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Reflections from Terra Madre 2014

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 10, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director    

Helen Dombalis, center, recently traveled to Turin, Italy to present at workshop titled "Challenges Facing the Sustainability of School Gardens."  

Today is Terra Madre Day, a day to reflect on the global Slow Food movement and to share inspiration from one of the world’s most important cultural forums. Hosted by Slow Food International, Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto bring nearly a quarter-million people (yes, you read that right!) to Turin, Italy every-other year in October to celebrate and preserve food cultures around the globe. Among them are 3,000 delegates traveling from more than 100 countries—all of them connecting, learning and renewing their commitments to improving the global food system so that it works for everyone. As my fellow 2014 delegate Jim Embry of Sustainable Communities Network in Kentucky put it, “Terra Madre is where you go to recharge your batteries.”

I am honored and privileged to have been among the 247 U.S. delegates in attendance this year. On the plane from JFK to Milan, I sat with an American-born chef running a restaurant in Mexico and an orchardist from California. I met cookbook authors, fishers and visionaries. I answered questions from a Grecian olive oil producer about getting started with farm to school and, in a workshop titled “Challenges Facing the Sustainability of School Gardens,” I told attendees how state policies in the United States are advancing the school garden movement. Although I was one of the only delegates with “policy” in my job title, I realized that I was among a big family of people with policy at their core, advocates for what Slow Food calls good, clean and fair food.

Helen listens to a presentation at Slow Food International's Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. 

Here are a few of the ideas that really impacted me:

Good food brings people together. As I found, you can sit at a table with seven people who speak different languages and laugh harder than you’ve laughed in a long time over the shared joy of a lemon and almond cookie. Or appreciate your family history through traditions like dad’s grilled barbeque chicken with corn and lima beans, and mom’s sour cream cornbread. As I walked towards the Ugandan booth where small, ripe bananas were displayed, a flood of happy memories came to me: I’d eaten so many of those bananas during my summer in Uganda in 2007. Now my work helps to ensure that kids across the United States have access to experiential education, like school gardens, so they can have memorable, community-building food experiences of their own. 

Clean food preserves natural resources. From tasting organic chocolate to listening in on Slow Fish conversations about the state of the world’s oceans, the concept of clean food was ever-present at the gathering. The Ark of Taste - a signature of this year’s gathering - reminded attendees that loss of biodiversity of foods is real.

Fair food advances food access. Slow Food International’s 10,000 Food Gardens in Africa initiative is a great example as it aims to increase the number of school, home and community gardens on the continent. Launched two years ago, the program has grown to include 2,000 documented gardens, and the goal is to reach 10,000 by Terra Madre 2016. With 35,000 people already involved in African garden projects, it’s exciting to think of how many more garden advocates will be activated with a quintupling of that number.

As Edie Mukiibi, VP of Slow Food International, said at a presentation about the African garden initiative, "the biggest yield of school gardens is not the food but the knowledge, motivation, hope” that gardens bring to children and families. That’s a belief we share here at the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). The benefits of farm to school are many, and kids, farmers and communities all win.

Get involved. Slow Food USA and the NFSN share many of the same values, and one of the primary areas where our work overlaps is around school gardens. Check out this guest post Slow Food USA contributed to our blog to announce the launch of their National School Garden Project in October. Their resources include a comprehensive school garden guide. Also check out NFSN’s own school garden fact sheet and explore other garden resources using the search functions on our resources pages. And if you haven’t already, please join the National Farm to School Network as we grow our partnership with Slow Food in the years ahead.


Funding Outside the Lunch Box

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 09, 2014

By Barbara Patterson, Policy Intern

As school districts, farmers and communities experience the benefits of farm to school activities, more and more programs are popping up across the country, and with that increase comes greater funding need. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is already maxed out, with five times as many proposals submitted for the past three years as could be funded. The National Farm to School Network will call on Congress in 2015 to increase funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, but we can also look beyond farm to school and garden-specific funding opportunities.

“Farm to school” is not a box. It’s an umbrella for improved health, stronger local economies and sustainable food systems, and there are funding streams through the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Act and other federal programs intended to advance these same goals. Just since this summer, USDA has awarded more than $52 million in grants to grow local and regional food systems through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), and nearly $118 million to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG). Many of these grants were awarded to farm to school projects, including:  

  • Under the FMLFPP, Lake-to-River Food Cooperative in Youngstown, Ohio, was awarded a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to strengthen its online market for local produce delivery and encourage purchases from schools and other institutions.
  • Also through the FMLFPP, Ecotrust of Portland, Ore. (NFSN Western Regional Lead Agency), was awarded a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) to analyze Oregon’s supply of regionally produced, antibiotic-free chicken and to assess demand and specifications for this chicken from local institutions, including schools. Similarly funded, Heart and Hand House, Inc. of Philippi, W.Va., will develop an aggregation center to improve access to locally produced foods in public schools.
  • With a Specialty Crop Block Grant, Arizona Department of Agriculture will partner with Western Growers Foundation to increase students’ knowledge of the importance of good nutrition and better understand where their food comes from by creating and sustaining edible school gardens at fifty Arizona K-12 schools.
  • Also through the SCBG program, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry will partner with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center to create and promote the Harvest of the Month program which will market the consumption of Louisiana specialty crops in schools and other institutions.
  • Hawaii Department of Agriculture will partner with the Kohala Center under the SCBG program to encourage USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) schools to spend more of their allocated funds to buy local and to increase local farmers’ knowledge of requirements necessary to participate in the program.

There are many more examples of successfully funded farm to school proposals within these awards. As you’re planning for 2015, consider exploring these federal programs to help sustain and expand your farm to school activities.

