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National Farm to School Network

News

Our 2020 National Partner of the Year: FoodCorps

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 14, 2020

Though 2020 is anticipated to be a year of uncertainty and significant challenges, the National Farm to School Network continues to look forward. As always, we’re a national organization that is uniquely situated at the intersection of numerous sectors and communities. Networking and partnership building have always been at the core of our efforts, and they will continue to be so long after this crisis ends.
 
We understand that working together is integral to our success, and is essential to the growth and long-term sustainability of our vision for a just food system. That’s why, in 2017, we launched a “National Partner of the Year” program to strategically align and partner with other national organizations that share our goals of ensuring a nation of healthy kids, thriving family farms, and resilient communities. (Learn more about our 2017, 2018, and 2019 partners.) We know that in order to redesign our food, education, health, and economic systems with justice at the core, we must build a big tent of organizations working multi-sectorally as we do. And in light of the COVID-19 health crisis, we believe partnerships like these are more important than ever. Coordination, collaboration, and working together is key to meeting urgent needs and accelerating our work to ensure a just food system for kids, farmers, families, and communities.  

In 2020, we're pleased to be partnering with FoodCorps as our National Partner of the Year. FoodCorps is a national nonprofit that connects kids to healthy food in school. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced school closures, FoodCorps service members are helping with emergency meal services, remote food, and nutrition lessons that reinforce academic priorities, and garden cultivation for community building and local nourishment. FoodCorps is also mobilizing its nationwide network of partners and allies to advocate for policies that will help schools keep kids nourished through this crisis and beyond. 

National Farm to School Network and FoodCorps already have a long history of collaboration. In 2010, National Farm to School Network was a founding partner of FoodCorps. NFSN had been founded several years earlier in 2007 to serve as a movement building, systems change, and advocacy organization, and recognized that it was also important to invest in direct service of farm to school efforts in communities through FoodCorps. Over the past 10 years, both organizations have naturally evolved and adapted to pressing needs and strategies towards our long-term visions: for National Farm to School Network, a just food system, and for FoodCorps, healthy food for all kids. What’s remained constant is partnership on many activities and projects - from advocacy days on Capitol Hill to story sharing during National Farm to School Month. So why focus on more intentional and coordinated partnership in 2020? Because we know that the visions of our organizations are urgent: we must act immediately and strategically to ensure that all kids - across all races, places, and classes - are connected to a just food system. 

We are joining forces to bolster our advocacy and programming so that we can better serve our communities, especially those most impacted by an unjust food system. And while we didn’t start 2020 anticipating it, our work now is also focusing on how to meet the urgent needs of the school food community in the face of a global pandemic. Read here a post we’ve co-authored about how the COVID-19 pandemic has shown school nutrition to be essential to kids’ health and well-being, and why USDA must uphold strong nutrition standards and build on the progress schools across the country have made to serve healthy school meals. 

National Farm to School Network and FoodCorps share a goal for the future where every child is able to be nourished by healthy food because their community food systems are thriving. We recognize that our collaboration at both the community and systems change levels towards this goal is what will accelerate our collective vision. It’s what the National Partner of the Year program is all about: leveraging our unique ideas, strategies, and resources towards a more just food system for all. 

Learn more about FoodCorps on their website and social media channels: 
And, stay tuned for opportunities to dig into this partnership with us throughout the rest of 2020!

FoodCorps and National Farm to School Network friends at the White House Vegetable Garden in 2016. From Left to Right: Cecily Upton (FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Strategist), Michelle Markesteyn (Rootopia and former NFSN Advisor), Curt Ellis (FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer), Linda Jo Doctor (W.K. Kellogg Foundation), Ricardo Salvador (Union of Concerned Scientists and NFSN Advisor), Anupama Joshi (National Farm to School Network Co-Founder and former Executive Director), and Jerusha Klemperer (FoodCorps Co-Founder).

