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Strange Bedfellows: Growing farm to school through unlikely partnerships

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 02, 2014

Guest post by Betsy Rosenbluth, Shelburne Farms
Shelburne Farms and Vermont FEED serve as the Northeast 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. 

Kelp growers. Hospitals. Chefs. Mental health agencies. Food shelves. What do all of these have in common?

You might not have guessed it, but these strange bedfellows are all important players in the Northeast’s ever-expanding farm to school programs.

Ten years ago, farm to school was just starting to catch on across the country. The idea of schools partnering with farmers and agriculture organizations was cutting edge. We’ve come a long way since then. Today many schools and communities acknowledge the benefits of serving healthy, local foods in cafeterias and in educating students about farms and nutrition.

But our work is far from done. Here in the Northeast, farm to school programs are using increasingly innovative partnerships to continue expanding the impacts and reach of farm to school. Here are the stories of three programs that are setting the pace.

A first grader at Milton Elementary School (VT) learns about kale. 

Making Mental Leaps in Vermont

We know how healthy, local foods help to prevent obesity and build strong bones. But how much can they influence the mind? The Milton Town School District in Vermont aims to find out.

Milton’s farm to school program is cutting-edge in many ways (read why in Mary Stein’s blog post about her recent visit here). But with a multi-year federal grant for enhancing mental health, Milton is now pushing the boundaries even further.

Superintendent John Barone added several new positions, including grant coordinator Kristen Dillon, who is focusing on systemic connections between wellness and mental health. She works closely with farm to school coordinator Brooke Gannon and Food Service Director Steve Marinelli, breaking down walls and drawing connections between classroom, cafeteria and community services.

In the cafeteria, Steve is starting to offer yoga before school, after which students can get breakfast and go on their way—hopefully more relaxed and mentally centered. In the classroom, Brooke finds that cooking demos and activities are engaging far more students than typical classroom activities, helping to reduce behavior and attention problems among some of the most challenging students. Throughout the school, teachers are tracking behavior and attendance problems and looking for connections to nutrition and health. (Could students be acting out because they didn’t eat a healthy breakfast?) And in the community, the Milton school district is partnering with organizations including the Milton Family Community Center, Milton Youth Coalition, Howard Center for Mental Health and the Fletcher Allen hospital and health care center. Milton serves community meals once a month, inviting local mental health & physical wellness organizations to set up booths and reach families with critical information, while those families connect with each other and enjoy the bounty of local foods on their plates. 

Linking Hunger Relief and Local Foods in Massachusetts

In the Bay State, an innovative partnership between Massachusetts Farm to School and Project Bread – The Walk for Hunger, is bringing fresh veggies and local foods to the table with a healthy dose of education. As a hunger relief organization, Project Bread seeks to increase access to healthy, nutritious and sustainable food for all people. The farm to school partnership helps ensure that many of those healthy foods are coming from local farms, and that people are also gaining an appreciation for farmers and fresh local produce.

Chef Nick Speros leads a kale salad cooking demonstration at a Salem, MA summer food service site as part of Healthy Summer Harvest, a Mass. Farm to School/Project Bread partnership.

Massachusetts Farm to School partners with Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools program, bringing chefs into cafeteria kitchens to cook with staff, helping to implement local foods cooking demonstrations and taste tests at Summer Food Service Sites, and implementing Harvest of the Month activities in target school districts. They also partner with Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program to ensure that school breakfast and summer food service programs offer local foods. 

Bringing the Sea to Schools in Maine

Portland, Maine’s Mayor Michael Brennan wants to increase locally sourced foods in city schools from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2016. Maine has a lot of great products to choose from: blueberries, potatoes, fresh veggies, local meats and cheeses. But kelp? Through a new farm to school partnership with the Portland-based company Ocean Approved, that’s on the menu too.

Ocean Approved grows kelp in the chilly waters off the Maine coast. They say kelp is one of the healthiest “super foods” around, with lots of calcium, iodine, magnesium and iron. And while most of us have probably only tried kelp in sushi rolls, it’s great in a wide variety of dishes.

Healthy? Yes. Kid-friendly? You might not think so, but thanks to creative farm to school activities like taste tests (read up on a kelp pizza taste test in the Bangor Daily News, kids are developing a taste for kelp, and it’s appearing on the menus of school cafeterias. 


