Our Year of Partnership: NFSN and NEA
NEA’s three million members – from every state and more than 14,000 communities – work at every level of education, from preschool to university graduate programs. Included in NEA’s membership are nearly 500,000 Education Support Professionals (ESP) – school support staff who work to meet the needs of the whole student. Working as food service staff, custodians, secretaries, classroom paraeducators, bus drivers, and in many other jobs, these essential educators (who make up nearly one-third of the education workforce) help ensure that children are safe, healthy, well-nourished and well-educated.
As Tim Barchak, NEA ESP-Quality Senior Policy Analyst, explained on our recent co-hosted webinar, farm to school can benefit educators, ESP and students. With 18 percent of children under age 18 (more than 13 million) living in food-insecure households and nearly 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, farm to school helps ensure school meals are healthy and nutritious, setting up students for success in the classroom and beyond. But to do this, school food systems and food service members must have the right tools and skills to incorporate more fresh, local food into school meal menus. Building up a skilled school nutrition workforce and thinking more holistically about a 21st century school food system can equate to healthier school meals and more strongly invested employees. Providing trainings not only on knife and scratch cooking-skills, but also on bullying prevention, conflict de-escalation, student mentoring and cultural sensitivity give food service members the opportunity to be more fully involved and valued in the life of a school community. It’s a win for school nutrition staff and the students they serve.
Over this past year, NFSN and NEA have worked together to widely share this vision and other opportunities that farm to school provides to educators and ESP. To spread the word, we co-hosted a webinar on Farm to School and 21st Century Food System Programs, participated in each other’s celebrations - like National Farm to School Month, American Education Week and National Education Support Professional Day - and regularly shared and cross-promoted resources, events and engagement opportunities with each other’s memberships. We presented at each other’s conferences, including at NFSN’s Annual Meeting and NEA’s ESP Conference, and participated in a school garden site visit in Massachusetts. Internally, our staff connected to discuss collaboration on policy initiatives and social justice advocacy.
Furthermore, our national partnership has spurred new connections for our state-level partners. In Vermont, the Vermont Farm to School Network and Vermont NEA have partnered to advance their mutual interest in advocating for fresh and locally sourced food in K-12 schools. Realizing that school boards, school administrators and other decision makers may not know as much about school food programs, they've teamed up to create an informational toolkit and campaign to promote the new resource to Vermont schools. On the other side of the country, NEA New Mexico and Farm to Table New Mexico have connected to help a school district maintain a self-operated food system that prioritizes fresh, local food for students. Their partnership has continued as they together explore other food policy opportunities in New Mexico.
This year of partnership has laid the groundwork for exciting ongoing collaboration between NFSN and NEA. To kick off 2019, NFSN is honored to receive a $2,500 donation from NEA to continue growing farm to school and serving as a resource for NEA’s affiliates. In this next year, we also plan to continue cross-promoting resources and learning opportunities that can support each other’s members, and will explore more ways to offer collaborative trainings on farm to school topics like procurement. We’ll continue to keep our members updated on opportunities to get involved, so make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter!
As we close out 2018, we extend a hearty thank you to NEA for a valuable year of collaborating, thought-partnering and visioning together. Partnership like this one are what keep the farm to school movement growing strong, and we look forward to keeping the momentum going for years to come!