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Take Action: Learn about the USDA Farm to School Grant Program

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Photo Courtesy: USDA Food and Nutrition Service
By Christina Conell, USDA Office of Community Food Systems

National Farm to School Month is not just a time for celebration. It’s also a time to take action. This October, USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems invites you to learn more about the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.  

In 2010, the Farm to School Program was established by law to assist eligible entities – through grants and technical assistance – in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in schools. To fulfill this commitment, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides $5 million on an annual basis to support these grants.

Just in time for Farm to School Month, the fiscal year 2018 Farm to School Grant Program Request for Applications was released last week! Designed to increase the availability of local foods in schools, grants can help new farm to school programs get started or expand existing efforts. Funds support a wide range of activities from training, planning and developing partnerships to creating new menu items, establishing supply chains, offering taste tests for children, purchasing equipment, planting school gardens and organizing field trips to agricultural operations.

To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has provided more than $25 million for 365 farm to school projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools across all 50 states, plus the Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. 

Reaching more than 29,000 schools and approximately 13 million students in the past five years, the Farm to School Grant Program is an effective mechanism for increasing local foods in schools and creating new markets for producers. In looking at baseline and final reports from fiscal year 2015 and 2016 grantees, it’s evident that these efforts are making a difference. From the start of their grant period, grantees report increased garden activities, taste tests, farm field trips and more farm to school concepts embedded in schools’ curriculum.

Take action and learn more about the USDA Farm to School Grant Program with these resources:


Roundup: Fall Funding Opportunities

NFSN Staff Monday, September 26, 2016

The beginning of a new school year is a great time to consider starting or ramping up farm to school activities in your community. From planting seeds in a school garden to local food procurement in the cafeteria, there are numerous ways to engage in farm to school and get kids excited about fresh, healthy food. If you’re new to farm to school, check out our getting started resources: 

Getting Started with Farm to School
Getting Started with Farm to Early Care and Education
Starting and Maintaining a School Garden
Looking for funding options to help kickoff or expand your farm to school efforts? Here are several fall funding opportunities to explore:

USDA Farm to School Grant RFA Open
USDA has announced the release of the FY 2017 Farm to School Grant Program Request for Applications. Awards ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 will be distributed in four different grant categories: Planning, Implementation, Support Service, and Training. If you are interested in this great opportunity, USDA is hosting a webinar this Thursday, September 29, at 1pm ET, to review the application process and assist eligible entities in preparing proposals. The applications for this grant are due December 8. Learn more here

Nature Conservancy School Gardens
The Nature Conservancy, as part of their mission to protect and conserve the environment, is awarding grants to support projects that implement green infrastructure to address local environmental challenges. These include access to healthy food, air quality, heat island effect, climate change, and storm water collection. Young people will work as social innovators to help their communities through project design and implementation. A $2,000 grant will be awarded to 55 schools, and the applications are due October 31. Learn more here.

Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grant Program
The Whole Kids Foundation, in partnership with FoodCorps, is now accepting applications for its School Garden Grant Program, an annual grantmaking program that supports school garden projects designed to help students learn about topics such as nutrition and health, sustainability and conservation, food systems, and community awareness. These grants will be in the amount of $2,000 for year-long projects. The applications are due October 31. Learn more here.

Safer® Brand School Garden Grant 
Safer® Brand is starting an annual school garden grant to help kids build healthy habits through gardening, bring classmates closer together and unite everyone in a common goal of better health. The $500 grant will be awarded to a school in the United States to start a school garden in 2017. Applications for this grant are due December 1. Learn more and apply here.

Project Produce: Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools
The Chef Ann Foundation’s Project Produce: Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools helps increase kids’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables and create experiential nutrition education when and where students make their food choices - in the cafeteria. The $2,500 one-year grants support food costs to incorporate school-wide fruit and vegetable tastings into the school's nutrition program. Grants will be determined on an ongoing basis depending on available funding; there is no application deadline. Learn more here

KidsGardening Youth Garden Grant 
KidsGardenings’ Youth Garden Grants have reached over 1.3 million students and hundreds of schools to establish new school and community gardens and assist in sustaining and renewing existing gardens. Grants are awarded on a yearly basis. The Request for Applications is usually issued each fall with awards made early the following year, in time for building and planting in the spring. See last year’s winners here and look out for the 2017 Youth Garden Grant application this October at kidsgardening.org/garden-grants

Find more ideas for supporting your farm to school activities in our Funding Farm to School factsheet. Stay tuned to our This Week blogs, posted every Tuesday, for more farm to school funding, resources and engagement opportunities.

Four ways to use social enterprise to sustain your school garden

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 07, 2016
By Courtney Leeds, Schoolyard Farms

This blog was adapted from a Lightning Talk presented by Schoolyard Farms Co-Founder and Director Courtney Leeds at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference on June 3, 2016, in Madison, Wis. The 2016 conference brought together more than 1,000 diverse stakeholders working to advance a more healthy, just and sustainable food system for all. 