The Common Market’s Mission-Driven Response to COVID-19 Nourishes Communities

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 23, 2020

Photo credit for all images in this blog belong to The Common Market
By Jenileigh Harris, NFSN Program Associate

When the coronavirus started to spread rapidly throughout New York City in early March, Janice, a woman in her sixties from Jackson Heights signed up for a free food delivery service operated by New York City. “Some of the food I had received was poor quality, canned, and sugary,” she said. Then, The Common Market stepped in and her first Farm-Fresh Box arrived. “The box came with fresh bread, dried beans, potatoes, a beet, kale, canned crushed tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. My first thought was that someone wants me to live and it almost brought tears to my eyes.”
 
One of the many things that the COVID-19 crisis has illuminated for our country is just how flawed our food system is and always has been, particularly when it comes to accessing fresh food. This crisis has also illustrated, however, that organizations like The Common Market - with existing infrastructure, relationships and investment in community food systems - are able to adapt and respond. 
 
A mission-driven response to COVID-19
The Common Market, a mission-driven distributor of regional farm products, is partnering with farmer and grower networks, city governments, school districts and other community organizations across the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Texas regions to ensure vulnerable communities receive fresh, healthy food and producers can continue business operations, pay workers and meet community needs. 
 
The Common Market was founded 12 years ago in Philadelphia, PA as a Mid-Atlantic regional food hub and distributor to improve fresh food accessibility in lower-income communities as well as farm viability and community and ecological health. In 2016, they expanded their model to the Southeast (located in Atlanta, Georgia) and Texas (located in Houston, Texas) in 2018. 

Historically, most of their work was with institutional kitchens, including schools (including early childhood education sites, traditional public schools, public charters, and independents), hospitals, colleges and universities, eldercare, stadiums and corrections facilities. 

“Once the coronavirus outbreak really took hold in our regions, our large institutional customers began shutting down,” describes Caitlin Honan, Marketing Coordinator with The Common Market. “Some of our farmers wondered, how would they continue to work with us? How could they follow through with their crop plans?” 

Leaning on their mission to serve, The Common Market acted swiftly and pivoted to a Farm-Fresh Box model in order to keep their commitments with their farmers as much as possible, while serving communities in need. The Farm-Fresh Boxes include a variety of seasonal produce delivered in a food-safe, self-contained box that requires minimal handling and maximum efficiency. Each box is curated by Common Market staff and farmers and represents what’s in season and available locally in each region. For example, in Texas, a typical box may include cauliflower, grapefruit, herbs, button mushrooms, red onions, kale and sweet potatoes. In the Southeast region, a box may include lettuce, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kale, asparagus, strawberries, mustard greens and in Atlanta, the boxes also include meat and eggs. And in the Mid-Atlantic region, boxes may include asparagus, apples, scallions, lettuce, radishes and tatsoi along with bread, cheese, and dried beans.


The Common Market Mid-Atlantic Farm-Fresh Box for New York recipients.
They deliver to the most convenient aggregation point for their communities such as hospitals, community centers, childcare facilities and churches. The program provides much needed revenue for their local, family farms and offers flexible pricing for their community partners. The Farm-Fresh Box program has resulted in an unprecedented number of deliveries to families and individuals. The Common Market Texas, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions are averaging 200-300, 6,000, and 13,000 boxes per week, respectively. 
 
Honoring existing partnerships and commitments
Trusted relationships in their regions have been invaluable to The Common Market’s ability to respond to current needs. 