For more ideas on new funding streams, read our blog post on the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant Program and download our Funding Farm to School Fact Sheet

USDA Farm to School Grants Propel Movement Forward

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 02, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director

Today the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the allocation of more than $5 million for farm to school programming and activities across the country. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides competitive grants and technical assistance to increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools while fostering opportunities for experiential food education for our nation’s children. The Program is proving that farm to school is a win for kids, farmers and communities.

Congratulations to all of the grant awardees. From projects focused on procurement of local and traditional foods, like the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council in South Dakota; to crucial networking and training venues, like Kansas State Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Wellness Team workshops; and funds to execute the comprehensive implementation plans developed during past grant cycles, like in Arkansas’ Lawrence County School District, these grants will help foster the development and growth of farm to school activities throughout the country.

The farm to school movement has grown tremendously since the National Farm to School Network and its partners advocated for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to be funded in 2010 as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Our collective efforts resulted in passage of this groundbreaking legislation for farm to school, providing, for the first-time, annual mandatory funding of $5 million. 

Betti Wiggins, Executive Director of Food Services for Detroit Public Schools and National Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member, testifies in Congress in support of healthy school food.

As in the previous two years of the program, the demand for USDA Farm to School Grants continues to outweigh available funding by nearly five times. As we look ahead to next year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, the National Farm to School Network will call on Congress to increase USDA Farm to School Grant funding to better meet the need and to expand the program’s scope to support preschool, summer and after school programs. 

As the leading advocacy organization for the farm to school movement, the National Farm to School Network serves as an information, networking and advocacy hub for farm to school in the U.S. Your support enables us to work on the ground to facilitate farm to school activities and to advocate for policies in Washington, D.C., that encourage increased local procurement by schools, comprehensive farm and nutrition education for students, and market access for producers.

Today is Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. Join the farm to school movement with a donation today and help us build stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

Donate Now!

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Note: National Farm to School Network is the recipient of a Fiscal Year 2015 USDA Farm to School Grant to host a national conference next year titled “Strengthening the Farm to School Supply Chain Across the Nation.” This event will be a key educational and networking opportunity for farm to school leaders and will serve to strengthen and expand farm to school initiatives in all geographic reaches of the U.S. 

Community-wide Discovery

NFSN Staff Monday, December 01, 2014

By Chelsey Simpson, Communications Manager


This young man takes his peas very seriously. Now his mom does, too. 

Farm to school is all about discovery: Kids discover new fruits and vegetables, the magic hiding in tiny seeds and the wonderful things they can accomplish with their own two hands. 

But kids aren’t the only ones learning new things. When children are introduced to new foods through farm to school practices, they bring those new experiences home, which can have a positive impact on the way families eat and the way communities relate to agriculture. Here are three stories about parents and teachers who made farm to school discoveries of their own. 

Peas, please

This year we had garden camps for students K-12, which helped us make use of the school garden in the summer, when Alaska’s growing season is most intense. There were many lessons and activities around food and nutrition, how to garden, and cooking fresh produce, but my favorite part of the camp was discussing what kids eat with their parents. One mother was assuring me that her child never eats veggies, especially raw. At that moment her son was hiding in the pea patch, eating peas. When he came over, his pockets were stuffed with peas. She realized that not only will he eat fresh vegetables, he LOVES them, and they are as easy to offer for a snack as chips or candy. 

– Danny Sparrell, Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester, Alaska 

A taste of home

I work in several schools in the Atlanta area teaching nutrition lessons and leading school garden maintenance. My first day in a particular second grade class, I brought in figs, thinking they would be something exciting that the kids had never seen before. 

While they were working on an assignment, I quietly brought out the figs and sliced them in half so the kids could get the full effect, thinking I was about to hand them something that would blow their minds. One by one they came up and took a fig, then sat back down to eat it. 

Many of the kids at that school are Hispanic, and a lot of them had spent time in Mexico. When I asked the class if they liked their figs and why, more than one said, “there are fruits like these in Mexico, but we don't call them 'fig.’” They had not had them at all since being in the U.S. They ate them quickly and asked for more! 

So the fruit that I've heard American kids call “alien fruit” was a sweet taste of home for the students at this particular school. 

– Sarah Dasher, FoodCorps member serving with Captain Planet Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia 

Farmer or physics teacher? 

One of the most vivid memories I have from my farm to school experience was when we went to Berggren Demonstration Farm in Springfield, Ore. 

I watched as Farmer Angela passed around a basket of tomatoes and asked each student to take one. Then, she asked what was happening as the tomato was being broken down. She discussed the mechanics, how saliva powerfully dissolves food in our mouths. Next, she asked students to tell her what things are essential to our bodies, and she talked about vitamins and minerals. She even worked in a physics lesson, explaining that matter can never be created, nor destroyed. 

On that trip, I realized that it wasn’t just the children who were excited by farm to school programs; farmers are excited, too!

– Karina Shea, intern for Willamette Farm and Food Coalition in Eugene, Oregon

Students who are involved with farm to school consume 0.99 - 1.3 more servings of fruits and vegetables throughout their day, both at school and at home. The fact that they bring their healthy habits home is one of the many reasons farm to school is a community health issue, not just an education issue. To learn more about the benefits of farm to school, download our benefits fact sheet

These stories were shared with us during National Farm to School Month in October, a time to celebrate the efforts of school nutrition specialists, teachers, farmers, policymakers and concerned eaters like you who are building strong local economies and shaping the next generation of healthy eaters. Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, and we ask you to join us with a donation to the National Farm to School Network to support the growth of programs across the country connecting kids and schools with local food and food education. 

Donate Now

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.  

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