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National Farm to School Network

News

Small steps, big impact

NFSN Staff Tuesday, November 01, 2016

For the past 31 days, millions of schools, farmers and communities across the country have been celebrating the movement that’s connecting kids to fresh, healthy food and supporting local economies. From Florida to Alaska and everywhere in between, people are recognizing the power of farm to school to benefit people, planet and profit. That’s what National Farm to School Month is all about! 

This year’s campaign celebrated the small steps everyone can take to get informed, get involved and take action for farm to school in their own communities and across the country. More than 600 people took the One Small Step Pledge, and shared the small steps they’d be taking in October:   

  • Our 28 elementary schools will be taste testing fresh, local produce, experiencing healthy cooking demos using farm fresh foods, and learning about their agricultural heritage - Texas
  • Continuing to plug away at networking with community partners that can bring together farmers to create a system for getting fresh produce to Early Childhood programs - North Carolina
  • Hosting our very first Farmer's Market with community farmers and produce from our very own Edible School Yard - California
  • Partnering with a local orchard to make homemade apple sauce in the classrooms and organizing a Big Apple Crunch Rally - New York
  • Buying local produce for my kids lunches and classroom snacks this month - Washington
  • We will be serving blueberry juice with blueberries grown in South Georgia - Georgia
At the National Farm to School Network, we’ve been leading Farm to School Month celebrations by sharing great stories of farm to school innovations, successes and impacts – like how farm to school activities are reducing school food waste, supporting family farms, and growing the next generation of food leaders

We also celebrated on Capitol Hill. Throughout the summer – and at events like the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference and Farm Aid 2016 – we collected paper plates with messages of support for farm to school and healthy school meals to share with lawmakers. On Oct. 5, we partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to deliver more than 550 paper plates to legislators who have been pushing for an increase in farm to school funding and support in the Child Nutrition Act. See a recap of the delivery day here.

And, we hosted a #FarmtoSchool101 tweet chat with Slow Food USA and Farm Credit to spread awareness and answer questions about the movement. More than 175 people joined the conversation on social media, sharing stories about the positive impact farm to school has in their communities. See highlights here.


Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and farm to school champions celebrate Arkansas Farm to School Month. 

Regionally, millions of students celebrated Farm to School Month with events like the Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch, Midwest Grate Apple Crunch, and Southeast Crunch. In fact, there have been Farm to School Month celebrations in every state this month. Governors in Arkansas, Hawai’i, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rhode Island made proclamations declaring October Farm to School Month in their states. Oregon brought legislators to the lunchroom to see farm to school in action, Georgia got kids to dig their hands in the soil with “Leaf it to Spinach,” and Washington students sampled local food for Taste Washington Day. We could keep going! 

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you, taking small steps every day to bring more local food sourcing and food and agriculture education to students across the nation. There are 334 days to continue taking small steps to grow and strengthen the movement before Farm to School Month 2017! Help us keep the momentum going by joining our network and stay up-to-date on the latest stories, new resources, policy actions, learning opportunities and more. Let's keep the small steps coming all year long! 


Thank you to this year’s National Farm to School Month sponsors and supporters – Aetna Foundation, Captain Planet Foundation, Farm Aid, Organic Valley, Chartwells, High Mowing Organic Seeds and Safer Brand – and the 230+ outreach partner organizations that have helped make Farm to School Month 2016 a success.  

Reducing student food waste with farm to school in Arkansas

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 27, 2016
By Melissa Terry, MPA Candidate specializing in Food Policy, University of Arkansas Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences, and Emily English, Arkansas State Lead, National Farm to School Network. Terry and English are co-Chairs of the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention’s Access to Healthy Foods Workgroup


Photos courtesy of Melissa Terry
Each state faces its own food security challenges, but Arkansas’s children find themselves particularly in the crosshairs of childhood obesity and childhood hunger statistics. In 2014, Arkansas was ranked as one of the top 5 states with the highest rates of food-insecure children, and approximately 1 in 5 children are obese. When combined, these two factors can be early indicators of long-term health risks, but also, an opportunity for community leaders to cultivate an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice. 

Washington Elementary School in Fayetteville, Ark., offers a shining example of how farm to school strategies can help cultivate healthy learning environments and positively impact the health and wellness of children. A garden-based learning program is used to engage all 325 kindergarten through 4th grade students in a variety of experiential academic lessons tied to grade-level benchmark standards – including activities inside classrooms, in the lunchroom, and in the school’s three gardens. 