The Common Market Texas partners with
  • The Texas Center for Local Food to deliver boxes for families at the Family Health Clinic in Elgin, TX, a community-based clinic that offers free services for low-income families 
  • The Harris Health System to provide fresh food access for Harris County - which includes the city of Houston - hospital staff and patients, with plans to expand into a community curbside pickup with SNAP accessibility
The Common Market Southeast partners with 
  • The Atlanta Housing Authority to deliver Farm-Fresh Boxes weekly to doorsteps of seniors sheltered-in place
  • Enrichment Service Program (ESP) Head Start in southwest Georgia to deliver 165 boxes to ESP Head Start in Columbus, GA for families with young children
  • The Community Farmers Markets (CFM) and a network of small farmers to allow Atlanta-based farmers’ markets to operate out of The Common Market’s facility
The Common Market Mid-Atlantic partners with
  • Greener Partners to distribute 3,500+ pounds of local food to more than 500 seniors and families in Pennsylvania
  • Newark Public Schools in Newark, New Jersey and Red Rabbit in Harlem, New York to distribute local apples among emergency school meals 


The Common Market Southeast Farm-Fresh box drop at ESP Head Start in Columbus, GA. 
Through these regional partnerships, The Common Market has been able to honor existing commitments with farmers and producers and help their businesses weather this crisis. Several producers who were on the brink of laying off their entire teams have been able to keep everyone employed due to the demand facilitated through The Common Market’s contracts. “We’re incredibly grateful. It’s amazing to be a part of the relief effort in New York City. Our farmers are relieved to have a pathway for our produce, to know that our instincts and our hearts were in the right place [when we decided to move forward with our 2020 crop plans],” shared a farmer partner at Sunny Harvest, located in Kirkwood, PA. 

New partnerships and collaborations
While existing relationships and infrastructure positioned The Common Market to readily respond to this crisis, it is the innovative new partnerships and collaborations that have supported their ability to scale up and meet the unprecedented and growing needs of the communities they serve. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, The Common Market contracted with city governments in New York and Philadelphia to provide specific farm foods to their departments of corrections. For example, in New York they won the bid to provide all of the humane cage-free eggs to Rikers Island prison complex, which demanded a full truckload every other week. 

The Common Market is increasingly seeking contract opportunities with government entities to provide more consistent and significant opportunities for the farmers they represent. “We see contracting with municipalities and school districts as a way to scale positive impact for both urban and rural communities,” explains Haile Johnston, one of The Common Market’s co-founders.*


The Common Market Texas Farm-Fresh Box contents.  
Now, due to an initiative from Mayor Bill de Blasio, The Common Market Mid-Atlantic has partnered with New York City to deliver meals to New Yorkers who are unable to access food on their own. The Common Market tapped into existing models to specifically address areas that already lack access to healthy and fresh food options. 13,000 Farm-Fresh boxes like the one Janice in Jackson Heights received - including a variety of produce, dried beans, cheese and fresh bread - are reaching New Yorkers weekly. 
 
The New York City contract connected The Common Market with the National Guard – a partnership to help with the last mile of direct at-home delivery and curbside pick-ups. The National Guard regularly meets up with The Common Market employees to help break down the pallets and load Farm-Fresh boxes into taxis and limos in order to deliver the fresh food to people’s homes. According to a recent Daily News article, more than 11,000 New York City taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers have become city-employed food delivery workers during the pandemic, earning a $15-an-hour salary. “It’s amazing to be contributing to such a massive effort. It’s very meaningful to be able to maintain outlets for our farmers’ harvests through this partnership” describes Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Common Market Mid-Atlantic. 
 

Members of the National Guard loading The Common Market boxes into vehicles for distribution throughout New York City.
Looking ahead
The Common Market has made significant changes to its model to respond to this crisis. However, there are several adjustments that The Common Market regional directors hope will continue beyond the immediate crisis. “I look forward to continuing our Farm-Fresh box program, which we launched in response to the crisis, retaining community engagement and government activity,” describes Margaret Smith, Director of The Common Market Texas. 

All of The Common Market locations have had to pivot their business model to adjust for shifting customer demands, including hiring additional warehouse staff and drivers to help with the increased workload and shifting their outreach approach to the community. “Our outreach efforts have centered around establishing and strengthening relationships with community partners who are serving the most vulnerable in our community: senior care facilities, homeless shelters, food pantries and organizations providing resources to needy families” says Bill Green, Executive Director of the Common Market Southeast.


