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Supporting Farmers & Vibrant Rural Communities: CoBank and National Farm to School Network

NFSN Staff Friday, October 30, 2020

Farm to school is all about relationships and partnerships. We often hear about the relationships between farmers and schools – a literal farm to school kind of relationship. But there are many other types of partnerships, collaborations and support networks in the background that make the farm to school movement thrive. One of those important partnerships is between National Farm to School Network and CoBank, which have a shared goal of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. CoBank, one of the nation’s largest providers of credit to the U.S. rural economy, has been a financial supporter of the National Farm to School Network for more than six years, making important farm to school projects – like data research and evaluation, national networking events, National Farm to School Month celebrations, and so much more – possible.

Since 2014, CoBank has been a sponsor of National Farm to School Network’s biannual National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, which has brought together thousands of stakeholders from across the country to network, learn, and collaborate on advancing farm to school and wider cafeteria efforts, including expanding new market opportunities for farmers and agricultural producers and strengthening rural economies.

In 2017, CoBank and fellow Farm Credit bank AgriBank sponsored the development of National Farm to School Network’s “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools” report, which quantified the financial benefits to farmers when schools source food locally. The report found that not only were surveyed farmers satisfied or very satisfied with most aspects of farm to school sales, but farms participating in farm to school tend to purchase more inputs from the local economy, which results in positive overall local economic impact. 



CoBank has also been a significant supporter of National Farm to School Network’s National Farm to School Month celebration campaigns in October. This year’s theme of It Takes a Community to Feed a Community honors all of those who contribute to feeding our kids and communities – including farmers, harvesters and food hub distributors, school nutrition professionals, educators, garden coordinators, bus drivers and more. Among this year’s campaign activities has been the nomination and selection of 30 Community Food Champions from across the country for special recognition of their important efforts to keep kids and their families fed, especially during this difficult year. CoBank’s sponsorship has allowed National Farm to School Network to specifically recognize the exceptional efforts of five farmers, producers and agricultural community leaders:
  • Kena and Mark Guttridge - Ollin Farms, Longmont, CO - Kena and Mark grow high quality produce for schools and early care and education centers across Boulder County. They also offer farm trips and educational classes to teach and excite students about where their food comes from.
  • Lenny Xiong - Farmer, Cannon Falls, MN - Lenny grows and delivers strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplant, sugar snap peas, and more to Minnesota schools and early care and education centers. Just this month, he grew loads of colorful carrots for schools in Roseville, MN - a great way to celebrate National Farm to School Month!
  • Mateo Carrasco - Food Justice Organizer, Albuquerque, NM - This summer, through his work with the Southwest Organizing Project, Mateo partnered with Cornelio Candelaria Organics to harvest and distribute more than 1,000 pounds of fresh, local produce to families from Whittier Elementary School in Albuquerque.
  • Josefina Lara Chavez - Farmer Advocate, Davis, CA - Josefina works with Latinx growers on the California Central Coast to coordinate and aggregate their agricultural products for sales, including to school districts, and during the pandemic, to emergency meal programs and food banks. She has helped facilitate thousands of dollars of fair price sales for Latinx growers, who sometimes have otherwise faced language, financial, and other barriers in selling their products.
  • Lauren Jones - Urban Farmer, Shreveport, LA - Lauren, through a partnership with Shreveport Green and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is leading the establishment of a multi-acre urban farm in the heart of downtown Shreveport that will feed 150 families, teach gardening and nutrition education, and foster leadership development opportunity for youth.
Looking forward, National Farm to School Network and CoBank’s partnership is continuing in the coming months with the launch of a new quantitative and qualitative analysis of the producer and supply chain impacts of Washington, D.C.'s Healthy Tots Act, which includes a local procurement incentive program for child care programs purchasing from local farmers and producers. This evaluation will provide valuable data on the impacts of procurement incentive programs and will inform new policy advocacy tools to help elected officials and decision-makers explore and implement policies that support new economic opportunities for farms and increased access to healthy, nutritious food for kids. Stay tuned for more on this new project coming in 2021!

“CoBank’s partnership with National Farm to School Network supports creating new markets for local farmers,” said Sarah Tyree, Vice President, Policy and Public Affairs of CoBank.

“National Farm to School Network is grateful for CoBank’s partnership and investment in our efforts to strengthen farm to school across the country, which is providing new opportunities for farmers, strengthening rural economies, and fostering vibrant and healthy communities,” said Helen Dombalis, Executive Director of National Farm to School Network. “CoBank’s commitment to supporting our mission has been instrumental in allowing us to expand our reach, deepen our impact, and move closer to turning our vision of a just food system that corrects inequities and benefits everyone into reality.”

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