Classroom lessons include interactive activities like making Rainbow Wraps with kindergarten students, pouring over the latest issue of ChopChop Magazine with 1st graders, learning about pollinators by creating Monarch butterfly nurseries in 2nd grade classrooms, facilitating Math in the Garden lessons with 3rd graders, and exploring USDA Garden Detective curriculum with 4th graders. After school programs include Washington’s robust Gardening Club, which is filled to capacity with 30 students. Additionally, each grade level participates in a farm to school field trip to a local farm.  

“Washington Elementary School’s garden-based initiatives are making a difference in our school and have enriched student learning experiences. The Fayetteville School District’s Farm to School program benefits all students regardless of the demographic background,” says Ms. Ashley McLarty, Washington Elementary Principal. 

Cafeteria lessons include a rotating “School Lunch in the Garden” initiative where one class each week visits the school garden for a lunch tray picnic. Activities also include data collection of Harvest of the Month taste test result, and participation in food waste reduction incentives. According to Washington’s Garden-Based Learning Coordinator, Melissa Terry, “The unsung hero of classrooms and learning environments is the school cafeteria. What the students learn there, whether intentional or incidental, shapes the way they perceive healthy food choices for the rest of their lives.” 

One of the school’s most innovate farm to school initiatives has been piloting a student food plate waste audit in early 2015, in partnership with the Washington County Environmental Affairs Department, the EPA, the USDA, and four other county schools. In this pilot, students engaged in a five day plate waste audit that measured plate waste by categories, including fruit/vegetables, all other food waste, milk waste, other liquid waste and unopened items. 

Results from the audit reflected an opportunity for Washington to make changes to help students reduce their food waste, including the introduction of 8 oz water cups next to the water fountain and the installation of a share table for unopened items, such as milk cartons, fruits and packaged food. Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year students reduced their milk waste by 20% and shared various unopened lunch meal items (e.g. milks, apples, oranges, etc.) as afternoon snacks with other students.   

To further its food waste reduction efforts, the school also launched an innovative “Farm to Store to School” partnership with Natural Grocers. Initiated in 2015, the store donates its surplus produce to the Washington Elementary twice a week, where it is used to make fresh, healthy snacks for students in afterschool programs. Produce picked up during holidays and during the summer break is delivered to the local Salvation Army kitchen, where meals are served twice daily and often include Washington Elementary students and their families. 

Arkansas Farm to School seeks to support schools and communities as they strive to fully engage students in their food system and cultivate emerging leaders empowered to participate in their food choices. And these efforts support the local economy, too. According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, local and regional procurement practices have resulted in $1,255,960 of direct financial impact for Arkansas' food producers. Emily English, National Farm to School Network Arkansas State Lead, says, “As we support schools and communities like Washington Elementary in Fayetteville and share successes and best practices across the state, we build a network of change agents young and old – students, parents, school staff, growers and community members - united in our efforts.”

For more information about Washington Elementary School’s farm to school activities, check out this Prezi featuring different types of student engagement, and this recording of a USDA webinar featuring Washington’s school-based food recovery partnerships.  

Growing youth leaders in Philly

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 25, 2016
By Aunnalea Grove, Get HYPE Philly! Program Manager, The Food Trust



For the Get HYPE Philly! initiative, 10 nonprofit partners, led by The Food Trust, have come together to empower 1,000 youth leaders to improve the health of their schools and communities with a goal of reaching over 50,000 Philadelphia youth in 100 schools by January 2018. Through urban agriculture, physical fitness, nutrition education and work readiness, Get HYPE Philly! is helping to ensure that Philadelphia’s young people play a key role in building healthier communities and creating a healthier generation. This has created a true movement, with young people at the forefront as agents for healthy change in their communities.

Many of Get HYPE Philly!’s youth leaders are actively involved in improving access to local, fresh foods in their schools and communities. Students involved in the school wellness clubs known as  HYPE (Healthy You. Positive Energy.) have the opportunity to visit local farms, start school gardens and advocate for healthy food sales in their schools. Youth leaders also support farm to school efforts by encouraging their peers to try local foods through marketing and taste tests in their schools. As one student said, “I joined HYPE because I wanted to help my friends make healthy food choices.”  Youth leaders take lessons about healthy eating home to their families, too.  HYPE student Priscilla says she has been able to influence her family with “more water, no soda in my refrigerator, whole wheat bread. My sister is a soda lover, so at first she was upset - but now she loves water.”  After several visits to urban farms and farmers markets, Priscilla wants to continue to see change in her community: “We need at least one farmers market around my community.”