National Farm to School Month starts now!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Today marks the beginning of National Farm to School Month. For the next 31 days, schools and preschools across the country will celebrate the local food served in their cafeterias, the gardens in their schoolyards and the food and agriculture education happening in their classrooms. Some will engage with farm to school for the first time; others will enjoy the harvest from years of farm to school success. 

At the National Farm to School Network, we consider Farm to School Month itself to be the product of a successful harvest. Our organization was founded in 2007 to connect and strengthen the many facets of the farm to school movement, and advocating for the creation of Farm to School Month was one of our first national campaign successes. The passage of House Resolution 1655 in 2010 demonstrated the growing importance of farm to school as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies and educate children about the origins of food.

But we didn’t stop there. We also successfully advocated for mandatory funding for farm to school grants through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and for the creation of the first-ever USDA Farm to School Census. State policy is equally import to the success of farm to school, which is why we release an annual survey of farm to school policy across the country. According to our survey, in 2012 and 2013 alone, 20 states passed farm to school legislation and 17 others introduced legislation. But there’s more to be done, and we need the support of local food advocates, child health advocates and anyone else who believes in farm to school’s potential to transform lives and communities. 

This Farm to School Month, will you help us spread the word about the importance of farm to school and the impact it is having in your community? Here’s how you can get involved: 
  • Visit our Farm to School Month page to find resources and information. 
  • #F2SMonth - Use this hashtag to share photos and stories about farm to school in your community. 
  • @FarmtoSchool - follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share our messages with your audience.  
  • Download our Farm to School Month Fact Sheet and share it with your community: parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, producers at your local farmers’ market … anyone!
  • Use our Communications Toolkit to spread the word about your farm to school events and successes. 
  • Order promotional materials to wear and share: posters, stickers, aprons and shirts.
  • Become a member of the National Farm to School Network to stay informed about farm to school policy and events. 
  • Tell us your story: Use the Share Form on our website to ell us about farm to school in your community! Stories help us advocate for and raise awareness about farm to school.
  • Donate to support our work. The National Farm to School Network is the leading nonprofit working to connect and strengthen the farm to school movement. 

Here’s one more reason to get involved: Everyone who fills out a membership form and/or a “Share Form” on our website during October will be entered to win a drawing for $1,000 to spend on a farm to school or farm to preschool project in their community! Five additional drawing winners will also be eligible to apply for a free Project Learning Garden™ lesson kit from Captain Planet Foundation that is valued at $1,000; however, winners must have an existing elementary school garden to qualify. Check out the full contest details.

As a special offer during Farm to School Month, Organic Valley is offering a downloadable coupon for NFSN members only, which can be accessed on our members-only page. Become a member today, then sign in to our website to download your coupon!

The farm to school movement has already seen great success: Farm to school practices are in place at more than 40,000 schools in all 50 states and D.C. and in preschools across the country. This Farm to School Month, help sow the seeds for our next big harvest! 

Feedback requested: Offer your perspective on NFSN

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate the connections that are happening all over the country between children and local food! This year, we are also using the approach of Farm to School Month as a time to celebrate our connection with YOU, our National Farm to School Network (NFSN) members, so we can ensure that we are serving you as well as we possibly can.

We hope that you will take a few moments to complete the following survey to provide us with your perspective about NFSN’s existing services and your ideas about future work.

Here is a link to the survey:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NFSNMemberSurvey2014


NFSN serves as an information, advocacy and networking hub for the farm to school/preschoolcommunity. So far, 2014 has been a great year for our work:

  • Updated numbers from the first-ever national farm to school census demonstrating the breadth of activities in more than 40,000 schools, positively impacting more than 23 million children.
  • Launch of a brand new website, with an increased capability to engage with members and a huge searchable resource database.
  • More than 38 states and DC have successfully worked on Farm to school/preschool policies, as we prepare for Child Nutrition Reauthorization at the federal level in 2015.
  • Release of a pioneering new resource “Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross-Sectoral Framework for Farm to School Evaluation.”
  • NFSN hosted the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, TX, with a record 1,100 participants representing schools, preschools, hospitals, colleges, farms, processors and distributors.
  • And we began to engage with a cohort of Native American communities across the country to ensure that farm to school/preschool activities become a reality in tribal nations.

Through this survey, we hope to examine the value that results from our network: our members learning and working together, accessing resources and best practices, and engaging in policy advocacy efforts. We will be using this information to inform our plans for 2015. The survey is anonymous, so please be forthright with your answers and feedback.

We use the abbreviation F2S/F2P to represent both farm to school and farm to preschool activities.