The Common Market Mid-Atlantic Driver, Erick, wearing a Food Delivery Crisis Response team vest.
The Common Market has also seen that there is a huge role for their organization to play in serving urgent food and hunger needs. “We’ve been fortunate, and have heard directly from individuals receiving our food,” says Lehmann. “They’ve shared how grateful they are to receive high-quality, fresh, healthy and locally grown food during this time. For some of them, until they received our Farm-Fresh Boxes, they have mostly received low-quality, processed and packaged foods that aren’t the healthiest, and unfortunately this is the norm in the emergency food world.” 

Resilient food systems are community-powered 
The Common Market and its network of producers, delivery service providers and community organizations are showing just how resilient community-powered food systems are. Resilient community food systems are designed to manage crises; they have strong feedback loops and rely on strong local economies and policies, robust infrastructure, flexible distribution networks, innovative partnerships and trusted relationships. 
 
It is organizations like The Common Market who are pushing the dialogue around what food justice and health equity means and how we all can emerge from this crisis with the evidence, tools, stories and relationships to push for lasting and transformational change in our food system.

“Now, more than ever, we believe in the importance of resilient food systems that support our health and are strong enough to withstand any challenge,” says Smith. “It’s times like these when our vibrant community must shine the brightest. Our values, our networks built on mutual support, and our innovation will see us through as a community.”

*Haile Johnston, co-founder of The Common Market, is Advisory Board Chair of the National Farm to School Network.

Farm to School Efforts During COVID-19 Highlight Resilient Community Food Systems

NFSN Staff Monday, April 06, 2020

Local apples and pears being packed with school meals in West Virginia. 

By Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate, and Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager

During this devastating crisis, we are witnessing the opportunity and strength of resilient community food systems. Communities with strong local foods infrastructure and relationships already in place are able to respond and adapt to this crisis. NFSN Partners and farm to school advocates are speaking up about how they’re supporting farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) efforts by working to feed and educate children and youth while supporting local farmers and supply chains.

Every community is finding what works best for getting meals to students and families while supporting local producers. In some cases, school meals are being packaged and provided to students via school bus delivery routes while others are offered as a grab-n-go and curbside pick-up option at community sites such as schools or churches. In rural areas, some school districts are experimenting with at-home deliveries. Many farm to school state networks are using technology and social media like Slack and Facebook to connect and support producers in accessing additional markets.

The Common Market, a mission-driven distributor of regional farm products, is partnering with farmer and grower networks, school districts and other organizations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas to provide local food to sites serving grab-n-go feeding offerings to children and youth as well as seniors, families and communities in need. In New York, they partnered with Red Rabbit, a meal provider to New York City and surrounding areas, to deliver local apples to Harlem school meal sites. In New Jersey, they partnered with Newark Public Schools to deliver 160 cases of Frecon Farms apples to Newark school meal sites.


The Common Market preparing Farm Fresh Boxes for New Jersey communities. 
In West Virginia, the Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition has been working with local producers to disseminate local apples and pears to counties administering school meals. That includes meals served at over 505 school and community center sites across the state and meal delivery along school bus routes. Local producers send a list of available items to the Office of Child Nutrition on a weekly basis which is then sent to all 55 counties. Within the last week, West Virginia has relied on strong existing relationships to establish an extremely responsive local food system feedback loop. When a county ran out of fruit last week, a local food distributor was able to drop off local apples the next day.

In Alabama, the Farm Food Collaborative has been working with schools and producers to ensure the bounty of local strawberries is incorporated into grab-n-go school meals. One school district has already committed to serve local strawberries in their bagged meals and the Farm Food Collaborative is working on contracting with seven more districts.