Through Get HYPE Philly! partners The Village of Arts and Humanities, Norris Square Neighborhood Project and Greener Partners, young people are learning about urban agriculture by growing their own fruits and vegetables and using them to teach peers how to cook healthy meals.  Youth leaders run neighborhood farm stands, increasing access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods in North Philadelphia.  They also donate the food they grow by running a free, CSA-style delivery program for senior community members and lead a community cooking classes at a local shelter.   
In addition to working within their own schools and neighborhoods, Get HYPE Philly! has a Youth Leadership Council made up of a cohort of students from across the city whose goal is to promote healthy living and the development of sustainably healthy communities.  These students advise on Get HYPE Philly! Collective programming, serve as youth philanthropists and advocate for policy change.  In Get HYPE Philly!’s first year, the Youth Leadership Council chose to focus on urban gardening and healthy food access, and with funding from GSK, had the opportunity to  award 18 local nonprofit organizations with a total of $51,000 in mini grants, many of which went toward supporting other youth-led urban farming programs.  

Get HYPE Philly! brings people and organizations together to reach a common goal, empowering young people to lead healthier lives.  For more information on Get HYPE Philly! or how to get involved, visit www.gethypephilly.org, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter @hypephilly.  

Growing Together: Garden Brings Together Veterans and Children

NFSN Staff Monday, October 24, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, National Farm to School Network


Photos courtesy of Veterans Organic Garden
The Peach Tree Head Start Garden sure didn’t seem like much to look at when veteran John Johns first laid eyes on it. The abandoned piece of land, conveniently situated between the Ukiah Veterans Administration Clinic and Peach Tree Head Start in Ukiah, Calif., was covered in years of overgrowth and unsafe for anyone, let alone children to wander through. With the commitment and diligence of Garden Manager Johns and other enthusiastic veteran gardeners of Veterans Organic Garden, and the coordination and support of the Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities, in a relatively short time, this land had transformed into a sanctuary of healing for local veterans and an exciting place of learning and growing for the children of Peach Tree Head Start. 

The first step in the project was making the garden area safe enough for children to come into. Once this was accomplished, the planting could begin. Thanks to community donations and volunteer time, the garden soon started to fill with squash, tomato, cucumber, and pumpkin seedlings. The Head Start students were involved even from the very first stages of planting. The children started seedlings in the classrooms to plant in the garden and worked alongside veterans to plant pea seeds in the wooden barrels filled with donated soil and compost. 

Planting together was just the start of many valuable experiences in the garden, for both the children and the veterans. Throughout the growing and harvest season, the children made regular trips to the garden to see how their plants were growing and to nibble from the garden’s bounty. Johns says the peas planted in the beginning of the season were a popular treat and the children ate them up like candy.  He was also surprised to see how readily they gobbled up the spicy radishes. 

Head Start families are gaining hands on experience, too. Garden work days bring together veterans, teachers, parents, and children of all ages to pull weeds, tend plants, and take home bags of fresh produce. The impact of the garden continues into the Head Start kitchen and into the homes of the VA clinic patients. An average of 125 pounds a week of fresh produce from the garden has been served to students in meals and snacks at the Head Start and given away at the VA clinic.  

Johns sees significant benefits first hand for both veterans and children. The garden offers a place for mental and physical healing for veterans and empowers them with the opportunity to tend and manage their own plots. For Johns, the best part of the whole project is when the kids come up, hug him around the knees and thank him for gardening with them. Johns wants to engage even more veterans in this project so they can have that experience of admiration and appreciation. 

The relationships developed in the garden are meaningful and impactful for the children, too. Johns sees the children looking up to the growers and seeing them as role models, which increases their appreciation for farmers and food in general. The children get to engage in the growing experience with all their senses, from the time that they are very small, allowing them to develop a deep understanding of how food grows and where it comes from. Johns also hopes that by getting children in the garden early, they will grow up excited about growing their own food and make gardening a life long habit. 

The success of the garden is not going unnoticed in the community. After a recent newspaper article highlighted the project, several organizations reached out to offer donations, lands on which to start more community gardens, and partnership opportunities. Johns sees this positive response as testament to the importance and impact that a garden like this can have in the community. By bringing together veterans and the youngest gardeners in town, the garden is changing the community from the ground up.

Farm to School ROCKS!