Please contact NFSN Evaluation Consultant Lydia Oberholtzer (lydiaoberholtzer@gmail.com) with any questions, technical issues or problems accessing the survey.

Thank you so much for your input. I look forward to learning about your perspectives on NFSN’s efforts in 2014, and ideas for the future.

 

Kentucky’s Junior Chef Tournament Features Local Food & Team Spirit

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 16, 2014

(Kentucky Department of Agriculture photo)

Looking sharp in maroon and silver football jerseys, and working together as a team, the Owen County High School Rebels won a state championship Friday. But the sport wasn't football.

Owen County's "Cuisine Rebels," sporting aprons made out of old football jerseys, won the second annual Kentucky Farm to School Junior Chef State Tournament during the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. Their winning recipe, potato-crusted bacon cheeseburger quiche, used 13 Kentucky Proud ingredients, which were grown or made in Kentucky. Scroll down for the recipe!

Junior Chef is a program that encourages high school students to learn how to cook by using local ingredients to prepare healthy meals while at the same time teaching students about agriculture, marketing, organization, teamwork and community involvement.

The five members of the winning team - Hailey Chappell, Carley Bennett, Kadee Carter, Cannon Goodrich, and Morgan Woodyard - were each offered $6,000 scholarship from Sullivan University. The team also received $600 from John Wiley & Sons publishing company, along with free textbooks for team members attending Sullivan's culinary program.

In total, 61 teen chefs from 14 Kentucky high schools faced off in this year’s competition. Junior Chef tournament organizer Tina Garland, coordinator of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's Farm to School Program and NFSN's Kentucky state lead, said the number of schools and students who participated in this year’s statewide competition, now in its second year, was up from the previous year.

The Kentucky Farm to School Program connects local farmers to school districts to make fresh Kentucky Proud foods available to Kentucky children. Participating Kentucky school districts spent an estimated $468,000 on local foods during the 2012-13 school year. A total of 84 school districts are members of the Kentucky Proud program, which helps Kentucky farmers market their products to their local communities.

Want to taste the winning dish? The Owen County “Cuisine Rebels” have shared their potato-crusted bacon cheeseburger quiche recipe - see below! 

Hailey Chappell accepts the Most Outstanding Chef award from David H. Dodd, executive director of the National Center for Hospitality Studies at Sullivan University. (Kentucky Department of Agriculture photo)

Potato Crusted Bacon Cheeseburger Quiche
Winning Kentucky Farm to School Junior Chef State Tournament Recipe
“Cuisine Rebels,” Owen County High School

Crust
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp Promise margarine
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Filling
2 slices bacon
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup kale, chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup yellow squash, shredded
1/2 cup zucchini, shredded
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
6 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
1/3 cup sour cream

Directions
Heat oven to 350°. 

Place diced potato in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil on medium high heat. Boil potatoes until soft. Drain all but 1/4 cup of liquid. Add margarine, salt and pepper. Mash the potatoes to a smooth consistency. Spoon roughly 2 Tbsp. of potatoes into bottom of greased jumbo muffin tin. Press to the bottom and slightly up the sides to form a crust. Bake potato crusts for 20 minutes or until they start to turn a golden brown.

In a medium skillet, prepare the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon and set aside. In the same skillet, brown ground beef, onion, and peppers. Cook until no pink remains. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine remaining vegetables with ground beef mixture. Add bacon and 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Toss to mix well. In a separate small bowl, beat the eggs, salt, pepper, and milk until well combined.

When crusts come out of the oven, fill each evenly with egg mixture, then evenly divide the meat mixture and top with remaining cheddar cheese. Bake 40 minutes or until golden brown. Top with a dollop of sour cream and serve.

Farm to School Project Awarded Value-Added Producer Grant

NFSN Staff Monday, September 08, 2014

Last month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the recipients of the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program for fiscal year 2014. The VAPG program assists agricultural producers with value-added activities related to processing and marketing of products. VAPG generates new products, creates and expands upon marketing opportunities, and increases farm incomes.  

Among the 247 VAPG recipients named this year was This Old Farm, Inc. in Indiana. The farm was awarded $75,000 to add chopped lettuce as a new value-added product to be marketed in a 400-mile radius around Central Indiana. In addition, This Old Farm is participating in farm to school discussions with the intent of supplying fresh cut produce to schools in the state.    

