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National Farm to School Network


NFSN launches Programs and Policy Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool

NFSN Staff Thursday, August 16, 2018

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is pleased to share a new equity assessment tool, the Programs and Policy Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool, which aims to help NFSN staff and partner organizations assess the implications of specific programming and policy advocacy on advancing racial and social equity.

The National Farm to School Network is committed to advancing racial and social equity in all aspects of our work, and our strategic plan highlights this commitment. NFSN’s strategic plan states, “advancing racial and social equity is at the core of the farm to school movement, and serving as an equity promoting organization is a core value of NFSN.”  NFSN has taken steps to integrate racial and social equity analysis into our programs and policies, including efforts to formulate the Farm to School Act asks to include support for farm to school in Native communities, creating a farm to early care and education cultural relevancy subgroup in the summer of 2016, and translating key fact sheets and resources into Spanish. Building on these efforts, this new Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool will allow the network to make significant strides in equitable policy advocacy and programming by assessing all policy and program developments through a racial and social equity lens. We aim to maximize our impact on breaking down inequities in the food system.  

The NFSN Policy and Programs Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool has two principal goals. The first section of the tool is intended to help NFSN staff refine their racial and social equity priorities through a set of questions that assess NFSN staff and stakeholder priorities as well as stakeholder engagement in formulating policy and programmatic proposals. The second and third sections in the guide assess the implications of specific programming and policy advocacy on advancing racial and social equity, ensuring these opportunities are being maximized. Specifically, the tool contains questions that assure that policies and programs are aligned with the NFSN equity priorities, that identify and address common shortcomings in developing racially and socially equitable policies, and that assure proposals are creating meaningful long-term change and are accountable to racially and socially disadvantaged communities.  

The Assessment Tool was developed collaboratively with NFSN staff and NFSN partners.  NFSN staff led the research and analysis to produce this toolkit, with feedback from Tes Thraves (Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina Core Partner) and Wendy Peters Moschetti (LiveWell, Colorado Core Partner).  

The National Farm to School Network is confident that the comprehensive approach to policy and programmatic assessment present in its Policy and Programs Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool will allow the organization and its partners to make meaningful strides to advance racial and social equity in farm to school work across the country. Though the tool was developed primarily for use by NFSN, NFSN Core and Supporting Partners and members are encouraged to adapt it to their own organizational needs, in a movement-wide effort to advance equity. 

New to considering how your work advances equity? Check out the Racial Equity Tools Glossary, the dictionary of equity terms NFSN uses; understanding terms is essential and foundational to then considering what it looks like in your programming and policy advocacy efforts. Learn more about NFSN’s commitment to equity and find more resources for advancing racial and social equity in your farm to school work here

Local Food Sheroes

NFSN Staff Monday, March 26, 2018

By Molly Schintler, Communication Intern

March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, I knew that I wanted to write a blog focused on the role of women in food and agriculture. Originally, I envisioned focusing on historical, female leaders whose work laid the foundation for today’s food and agriculture systems. In retrospect, this may have been a bit ambitious. Thankfully, however, I have access to a powerful resource in the many individuals and organizations that make up the National Farm to School Network. When I reached out and asked our partners to share the names of female leaders, past and present, who have played an important role in food and agriculture in the U.S., almost all of those who responded shared the names of women who they know personally.

Many partners mentioned female colleagues, political representatives, and leaders of non-profits as women who have inspired them in their farm to school work. But inspirational women working in food systems existed long before 2018. Throughout history, women have been farmers, researchers, educators, political activists, scholars, marketers, and more in the name of advancing food systems. Who were the original lunch ladies? Who were the first women to champion agriculture education?  Which female farmers planted seeds of change, literal and figurative, in their communities a hundred years ago?

To quote Dolores Huerta, a historical food activist who is still leading change in our food system today: “That's the history of the world. His story is told, her's isn't.” Dolores co-founded the National Farm Workers Association alongside César Chávez in the 1960s. For decades, she has championed farmworkers rights, and yet many people recognize Chávez’s name and not Huerta’s. For me, it is not about recognizing a name for the sake of recognizing a name. It is about knowing a women’s name because you’ve heard her story. It is about saying a women’s name because you are teaching others about her contribution to our food system. Dolores Huerta is one of so many female food leaders who our farm to school work can and should be teaching about. 

If today’s students are taught about local food sheroes past and present, then we can start to tell a more complete, equitable history of our nation’s food system. In the garden, classroom, and cafeteria, let’s educate our students about the:

Activism of Fannie Lou Hamer, who in 1969, founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in opposition to the inequitable and pervasive sharecropping system of agriculture. She also led early, grassroots organizing in support of Head Start programs.

Leadership of Denise O’Brien, who, when asked about her life’s work as a farmer and founder of the Women Food & Agriculture Network said, “My life has been devoted to raising women’s voices in agriculture. My dream is that the landscape of industrialized agriculture will change as women become the decision makers on their land. To that end I will devote my time on this earth to women, prairie restoration and seed saving.” 

Vision of Chef Ann Cooper, who is devoted to creating a future where being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food is no longer considered “renegade.” 

Persistence of Karen Washington, who has lived in New York City all her life, and has spent decades promoting urban farming as a way for all New Yorkers to access to fresh, locally grown food.