NFSN Staff Friday, October 21, 2016
By Alicia Harvie, Advocacy & Issues Director, Farm Aid


Farmer Jason Grimm (Courtesy of Farm Aid)
Farm to school programs are expanding across the country in a movement celebrated by teachers, farmers, parents, students, school food service directors and more. These programs, of all shapes and sizes, are producing tangible benefits for kids, farmers and communities. 

At Farm Aid, we’re right there with them celebrating. But we still have a long way to go – only 42% of U.S. schools are participating in these programs. We need to keep moving in a positive direction so that every child in America, and every farmer looking to tap into school markets, can benefit. 

We think farm to school programs are pretty cool. At a time when family farmers are seeing their profit margins squeezed down to pennies on the dollar in the conventional marketplace, we take notice when we see the opportunities farm to school programs represent for farmers. When farmers participate in these programs, they make an average of 5% more in income and are able to set fair prices and reach new customers. 

That’s why we created Farm to School Rocks, a guide designed to inspire all of us engaged in the farm to school movement. Whether you’re a farmer, student, parent, school food administrator, teacher or activist – there’s a way for you to get involved. Read the stories of our Farm to School Rockstars, like Betti Wiggins – Detroit’s Rebel Lunch Lady – or farmer Jason Grimm – Iowa’s Tireless Farm to School Architect. 

And of course, check out our new infographic showing the benefits of farm to school, which you can use to help make the case for new farm to school programs in your neck of the woods. 

 Explore the full infographic here



You’ll also find our hand-picked resources to get you started on the farm to school journey, an opportunity to take action to boost federal support for farm to school programs, and learn more about the state of farm to school in your state! 

So go ahead. Get Inspired. Dig In. Get Engaged. 

Family farmers find success with farm to school in Nebraska

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 20, 2016
By Sarah Smith, Farm to School Lead, Center for Rural Affairs



Three years ago, family farmers Robert and Kristine Bernt of Clear Creek Organic Farm weren’t sure what to make of farm to school. They were part of a gathering of food producers, rural organizations and food advocates who joined the Center of Rural Affairs at a fire hall in Ord, Neb., to discuss farm to school efforts happening in the region. And they, along with others around the table, were concerned that the perceived complexities of selling local products to school cafeterias would limit farm to school activities in the state. 

But thanks to the dedication of numerous farm to school champions like those gathered that day in the fire hall, these concerns have significantly diminished. Interest and buy-in from both schools and farmers have soared, and new connections and partnerships are on the rise across Nebraska. Schools are hosting special lunch events and showcasing products such as local beef; school greenhouses and agriculture education are expanding into edible education; school gardens are growing in afterschool programs; and farmers like the Bernt’s are finding success in selling their products to schools. 

As these farm to school efforts have grown, so has interest from school nutrition professionals to learn more about how the food they serve to students makes it from farm to cafeteria. So at a recent Nebraska School Nutrition Association meeting, the Bernt’s hosted a tour of their family farm operation. More than 60 attendees toured Clear Creek’s fields of vegetables, explored high tunnels and greenhouses, learned about chicken tractors and saw hogs and cows out on pasture. They toured the farm’s dairy processing facility for making cheese, ice cream and butter. And, they learned about the new onsite, and almost fully constructed, meat-processing plant. 

Farm tours are great experiential learning opportunities for both youth and adults, alike. The folks who toured Clear Creek that day saw how edible corn roots differ from the miles of corn planted along Nebraska’s highways; they felt and tasted the brightness of several different varieties of fresh beans, like pinto and kidney; and learned the value of planting crops in rotation and incorporating cover crops. They tasted the difference in foods picked at the peak of perfection, and experienced how these fresh foods are packed with rich nutrients and flavor.

They also heard first hand from Robert Bernt how farm to school efforts positively affect family farmers. When Robert started farming on his 700 acres, he and his dad grew commodity crops that provided an income for two families. Today, they’ve diversified their farm and operations and are finding success in selling to institutional markets, including schools. In addition to fresh produce, the Bernt’s create value added products, like turning milk into cheese and freezing green beans for offseason sales, that schools have shown great interest in purchasing. The farm’s same 700 acres are now profitable enough to support four to five families, and have allowed several of the Bernt’s adult children to return to the farm and work across its various enterprises. 

