the challenge running through COVID-19 to deliver joy during difficult times for providers, meal service operators and children. The challenge has also helped to gain buy-in from the Department of Education staff themselves. “The challenge excited staff. They agreed it was an easy way to explain farm to ECE to partners”, said Schimke. The aim of the challenge is to inspire CACFP participants who want to start doing farm to ECE in a tangible, structured way. “The structure of the challenge provides a recipe for someone that doesn’t know where to start but gives them flexibility to do what makes sense for them”.

Schimke has received feedback from providers that local procurement is the most difficult component of farm to ECE, so the challenge focuses on small steps to provide easy wins for centers. Providers are asked to complete one instance of each action necessary to complete the challenge instead of the “3,2,1” model used in the other challenges the department hosts. They also created tiers for the procurement action. Those who have never procured locally can use local milk (which is often local by nature), those with some experience look for local swaps of produce that is already being purchased regularly, and those with extensive experience look for local foods such as meats, beans or grains they would like to purchase and find a locally sourced option. This way, those who come back every year can continue to challenge themselves to do more than the year they did previously.

Schimke hopes that they can continue this work and have centers who participate every year, making the challenge a normal part of their annual schedule. Schimke explained, “The access points [to source locally] are there, but it doesn’t happen without demand. By having an annual way to touch base, providers learn it’s possible to buy local- that it’s not as complicated as it seems.” She advised other states that want to implement a similar challenge to connect with National Farm to School Network partners for resources, but to make the challenge their own. “Take a look at your state’s goals and what your providers need.”

Innovations in Farm to CACFP: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program

NFSN Staff Monday, March 15, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is often described as the equivalent of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in ECE settings. Like the NSLP, CACFP is a federal reimbursement for meals and snacks available to child care centers. There is great opportunity to build partnerships between farm to ECE and CACFP, as engaging in farm to ECE not only aligns well with the CACFP meal pattern, but can help centers fulfill CACFP standards through gardening experiences and emphasizing nutritious, local and garden grown foods. This week, starting on Sunday March 14th, is National CACFP Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part one of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series.


How Iowa is Addressing Financial Barriers with a CACFP Incentive Pilot Program

Partners within the Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition have been focusing on alleviating the financial barriers of local procurement for CACFP providers through a CACFP incentive pilot program. The pilot, Local Food Makes Cents: For Iowa Kids and Farmers, is funded through a Farm to Early Care and Education Implementation Grant (FIG) awarded from the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN) and offers over $40,000 to eligible centers and home providers participating in CACFP to purchase local foods.

Chelsea Krist, Iowa’s Farm to School Program Coordinator and co-lead on the FIG grant, shared the momentum building in Iowa’s early childhood education programs around local procurement. “There is interest, but the financial barrier can prohibit providers from purchasing local foods often or at all, so this pilot alleviates the risk of trying a new partnership and processing new foods so that financial risk isn’t directly on the provider.”

The coalition is not only piloting a mini grant program, but a new application process as well, prioritizing children enrolled in childcare assistance and sites serving higher numbers of children of color for the first time, a framework they plan to apply to other grants they are leading. “ECE contains the most diverse demographic in Iowa, so we need to be prioritizing that as we keep grants going”, said Krist.

The response to the grant was huge, with many more sites interested than they expected. The coalition was able to grant 120 providers with funding, representing a range of site types and sizes. Grantees are required to spend half of their award on fruits and vegetables and will be purchasing solely from farms, food hubs and farmers markets. The coalition hopes the grant will help build long lasting relationships between farmers and early care providers, with continued outreach and support to keep local food at these sites.

Through conversations with grantees, the coalition has found opportunities to address other barriers providers face and are now looking to allow CACFP or other state funding to be used for gardening tools and reimbursement for plants grown in the centers’ garden. Overall, Krist is looking forward to the opportunities this pilot can build. Ideally, the coalition hopes the program will live beyond the pilot in the Iowa Department of Education and will be state funded for ECE and K-12 sites. Her advice for other states considering a CACFP incentive pilot: “talk to states who have done this before, and know how much time this will take.”

News Release: Farm to School Act of 2021 Introduced in House

NFSN Staff Thursday, March 11, 2021

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders introduced the Farm to School Act of 2021 (H.R. 1768) which will support our nation’s schools, farmers and communities in building back equitably from the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill, sponsored by Representative Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Representative Alma Adams (D-NC), will expand funding for and programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, while also ensuring that more communities – specifically those serving racially diverse and high-need student populations, as well as engaging with beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers – have a competitive opportunity to benefit from this valuable program.

When the pandemic began, school nutrition professionals, educators and local food producers – the people who make farm to school work – were some of the very first community members to step up and ensure the ongoing care and support of children and families. The measures included in the Farm to School Act of 2021 will give them much-needed resources to continue their work as we emerge from the pandemic. Furthermore, the bill’s emphasis on ensuring equitable access to this important grant program will help those who have been most impacted by the pandemic, including Native and tribal communities, racially diverse communities, and early care and education sites. There has never been a better time to build on the successes of this program.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, farmers, nonprofits, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods for school meals and to support activities like school gardens, hands-on science lessons, and new food taste tests. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and includes $5 million in annual mandatory funding.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools. In recent years, the program has benefited from temporary funding boosts through annual appropriations. The Farm to School Act of 2021 would allow more of these impactful projects to be realized by:
  • Increasing annual mandatory funding to $15 million and increase the maximum grant award to $250,000,
  • Prioritizing grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools,
  • Fully including early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs, and
  • Increasing access among Native and tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2021 here.

Statements from the Farm to School Act of 2021's Cosponsors:

Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): “Millions of students are eating healthier and engaged in food and agriculture education because of the Farm to School Program. It is a commonsense program that benefits children and their families while providing economic opportunities to our farmers. The increased demand for Farm to School programming tells us that more people are beginning to understand the connection between local foods and healthy young minds. I’m proud to introduce this legislation in support of our nation’s schools and local farmers who help improve classroom diets and local economies.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA): “The Farm to School program feeds kids, teaches kids, inspires kids. What an impactful, nutritious way to connect the farm to the family, enhance regional economic benefit, and promote good health. I am happy to lead the development of the program.”

Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Vice Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture: “The Farm to School Grant Program supports healthy students and strengthens our local food systems. The Farm to School Act of 2021 expands participation in this critical program and increases its funding, which is more important than ever as our students, schools and farmers face difficult challenges due to the global pandemic. Teachers, parents, and farmers all know that healthy students are successful students, so I am proud to support the introduction this important legislation.”

Have questions about the Farm to School Act of 2021 or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

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