Initiative of Chellie Pingree, who has been an advocate in Congress for reforming federal policy to better support the diverse range of American agriculture—including sustainable, organic, and locally focused farming. 

Talent of M.F.K Fisher, who elevated food writing to poetry as a preeminent American food writer in the 20th century.

Community Organizing of Gloria Begay, a Navajo educator and founding Naat’aanii Council member of the Dine’ Food Sovereignty Alliance to restore the traditional food and culture system on the Navajo Nation. 

Trailblazing of Betti Wiggins, who has worked to feed kids healthy food for over 30 years. As the director of food service for the Detroit Public Schools, Betti reformed the school lunch program through championing school gardens and local food. Today, she is still trailblazing for school food as Houston school dictrict’s officer of nutrition services.

Promise of Haile Thomas, who at the age of seventeen, is leading her generation toward a healthier food system. As a health activist and founder/CEO of The HAPPY Organization, Haile has engaged over 15,000 kids in activism since 2010.  Haile will be a keynote speaker at the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this April. 

Our network extends our humble thanks to the many women and non-binary identifying people whose work has built and continues our food system toward a more healthy, equitable future.  We may never know all of your names, but we certainly know that our work would never be possible without you.  Thank you for being local food heroes and sheroes! 

It's not only about race, but it's always about race

NFSN Staff Wednesday, February 28, 2018
By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Every month, National Farm to School Network staff gather to engaging in ongoing learning and discussion about racial and social equity in farm to school. This month, we started our conversation with each staff member sharing a story, thought, or resource relating to Black History – a timely discussion, as February is Black History Month. One staff member shared a few words that had stuck with them, offered by a NFSN Core Partner: “It’s not only about race; but, it’s always about race.” Hearing these words struck me, too. I would encourage you to re-read the quote a few times, sit for a moment, and think about this short, simple statement. These words resonated with me because they encompass how I approach my work with NFSN.  Farm to school is not only about race; but it’s always about race. 
The National Farm to School Network is committed to racial and social equity as a central tenant of farm to school. Why? Because troubling racial and ethnic disparities exist in our food system:
  • Black and Latino youths having substantially higher rates of childhood obesity as compared to their White peers.
  • Native Americans are twice as likely as White people to lack access to safe, healthy foods, ultimately leading to higher obesity and diabetes rates.
  • Many food system workers take home poverty-level wages, with women, Blacks and Latinos most likely to earn the lowest.
  • With regards to land ownership, Latinos make up 3.2 percent of today’s farm owners, American Indians or Alaska natives 1.8 percent, Black or African people 1.6 percent, and Asians constitute less that 1 percent.
We believe that farm to school programs rooted in equity can, quite literally, grow and cultivate a more fair and just food system for all Americans, Native Americans, and citizens of the U.S. Territories. 

Black history - and more specifically, black history in the US food system - is important to understand because our food system was built inequitably.  This is to say that the social and racial injustices of our current food systems exist by design. (Learn more by watching Ricardo Salvador’s keynote address at the 2016 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference here.) The racial disparities that permeate the food system are not happenstance, but rather a result of our nation’s history of exploiting people of color, particularly Native Americans and African Americans. As much as farm to school is about cute, toothless kids pulling fresh carrots from a school garden and farmers supplying local foods for school lunch, it is also about the real, true history of food in this country. This real, true history includes stolen land and slavery and Jim Crow, which, naturally, gives one less of a warm and fuzzy feeling when compared to the cute kids with carrots in a school garden.  

And that brings me back to “It’s not only about race; but, it’s always about race.” For me, this is an important reminder that our work in growing healthy kids and supporting local agriculture through farm to school activities isn’t only about addressing racial inequities. But, race must always be part of the conversation because racial inequities are a reality of the food system that we work within. Farm to school is not only about race, but it’s always about race. 

As long as I show up and hold space for a comprehensive farm to school discussion, then there will be space for it to be about cute kids, local carrots, and race. If you are wondering how you can show up for racial justice in the US food system or better integrate racial equity into farm to school, there are some great resources available that I invite you to explore:   
  • Read over the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to racial and social equity in farm to school here
  • Register to attend the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this April 25-27 in Cincinnati, OH.  The conference program features a number of workshops focused on equity and justice in farm to cafeteria, as well as a “Re-Framing Food: Food Systems work through a Racial Equity Lens” short course. Learn more and register here
  • Check out the multicultural and non-English resources available in our Resource Library
  • Watch our recent “Advancing Equity Through Farm to School” webinar here
As our staff continues to learn about and deepen out understanding of inequity in our food system, we’ve collected a robust list of resources and readings that we’ve found helpful to deepening our understanding of this important work. You can explore our list of suggestion (and send us your recommendations!), here. As you begin to delve into learning more about racial and social justice in food systems, it’s important to remember that no single training or article holds all of the answers. Similarly, we often remind ourselves that learning about equity in the food system is a journey, not a destination. Understanding how culture and history have influenced food takes time and dedication. For me, Black History Month reminds me to reflect on the ways that I show up for racial and food justice while challenging myself to learn more.  But there isn’t anything inherently special about February for taking time to reflect, learn, and challenge each other and ourselves.  Indeed, every month is a great time to commit to making racial equity a priority in our work. 

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