Erick and Jessica Smith, owners of This Old Farm, are collaborating with the Indiana Farm to School Network to foster relationships with stakeholders. They are using the VAPG funds to conduct a feasibility study to explore production of and processing of romaine lettuce for school markets. An integral component of their farm to school goals requires developing strong relationships with schools to garner support and commitments for local procurement of lightly processed produce. This Old Farm currently operates as a food hub with meat processing, and they aim to use their knowledge and experience to expand the scope to produce processing for smaller growers.

To learn more about farm to school in Indiana, visit NFSN’s Indiana farm to school page. To read more about the VAPG awards, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog post



Farm to school highlighted at the F2Ti Symposium, New Orleans

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 04, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

Last month, I attended the 2nd Farm to Table International (F2Ti) Symposium in New Orleans. Farm to school was very well represented at this event and was a topic of great interest among attendees.


Katie Mularz, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) Louisiana State Lead kicked off a Statewide Farm to School Summit of stakeholders to strategize and plan the collaborative work that lies ahead to support robust farm to school activities in Louisiana. The high level of engagement of this group was impressive – they were thinking big about statewide legislative support for farm to school, but planning for baby steps towards it, such as populating a Louisiana Farm to School website to share best practices and promote networking, encouraging state agencies to have a unified voice with regards to farm to school, and perhaps hosting an in-person gathering twice a year to supplement the monthly calls that Katie hosts already. To stay connected with farm to school in Louisiana, contact Katie Mularz.



I had the opportunity to present at a plenary session, during which I highlighted the history, evolution and bright future of farm to school in the US, touching on the importance of local, state and national policy to raise the value placed on school meal programs.  


Through an informational workshop, Katie Mularz and Pam Kingfisher (NFSN’s South Regional Lead Agent ) described efforts at the state and regional levels, including work in tribal nations, and guided participants to resources in the region. Nicole Zammit, USDA Farm to School Southwest Regional Lead, shared the agency’s involvement and commitment to farm to school, with specific resources, grants and guidance on how to overcome challenges. Leesa Carter from the Captain Planet Foundation rounded off the discussion with best practices and lessons from their Learning Gardens program, which offers a curriculum kit, mobile, cooking carts, garden signs and guidance to elementary schools. This local initiative with schools in Atlanta, GA and Ventura, CA is going national this fall: Schools across the country will be able to apply to access these resources from Captain Planet Foundation. Stay tuned for more information on their website.


The local media was supportive of farm to school efforts too – check out this report from the TV show This Week in Louisiana Agriculture.


Also at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Kid Chef Eliana – author, radio show host and a local food personality, sharing her passion for real food. With the younger generation’s leaders like Eliana involved, the future of farm to school in Louisiana is bright.





Farm to School Legislation Supports New Jersey as the Garden State

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 02, 2014

By Beth Feehan, Director of the NJ Farm to School Network & Deb Bentzel, Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead of the National Farm to School Network

It’s said that New Jersey’s nickname of the “Garden State” came into being as far back as 1876, when Camden resident Abraham Browning used the phrase to describe his home state, whose bountiful agricultural products were supplying not just New Jersey, but also Pennsylvania and New York.  Over the past 138 years, New Jersey remains the “Garden State,” boasting over 9,000 farms spread across 715,000 acres.  However, like farming in most states, New Jersey has faced challenges remaining economically viable in the face of an increasingly nationalized and globalized food system.  Enter farm to school.


Farm to school advocacy efforts in New Jersey began in 2008 with a stakeholder meeting kick off at Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield. At the time, the term “farm to school” in New Jersey was not commonly used, despite many groups working on school garden education in varying communities. As the years progressed, more groups joined in the discussion to engage the agriculture community in the state, including the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the New Jersey Farm Bureau and state legislators.  This cross-sector collaboration has now resulted in an amazing legislative effort designed to put the farm back on the cafeteria tray, and to further support the three pillars of farm to school: procurement, school gardening, and education.



New Jersey's Acting Governor, Kim Guadagno, signed five farm to school bills into law at a ceremony at Terhune Orchards in central Jersey on August 25th, 2014. Witnesses to the signing included the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, New Jersey Farm Bureau, state legislators, representatives from the Department of Education and the New Jersey Farm to School Network.

On Monday, August 25, 2014, New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno signed into law five new actions to support farm to school across the state. These new laws will help advance farm to school practices through:


Promotion and recognition initiatives:  The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will now have more dedicated space to promote farm to school and success stories on their website and will create an annual farm to school awards program designed to recognize school meal programs that have taken their food purchasing to the next level by purchasing locally grown foods in meals, and by educating students about the value and benefits to eating Jersey Fresh.


