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National Farm to School Network

News

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. 

Where does yogurt come from? And how do you milk a cow?

NFSN Staff Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Those are the questions preschoolers in northeast Iowa were asking recently while participating in Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative’s (FFI) Farm to Preschool program. Teachers across the region got creative to teach children where yogurt comes from and all the many ways to enjoy it.

In West Union, Head Start teacher Sara Converse filled a rubber glove with water and attached it to a cardboard cow cutout to teach children where milk comes from and how to milk a cow. At South Winneshiek Elementary’s Jump Start Preschool, students tried three different flavors of yogurt and graphed their favorite as part of a math lesson. At New Hampton Preschool, children made yogurt dip and smoothies and took home yogurt information and recipes for their families to try.

FFI’s Farm to Preschool program introduces a new local food to children each month, covering the same foods that are included in farm to school programs at K-12 school districts in the region. Since the program began in January, children have learned about yogurt, eggs, oats and cucumbers. Preschool students are given opportunities to cook, taste and learn about the foods through various activities during the month.

The program’s positive benefits reach beyond the classroom: Each of the preschools sends information about the foods home with children, including recipes that the kids learned at school and can repeat at home. Some sites also hold monthly farm to preschool celebrations to which parents are invited.  

One class also had a chance to share their Farm to Preschool experience with the school board.  “The principal asked me to present at the school board meeting,” said Shanna Putnam Dibble, Lead Teacher at Jump Start Preschool. “The kids made yogurt popsicles, and the principal and board members tried them.”

Green Ribbon Schools, Senator Leahy and the Green Apple Day of Service

Chelsey Simpson Monday, July 28, 2014

Last week our deputy director, Mary Stein (left), and policy and strategic partnerships director, Helen Dombalis (right), attended the 2014 U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools Celebration, where they had the pleasure of meeting with Senator Leahy, a long-time congressional champion for farm to school.

The Green Ribbon Schools Celebration is hosted by the Center for Green Schools at the US Green Building Council (USGBC). USGBC also organizes the Green Apple Day of Service through which they encourage individuals and communities to dedicate a day to making their schools a safer, healthier place through projects like planting school gardens. This year's day of service will take place on Saturday, September 27. 

NFSN advisory board member testifies before Senate Agriculture Committee

NFSN Staff Friday, July 25, 2014

Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry held a hearing, “Meeting the Challenges of Feeding America’s School Children.” The hearing – which was the second to be held by the Committee in preparation for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act – focused on school meal program operations and related procurement for school meals. This hearing was held because the current Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is set to expire at the end of September 2015.

The witness list included:

  • Betti Wiggins, Executive Director, Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools, and advisory board member for the National Farm to School Network;
  • Scott Clements, Director of the Office of Healthy Schools and Child Nutrition at the Mississippi Department of Education;
  • Julia Bauscher, President of the School Nutrition Association and Director of School and Community Nutrition Services for Jefferson Public Schools;
  • Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director for the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi; and
  • Phil Muir, President and CEO at Muir Copper Canyon Farms in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The majority of Agriculture Committee members were present and posed questions to the witnesses on a variety of topics related to procurement, school gardens, and nutrition standards. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted that “students are learning about where their food comes from through farm to school garden efforts that are very exciting.”  

Well-versed in the opportunities presented by school gardens, Ms. Wiggins extoled the virtues of Detroit’s 71 school gardens and discussed the role the gardens play in engaging students and the community.  Detroit’s farm to school practices are “generating healthy returns for farmers and children,” she said, adding that teenagers are eating Michigan-grown asparagus and like it. 

Addressing the issues with implementing the USDA school lunch standards, she noted that short-term pains “pale in comparison to the benefits from reform that is highly desirable and attainable.” 

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked Ms. Wiggins to talk about her experience with urban gardening and how it may be used as a model for other cities across the country. She described the importance of the community partnerships she formed with groups like Detroit Eastern Market (represented on NFSN’s advisory board) and the farmers that distribute there, as well as Michigan State University (NFSN’s Michigan State Lead). Through these partnerships with NFSN Core Partners, she created the Detroit School Garden Collaborative that has taught children to garden, has educated teachers about gardens as learning spaces, and has cultivated youth garden ambassadors. The children planted zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes, which were later used in a “Stoplight Salad.”

Many of the Senators in attendance talked about the benefit of local food systems. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) described how proud Indiana farmers are when they see their products being used in their community’s schools. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) remarked that food hubs allow farmers to reach underserved areas with local produce. Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) described farm to school as a good bridge between our nation’s farmers and our children. 

National Farm to School Network congratulates Betti Wiggins on her impactful testimony and her great work providing nutritious, locally grown produce to Detroit’s 50,000 students.

New pilot program for locally-grown produce accepting applications

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 23, 2014


By: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition staff

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a request for applications from states interested in participating in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Kevin Concannon, the USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, announced that under the pilot, up to eight states across five regions will be granted flexibility in using a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

The pilot project “offers states an additional opportunity to bolster local farm economies while providing the children who participate in our school meals programs with healthy food from within their own communities,” said Under Secretary Concannon.

USDA’s FNS and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be working closely together to implement the pilot project and anticipate having deliveries start in the middle of the 2014-2015 School Year.

Applications

Applications must be submitted via email using the forms and instructions in the request for applications. Interested State Distributing Agencies (SDAs) must submit an application by September 30, 2014 to be considered for selection for the 2014-2015 school year. The pilot projects are anticipated to be multi-year and may involve additional requests for applications. 