The end of the tour meant a hungry crowd, and this group was not disappointed by the outdoor meal that awaited them. Kristine Bernt prepared casseroles, salads, pulled pork, and cornbread – each dish highlighting products that were sourced straight from the farm. Farm fresh products included several varieties of winter and summer squash, multiple leafy greens, roasted pulled pork, cornmeal, butter, honey, pinto beans, tomatoes and a homemade pumpkin ice cream. This farm tour experience makes it clear why several Nebraska school districts are committed to sourcing year round from Clear Creek Organic Farm. 

The farm to school landscape has significantly developed since the Bernt’s sat around that fire hall table three years ago, and tours like this are helping even more school nutritional professionals become invested in efforts to serve our children fresh, local food. The Center for Rural Affairs applauds the many miles farm to school has come over the years, and the great investment made by farmers, schools and organizations like the Nebraska School Nutrition Association. The Bernt’s story is a prime example that the farm to school movement is not just growing healthier kids, but that together, we’re supporting vibrant local economies and viable economic opportunities for family farmers. 

Hmong farmers bring healthy food and cultural diversity to little eaters

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 18, 2016
By Emily Pence, Communications Specialist, Hmong American Farmers Association


Photo credit: Mike Hazard
Local farmers are a critical component of successful local food systems. In Minnesota, Hmong American farmers occupy an especially unique place in the efforts to feed local communities local food. In the 1970s, Hmong refugees began resettling in Minnesota from Laos and Thailand as political refugees after the Vietnam War. Many of the resettled families relied on their agricultural heritage to make a living in their new communities, growing produce and flowers for local farmers markets.

By the late 1980s, Hmong farmers had revitalized the Saint Paul and Minneapolis farmers markets and transformed Minnesotan taste buds for Thai chili peppers and Chinese bok choy. They provided a steady stream of fresh produce that fueled the exponential growth of farmers markets into the state’s suburban communities and urban corridors, and greatly increased the supply of nutritious, affordable food available to families. Today, Hmong American farmers are leading the Twin Cities local food economy, making up more than 50 percent of all farmers that sell at metropolitan farmers markets. 

In 2011, a group of Hmong American farming families formed the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). We believe that the best people to support Hmong farmers are Hmong farmers themselves, and that we are all lifted up when those who are affected by an unfair food system lead the change we seek. We formed with a mission to advance the prosperity of Hmong American farmers through cooperative endeavors, capacity building and advocacy. As part of an integrated approach to community wealth building, HAFA manages a 155-acre farm in Dakota County where member families can lease land, hone their business and agricultural practices, and sell produce to the HAFA Food Hub. The HAFA Food Hub aggregates and sells members’ produce through community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, schools, retailers and institutions.

With growing recognition amongst stakeholders of the importance of connecting young children to healthy, local food, early care and education settings emerged as an important and beneficial market opportunity. Since 2014, HAFA has sold broccoli, beets, carrots and more to the Ramsey County Head Start program to serve to its children during mealtimes. In addition to providing fresh, local produce, HAFA has partnered with the Head Start program to provide educational opportunities and activities to engage its young students, teachers, food workers and parents around eating healthy food. 

This partnership started when the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) approached Ramsey County Head Start about starting a Farm to Child Care Project. IATP wanted to focus on cultural relevance in early care and education food programs, which is important because Ramsey County Head Start is incredibly diverse, with over 25 different cultures and 34 different languages represented.  Their desire to provide culturally appropriate food prompted IATP and Head Start to reach out to HAFA. They also partnered with Russ Davis Processing and CKC Good Food to help bring healthy, local food to their young eaters. 

Here is how produce gets from the farm to the students: HAFA farmers grow fresh produce, which is harvested, washed, sorted and packaged on the farm. We then deliver the produce to Russ Davis Processing, which will peel, cut and process the produce. After the processing, the produce is sent to CKC Good Food, a woman-run, locally owned catering company. CKC creates a menu around the fresh produce, manages the kitchen and delivers the prepared meals to the Head State locations. The final result is young children enjoying fresh, healthy and locally grown food in their meals and snacks!

Not only does the partnership with HAFA allow students to become closer to their food, it also allows them to experience Hmong culture. More than 250 preschoolers visit the HAFA Farm annually, where they see first hand how food is grown. When students visit in the fall, they also participate in a traditional celebration of Hmong New Year. They try on traditional clothes, play New Year games and learn about why the holiday is an important part of the harvest season. 
Importantly, HAFA’s partnership with Head Start greatly benefits the HAFA farmers themselves. Whereas selling produce at farmers market can sometimes be unpredictable, wholesale partnerships, such as HAFA’s partnership with Head Start, provides farmers with increased stability and profits for their families. The amount of produce HAFA farmers are able to sell to Ramsey County Head Start is the equivalent to an entire summer’s worth of selling at farmers markets!