Local food procurement support:  Development of an online farm to school clearing house will help connect New Jersey school food buyers to farmers, foods banks, and other suppliers in order to facilitate local food sourcing and relationship-building among those that grow healthy foods in the state, and those that serve it to the state’s K-12 population.


Enhanced funding:   New Jersey taxpayers may now voluntarily contribute funds to the “New Jersey Farm to School and School Garden Fund” via a check box on their yearly income tax returns.


Additionally, the state Department of Agriculture is not permitted to accept private donations for farm to school.


We applaud a truly bi-partisan effort in which legislators were able to intrinsically understand the future benefits of farm to school and how support at the statewide policy level would help develop youth into healthy, happy, educated consumers, supporting the state’s talented and dedicated farmers and their communities and preserving agriculture as the industry of which New Jersey is most proud.  


A cohort of farm to school advocates from across New Jersey as well as the National Farm to School Network's Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead, approved of the bill signing as is evident by their smiles. 
From left to right: Back row - Meredith Taylor (NJ Farm to School Network Board Member), Larry Kuser (NJ Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member); Front row - Deb Bentzel (Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead for National Farm to School Network), Sheri Kurdakul (NJ Farm to School Network Marketing Director), Beth Feehan (NJ Farm to School Network Executive Director) and Chris Cirkus (NJ Farm to School Network Programs Director).

If you are interested in finding out what your state has done to support farm to school through legislative efforts, check out NFSN's State Farm to School Legislative Survey 2002-2013, which was released earlier this year. Since 2014 has been a busy year for New Jersey and other states, we plan to update this survey next year to include activity from 2014. If you know of farm to school policy efforts underway in your state, please contact NFSN's Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director, Helen Dombalis.




NFSN launches first-ever farm to school evaluation framework

NFSN Staff Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Today, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) launched a pioneering and highly anticipated new resource, Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross Sectoral Evaluation Framework for Farm to School

In less than a decade, farm to school has expanded from a handful of programs to a full-fledged, thriving, grassroots-led movement in all 50 states and D.C. To date, however, no evaluation framework existed to guide practice, ground research and enable policy development for the growing field.

Evaluation for Transformation is a first step toward bridging that gap — not only does it define outcomes farm to school can achieve across multiple sectors, it offers common language, guidelines and metrics to help users understand and articulate those outcomes. The framework is organized around four key sectors: public health, community economic development, education and environmental quality. Beyond the four sectors, the framework is also structured around three levels of action: program, research and policy. This organizational structure enables all users to identify the parts of the framework most relevant to their interests. 

Here are a few examples of ways the framework can be used: 

  • A teacher or early care educator interested in starting a garden project can gather ideas from the framework to better understand how to articulate and track proposed garden activities. 
  • A foundation/ grant-making agency providing funds for farm to school/ preschool activities can use the framework to create common guidelines and reporting requirements for project grantees as well as incorporate the language in funding announcements so that proposals can be compared more effectively.
  • A graduate student interested in researching farm to school outcomes in a specific sector can use the framework to quickly find existing literature and identify gaps to help formulate the scope and goals of their research, building on the existing knowledge base for the movement. 
  • A local elected official or school board member can scan the framework for policy outcomes to identify those that align best with their priorities. The policies they support can then be based on sound research, as well as needs articulated by the field. 

“It was very important to us that this evaluation framework be relevant to a variety of different users,” says Anupama Joshi, NFSN’s executive director and co-founder.  “Unlike any other resource currently available, Evaluation for Transformation will be useful for those working on the program level, like teachers and school nutrition directors, as well as for funders, researchers and policy makers.”

The framework was developed collaboratively with input from more than 300 practitioners and sector experts to ensure that it was relevant across sectors and across program sites. 

For each of the four sectors (public health, community economic development, education and environmental quality), the framework provides:

  • a compilation of existing peer-reviewed research literature;
  • stories from on-the-ground activities demonstrating outcomes in that sector;
  • priority outcomes, indicators and measures vetted by contributors;
  • examples of existing evaluation and implementation tools and resources; 
  • a flavor of cross-sectoral connections feasible through farm to school activities.

NFSN is confident that the comprehensive language, outcomes and tools presented in Evaluation for Transformation will help unite the farm to school/ preschool movement around a common understanding and vision grounded in knowledge from local sites, research data and policy agendas, so all communities can grow stronger together. 

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