NFSN Partners have also been working to ensure gardening as well as food and agriculture education continue while students are at home. Several states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin are sending donated seed packets and grow kits home with kids in coordination with the emergency feeding programs. At some school meal pick-up locations in West Virginia, SNAP-Ed educators are dropping off grow kits with food service staff to get packed with the lunches while mailing seed packets to families based on requests gathered on Facebook. In Vermont, seed packets are being distributed along with meals and a list of aggregated resources from KidsGardening to parents and educators who may be looking for garden-based activities to tackle with their kids and students. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association is supplying seeds to open ECE sites along with additional growing supplies, instructions and an idea sheet for ECE educators.


Microgreen grow kits prepared by West Virginia SNAP-Ed educators to be included with school meals. 
In Montana, teachers are encouraged to use the state’s Harvest of the Month videos to supplement students’ at-home gardening and agriculture lessons. And, at one school in Oregon, a webcam has been set up on the school’s chicken coop and bee hives with live broadcasting on the school website to support teachers leading lessons virtually.

While every state and locale has their own set of practices that works best for their community’s needs, a few key takeaways have emerged from our Partners. States are having success incorporating local food into emergency feeding programs when existing relationships between schools and producers are strong and when lines of communication remain open between both parties. Many Partners describe functioning as a liaison between food service staff and producers, ensuring both know what is available and what is needed on a weekly basis. When incorporating local food into grab-n-go meals, Partners have learned it is easiest to source products that require minimal prep and limited refrigeration such as strawberries, apples, oranges, pears, cherry tomatoes, peas, or carrot sticks.

Communities have had success supporting families and educators in their efforts to continue food and agriculture education by leveraging existing farm to school/ECE resources, partnerships and infrastructures for resource compilation and dissemination. NFSN continues to update our compiled list of resources as they are shared with us. Please contact Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager at lacy@farmtoschool.org or Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate at jenileigh@farmtoschool.org to share what is working in your communities to continue farm to school efforts and support local producers.

Supporting Our Community: Farm to School and COVID-19

NFSN Staff Thursday, March 19, 2020

By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director, and Anna Mullen, Communications Director

At its core, farm to school is all about community: when schools, farms, children, families, organizations and businesses come together in mutual support for mutual wellbeing, there’s inherent strength and resilience. That’s the power of community and the power of farm to school. And during this challenging and unexpected moment, it’s the energy of collective community that’s keeping us going. While many public spaces have been closed and our daily routines altered, we know that many of National Farm to School Network’s Partners, Advisors and members across the country are working harder than ever to care for those most impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. Your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed - thank you for all you’re doing. You are the people that make our communities strong. 

As a national organization partnering with communities across the country, NFSN is adapting internally as a staff and externally in the work we do day-in and day-out to keep supporting you, the farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) community, in this rapidly changing and challenging environment. 

How we’re approaching our work

NFSN is committed to centering our work in racial and social equity, and that need is especially urgent now. This means shifting our energy to focus on advocacy efforts that can help address inequities that directly intersect with farm to school and ECE and are made more glaring in this current health crisis. It also means adjusting some of our other planned work, like postponing the 10th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, a decision made through a health equity lens; reprioritizing projects to give Partners more time and space to take care of themselves, their families and communities; and supporting our staff - who already work from home - with additional flexibilities to do what they need to take care of themselves and those closest to them.

We’ve also been listening to our state and national Partners about what support they need during this time. The situation has been fast moving and the needs, strategies and concerns of the farm to school and ECE community are fluid and still evolving. We’ve received questions about resources for helping school meal and child nutrition programs and other feeding efforts respond to the most urgent needs - see our compiled list of resources here. We’re also receiving questions about what the rapid changes to meal programs means for farmers, food producers, food hubs and others who rely on school markets as part of their business plans. Like many small businesses, this is an incredibly difficult situation for them. Our team is working right now to identify helpful information, strategies and tools that can address this sudden change in farm to school practices. If you have ideas or recommendations for this, please contact Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager, at lacy@farmtoschool.org. More coming soon. 