In states selected to participate in the pilot project, school food authorities (SFAs) or SDAs (acting on behalf of participating SFAs), will be permitted to competitively solicit a USDA-approved vendor using USDA NSLP entitlement funds for unprocessed fruits and vegetables. SDAs or SFAs will be able to use their pre-existing commercial distribution channels and relationships with farmers, produce wholesalers and distributors, as well as apply geographic preference in procurement.

State and vendor selection process and pilot project details

The Farm Bill requires that at least one project be located in a state from each of the five regions of the U.S.: Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Western, Midwest, and  Southern. FNS plans to prioritize applications based on: the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the applicant states on a per capita basis; the demonstrated commitment of the States to farm to school efforts; and whether the states contain a sufficient quantity of SFAs, varying population sizes and geographic locations.

Once pilot project states are selected, AMS will work with those states to identify approved vendors, such as farmers, food hubs, wholesalers, distributors and processors. Vendors must submit documentation certifying compliance with AMS requirements regarding a comprehensive food safety program, 100 percent domestic origin and food defense. AMS will publish an approved vendor list on the AMS website. SFAs or SDAs from pilot project states can then procure unprocessed fruits and vegetables from these vendors, up to the amount of USDA entitlement that the states set aside for the pilot project. SDAs must submit monthly reports to FNS and AMS summarizing delivery and pricing information from all USDA-approved vendors, who are then paid by AMS in accordance with these reports.

USDA technical assistance and contact information for state applicants

FNS plans to conduct conference calls on August 7th and September 10th to answer questions and provide technical assistance with the application process to states that wish to apply. Details from USDA are forthcoming.

For questions regarding the pilot project and application, SDAs should contact:

Carolyn Smalkowski (703-305-2674) or Christina Conell (415-705-1353)

Milton, Vermont serves up farm to school

NFSN Staff Tuesday, July 08, 2014

By Mary Stein
Deputy Director

Delicious grilled chicken slices on a bed of freshly harvested greens. Just picked strawberries bursting with the flavor of summer sunshine. This isn’t how I remember cafeteria lunches as a kid, but it is a wonderful reality for the children participating in Milton Town, Vermont's summer food service program in, who I was lucky to share lunch with last week.  

Milton school food service director Steve Marinelli and his team provide 340 daily summer meals at four different sites in the community.  All of the summer food service sites are linked to activities (sports camp, gardening club, cooking classes and more), which increases participation rates and expands the reach of this delicious bounty.   

Marinelli arrived in Milton a few years back along with a new superintendent, John Barone. With a shared vision centered on the importance of healthy food to foster learning and mental/physical growth, the duo have built a remarkable year-round program that supports children, families and the community.  

The partnership around good food for kids in Milton now extends well beyond Marinelli and Barone. The Milton Community Task Force is a local coalition that has helped secure funding from a variety of sources and bridged an important relationship with the local hospital to further support healthy living in Milton.  A USDA Farm to School grant has allowed the district to bring on a farm to school educator, Brook Gannon, to expand local procurement and experiential learning opportunities for children. 

This concerted effort to connect children to healthy, fresh food is paying off in Milton. Test scores have risen and discipline incidents have declined. Participation rates in school and summer meals are up, with more kids and more teachers and staff enjoying the delicious change. To learn more, visit Milton Town School District Food Services' website.


Kids CAN make healthy food choices: Education is key

NFSN Staff Tuesday, June 17, 2014


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

While politicians in Washington debate implementation of school nutrition standards, the next generation’s leaders are sitting in a school cafeteria, deciding whether or not broccoli salad is “gross.” In both cases, the stakes are high. 

A 2012 study by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicted that obesity rates in the U.S. could exceed 44 percent by 2030, costing our country an additional $66 billion per year in medical expenses. But here’s the good news: After years of focused initiatives to address childhood health and nutrition, including the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, obesity rates among children are on the decline. 

And there’s more good news. In the great eat-it-or-toss-it debate that plays out in lunchrooms across America, schools have a powerful tool. More than 23 million students are now more likely to say yes to broccoli salad – as well as other healthy fruits and veggies, like roasted sweet potatoes, carrot sticks and watermelon salsa – thanks to their school’s participation in farm to school. Farm to school activities enrich the connection kids have with fresh, healthy food and local farmers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools. Kids gain access to healthy, local foods in their cafeteria as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. 

Research shows that kids eat what they know and toss what they don’t, and there’s no better way to know your food than getting your hands dirty in a garden. Local food tastes better in many cases, too, because it has been picked ripe and delivered fresh. 

Implementing farm to school practices does take time and effort, but new data released this month by the USDA shows that more than 40,000 schools across all 50 states and D.C. are already engaging in farm to school activities thanks to hard-working school nutrition professionals, farmers, parents, teachers and community partners. Most schools start small: a garden patch, samples of local foods or perhaps a visit from a farmer during National Farm to School Month in October. 

Farm to school is a critical tool for school nutrition professionals, who are superheroes navigating a complex, underfunded and demanding system every day. Students who are properly introduced to new foods through farm to school are more likely to participate in their school’s meal plan and less likely to waste food, which results in a better bottom line and healthier kids. 

We don’t expect children to master riding a bike without a little practice and training.  Nor do we expect them to succeed in calculus without first learning algebra. Why, then, are children expected to immediately like new foods without a little instruction or practice? Research says kids need to try new foods anywhere from 7 to 15 times before they acquire a taste for them. Farm to school activities serve as the “training wheels” that introduce children to new food options, setting them up for a lifelong ride of healthy eating.

The new school meal standards are based on sound science and recommendations from the non-partisan Institute of Medicine. They provide a clear roadmap of changes needed to reverse childhood obesity. We shouldn’t be debating if or when the standards should be implemented, we should be working to ensure that all students have access to farm to school activities so their daily decision whether to try or toss a new food ends on the correct side of the trashcan. 

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