In the past two years, we have seen amazing results from this partnership, which have been revolutionizing the food system. Hmong students feel more represented and included at school; students, staff and parents feel more connected to their community; and kids report loving lunch! Pakou Hang, HAFA’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, says, “Through this partnership, we see that we are moving our communities forward, through celebrating and incorporating cultural learning, promoting and supporting diverse role models and inviting students, parents and teachers to be allies in the celebration.” 



Helping more farmers bring farm to school

NFSN Staff Monday, October 17, 2016
By Lindsey Lusher Shute and Eric Hansen on behalf of the National Young Farmers Coalition


Farmer Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce (Courtesy of National Young Farmers Coalition)
For the past five years, young farmer Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce has been selling his vegetables to the biggest restaurant in Durango, Colo., and pleasing the smallest customers. While the term “restaurant” might be a stretch, Durango’s 9-R school district serves over 2,000 meals a day, and thanks to Nolan, students munch on locally grown potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas and winter squash. This farm to school program is a huge opportunity for a farmer like Nolan, who can sell between 500 and 2,000 pounds of potatoes, for example, in a single transaction with the school district. The school district is a stable, high-volume market for him, and it’s a rewarding place to sell his produce. Not only does Nolan feel he is contributing to food system change, but those same students eating his vegetables recognize him as an invaluable part of the Durango community.
Multiple benefits come out of farm to school programs: they put more fresh fruits and vegetables into school meals, teach children where food comes from, inspire students to eat healthier and support local farm economies. From the farmer perspective, institutional buyers, like schools, represent an important piece of the local food system. Institutions provide farmers access to larger, more stable markets that require less one-on-one consumer contact than CSAs and farmers’ markets. 

Both schools and farmers benefit when schools procure local food, but a ready supply of farmers is needed to help the farm to school movement grow. And the capacity of local farmers to support farm to school programs remains a critical challenge. The ability of local farmers to meet farm to school demand extends beyond just seeds in the ground or tomatoes on the vine. Institutional markets, like schools, sometimes have additional requirements for farmers that farmers markets and other, smaller retail channels do not. 

One of these potential additional requirements, called “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP), ensures that food is grown in a way that minimizes food safety risks. While GAP is not limited to farm to institution procurement (USDA, as well as many wholesalers require GAP certification, too), it can be a factor for some farmers looking to scale up their farms and access institutional markets. Ensuring the safety of food served in our schools, hospitals, and other large institutions is of course important, however, these  additional requirements can create unforeseen hurdles for some farmers. The requirements vary from state to state, and sometimes from district to district. North Carolina, for example, requires GAP audits and certification for farms that supply its schools through their Farm to School Program. In Illinois, farmers who sell directly to schools are not requires to be GAP certified or audited. In other states, the decision about training and certification is made on a school or district level basis.   
If GAP comes into play, farmers can face two different costs to certification. First are the costs of recordkeeping, verification and certification necessary to demonstrate compliance. These costs can include fees associated with the audit and certification process, time needed for required paperwork and training to understand the certification program requirements. The second set of costs may be practice changes and equipment upgrades required to comply with the certification. These costs can include changes in the way food is grown and the way farming is conducted to minimize food safety risks.  
Assistance with these practice changes and certification costs provides a good opportunity to further farm to school programs and support small farmers. Farming has slim margins and uneven revenue, so some farmers can’t afford $1,000 for a GAP audit if it is required in order to access farm to school markets.  To address the costs of certification, a cost-share program between the USDA and the farmer would go a long way toward bringing certification within reach for a small farmer. 
Farm to school programs have shown their value, and supporting small farmers who are ready to scale up or diversify their market channels is a win for all. Targeted investment in cost-share and small grant programs would reduce the cost of entry into farm to school markets for some farmers. And by helping these farmers access institutional markets like schools, we can set them up for long-term success while supporting the growth of the local food movement and reaping educational and health benefits for children. 


This blog post is excerpted from 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President, a report authored by Bellwether Education Partners with input from the National Young Farmers Coalition and others. The National Young Farmers Coalition is a national network of farmers, ranchers, and consumers who support practices and policies that will sustain young, independent, and prosperous farmers now and in the future.


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