Advocacy opportunities for action now

In the meantime, there are actions we can take right now to keep supporting our community in the coming days and weeks. In particular, we know that this health crisis is exposing numerous inequities that intersect with farm to school and ECE – including millions of children living with the daily reality of not knowing where their next meal will come from, if not from school or early care. As a systems change anchor and advocacy organization, here are some relevant action opportunities we want to share that prioritize supporting those most vulnerable in our farm to school and ECE community: 

  • Support Hungry Kids and Families: Encourage legislators to take action to support families that rely on breakfast and lunch from school and early care settings. See six recommendations from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) here
  • Support Child Nutrition Programs and Staff: School nutrition professionals are doing extraordinary work to ensure ongoing access to child nutrition programs during school closures. Community partners can help support these efforts in numerous ways, including amplifying the message about sites that they are operating. FRAC has more information here
  • Support Early Care and Education Providers: Child care is essential and this crisis has shown that early childhood educators are a crucial part of our nation's fabric. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has 10 steps that states and districts should take to support child care here, and you can ask lawmakers to take federal action here.
  • Support Local and Regional Food Systems: Farmers and food producers are under strain. There are actions that Congress and USDA can take now to unlock already-appropriated funding to support them. Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have an overview of these actions here. Additional information about mitigating immediate harmful impacts on those selling through local and regional food markets is available here
  • Support Family Farmers: In addition to school and institutional markets, many family farmers rely on direct-to-consumer sales for their livelihood. Most farmers’ markets are still open and they are taking extra precautions to help family farmers keep providing fresh, local food to their communities. Be sure to support them! See more from the Farmers Market Coalition here. Additionally, National Young Farmers Coalition has a "Call to Action" to urge your Members of Congress to keep young farmers and ranchers at the forefront of their relief efforts here.
  • Support Native Communities: Native communities and economies are in serious danger under this current health crisis, and ensuring food access in tribal communities is a top concern. The Native American Agriculture Fund, Seeds of Native Health, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and the Intertribal Agriculture Council are partners actively working on these issues. We are in touch with them, and will share actions that can be taken to support Native and tribal communities in the coming days and weeks..
  • Support Your Local Community: Get in touch with your NFSN State Partners to see how you can support local efforts with donations, volunteering or other efforts.  

Onward

In the immediacy of COVID-19, NFSN is here to support any and all efforts to ensure food reaches all children, families and communities. Please reach out to our team if there are ways we can support you. And, join our network to stay informed on our activities and actions in the weeks ahead.

Despite the extreme difficulties and pain that our global community is facing, we remain hopeful that this is an opportunity to unite in strengthening a just and equitable food system. We’re seeing in real time just how important this work is. While we may be physically distanced, we can spend this time virtually connected and planning and preparing to leverage farm to school and ECE to rebuild community food security and reinforce community connection. Community is at the heart of farm to school. And it’s community that will carry us forward through this time. 

In health, solidarity and community, 
Helen, Anna and the NFSN team 

Honoring Black History and Leadership in Farm to School

NFSN Staff Friday, February 28, 2020

By Anna Mullen, Communications Director

February is Black History Month, a dedicated time to pay attention to the power and resilience of the Black community and to celebrate the many Black leaders on whose shoulders we stand. For the National Farm to School Network, it’s also a time to recommit ourselves to being honest about the racism and inequities that persist within our field of work, and to reaffirm our commitment to working towards a vision of equity and justice. Listening, learning and reflecting on the histories, stories and wisdom of Black leaders in the food movement is one step in this journey, and we invite you to join us. Here are a few recommendations to get you started: 

EXPLORE: Black History Month Food and Farm Justice resource lists - HEAL Alliance

READ: Black Farmers Are Embracing Climate-Resilient Farming, by Leah Penniman - Civil Eats

WATCH: Malik Yankini on Food, Race and Justice - TEDxMuskegon

LISTEN: Karen Washington on Food Justice, Land Stewardship and Legacy Work - WhyHunger

MEET: The Black farm to school pioneers, leaders and kids in the picture above!

Top row:
  • Betti Wiggins, Officer of Nutrition Services at Houston Independent School District and former NFSN Advisory Board member.
  • Students at Kimball Elementary School in Washington, D.C. growing hydroponic lettuce and tomatoes.
  • LaDonna Redmond, founder and executive director of The Campaign for Food Justice Now.
  • A young gardener picking peas at the former K Street Farm in Washington, D.C.

Middle row:
  • Students enjoying a taste test at John Adams Elementary School in Riverside, Calif.
  • Glyen Holmes, founder of the New North Florida Cooperative, and a farm to school movement trailblazer. He's been helping small farmers in Florida sell to schools since the 1990s!
  • A little gardener learning about plants in Tennessee.
  • Rodney Taylor, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Fairfax County Public Schools, pioneer of "farm to school salad bars" in the 1990s, and former NFSN Advisory Board member.

Bottom row:

These are just a few of the many Black trailblazers, innovators and movement makers who are helping power farm to school efforts nationwide. There are many more - including on our staff, Advisory Board, in our network of Core and Supporting Partners, and others - who we also celebrate this month. 

While there are just a few days left of Black History Month 2020, our commitment to listening to and lifting up Black voices and leadership in farm to school doesn't stop at the end of February. Every day is the right day for being honest about and addressing the racism and inequities in our work. (You can read more about National Farm to School Network's commitment to centering our work in equity here.) In March and April, our staff will be participating in Food Solutions New England's 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge - sign up to join us. And, we encourage you join us in continuing to honor the Black leaders who have given, and continue to give, boundless wisdom, vision, creativity and commitment to the farm to school movement.

National Farm to School Network Announces New Equity Learning Lab

NFSN Staff Monday, December 16, 2019

Thanks to the generous support of National Co+op Grocers and Newman’s Own Foundation, National Farm to School Network is excited to launch a new initiative aimed at advancing racial and social equity and addressing injustices in farm to school and the wider food movement. Our Equity Learning Lab, launching in 2020, will train farm to school leaders from across the country in equity principles and strategies that will maximize impact towards creating a more equitable and just food system. 

Advancing equity has been a core value of the National Farm to School Network since our founding, and we are committed to centering equity in all of our work. During our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, we focused on developing resources and tools to help farm to school practitioners put equity into action. We created the Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy, hosted numerous webinars on equity topics, invested in farm to school in Native communities, and more. We’ve heard resounding feedback from our partners and members that they look to the National Farm to School Network as a leader for advancing equity in farm to school, and they’re eager for more tools and support to further this important work in their organizations and communities. We hear your feedback, and meeting this need is our vision for the Equity Learning Lab.

Our concept for the Equity Learning Lab is to take a collaborative and innovative approach, where project stakeholders will co-construct the programmatic content and curriculum alongside National Farm to School Network staff. Given this dynamic structure, the first Equity Learning Lab will be open to twelve NFSN Core and Supporting Partners. We believe serving a smaller group of stakeholders as an intimate group will provide the ideal environment for learning. Session topics will include identifying inequities in the food system and related history and policies; why farm to school is an approach to addressing inequities and why farm to school cannot be successful without addressing inequities; NFSN’s approach to advancing equity and how we implement it through programs and policy; equity in action; and more. It’s also our goal that this model be replicable. We’ll be using a “train the trainer” approach so that the impact of the Equity Learning Lab can extend beyond the participants, giving them tools, resources, and knowledge to share what they’ve learned back in their communities. 

The launch of our Equity Learning Lab has been made possible through generous support from National Co+op Grocers and partners within the natural/organic foods industry, who raised funds for the Equity Learning Lab during NCG's annual grocery and wellness conference and tradeshow earlier this year, and support from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman. 

We will be sharing more details about the initiative and its outcomes in the upcoming months. Be sure you’re signed up for our e-newsletter to receive the latest updates and opportunities to get involved. Have questions? Contact Krystal Oriadha, Senior Director of Programs and Policy, at krystal@farmtoschool.org

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! 

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