School gardens offer countless benefits: they encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables; teach science, math and history; and increase positive attitudes toward schools and communities. Yet, despite the known benefits, many school gardens struggle to secure funding for supplies, maintenance and garden educators. While there are grant opportunities that help kick start school gardens by providing initial funding for tools and infrastructure, how can programs continue to sustain themselves? One solution could be incorporating social enterprise into your school garden activities. 

At Schoolyard Farms in Portland, Ore., we have tested several enterprise models to see which options best fit the schools and communities we work with. Here are a few ideas you can use to help your garden thrive: 

Plant Sales
Generate funding and bring the community together with a plant sale. Have each class at your school start a different type of plant in early spring, or ask a local nursery to donate their older inventory. Pick a date and plan an event to sell the seedlings and bring the community to your garden. This could be a garden celebration, a potluck, or simply an opportunity for guests to wander the garden. Invite everyone – the school community, local businesses, community groups and neighbors. Recruit students to help staff the plant sale table, where they’ll have the opportunity to learn important entrepreneurial and money skills. 



Save Seeds
Saving seed from the garden is an amazingly effective way to teach hands-on lessons about life-cycles, recycling and stewardship. It’s also a great opportunity to create products that can be sold throughout the year to support your school garden. Let some of the plants in your garden go to seed and teach students to harvest them. Save some of the seeds to be replanted in your garden next year, and reserve the others to sell. Seeds are a great product because they are nonperishable and generally remain viable for three years. Easy seeds to start with are beans, which are large, beautiful and easy for children to thresh. Another simple option is cilantro: it goes to seed quickly, produces large seeds, and can be used as either cilantro seed or coriander spice. Have students decorate small envelopes with pictures and planting information, package the seeds, and sell at school events or a local nursery. 

Community Supported Agriculture
If your school has a large garden, consider growing and selling excess produce to the community through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA is a model used by small farmers to sell their product directly to consumers, where consumers pay a fee to the farmer in the beginning of the season and, in exchange, receive weekly boxes of fresh produce from the farm. The CSA program at Schoolyard Farms generates approximately 30 percent of our income, with grants and donations making up the remainder of our revenue. Managing a CSA program can be time and labor intensive, but this model of selling fresh garden produce offers great benefits for both school and the community.   



Market Stands
If managing a weekly CSA program is not feasible, consider setting up a market stand to sell your garden’s produce. Market stands offer a great amount of flexibility – they can be set up once a week, once a month, or whatever interval best meets your needs. Whichever schedule you decide, try to stick to it so the community knows when your stand will be open. Unlike CSAs, market stands don’t require a set amount of produce each week. They provide the flexibility to sell whatever is available in the field at a given time. Market stands can easily be set up at your school or at local businesses, and provide a great opportunity for students to develop strong marketing and customer service skills. 


Schoolyard Farms is dedicated to creating healthier communities by teaching kids how to grow nutritious food that goes from their schoolyard to their plate. They do this by building mini-production farms on underused schoolyards that act as outdoor classrooms for schools. Learn more about Schoolyard Farms here

Dream big, find your crowd of supporters

NFSN Staff Wednesday, June 10, 2015
by Marie Sayles, Projects and Partnerships Director for Barnraiser

The National Farm to School Network is partnering with Barnraiser, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to good food and farming projects, to elevate farm to school projects across the country. Visit our page at Barnraiser.us to learn more. 

Do you have a big dream of starting or expanding an amazing school garden, food or farm project? So did Chef Hollie Greene, when she teamed up with Lu Sutton Elementary School to improve the health of an entire school community – children, parents, teachers and their families – by teaching basic cooking skills focused on vegetables and fruits first. 

But school budgets are limited in how they can support food, farm or garden programs; even when the benefits of teaching children to eat well, grow their own food and connect with their local farms are now more apparent than ever. Traditional methods of raising money for extracurriculars can fall short, and while parent volunteers will come and go, building a community of supporters around a project is one way to secure dedicated funding and increase a project’s longevity. 

Teaming up with Barnraiser
Together, Chef Hollie and Miguel Villareal, the District’s Director of Food & Nutrition and National Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member, worked with Lu Sutton Elementary to find their community of supporters on Barnraiser, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to good food and farming projects. They launched the Joyful 12 School Project with a hefty goal of raising $20,000 to bring to life their vision to teach an entire elementary school to cook and eat more vegetables together. And they did it
Farm to school project ideas as small as $2,000 can be incredibly impactful for students, farmers and communities. What does your program need? To build a garden greenhouse, pay the nutrition education coordinator’s salary, design a new health and wellness curriculum, or get a farm to cafeteria collaboration off the ground? Crowdfunding could turn this idea into reality.
How to make the most of crowdfunding? 
  • Define your farm to school project: Your project can be anything from a new greenhouse to after school cooking classes.
  • Find your CROWD: Make a list of EVERYONE who would be interested in seeing this come to life. This is your crowd! 
  • Tell your story: Create a campaign page with photos, project description, simple budget and video. 
  • Offer rewards: Pull together a great selection of rewards. Think school auction here! Gift certificates from local businesses, handmade thank you cards, classes or workshops, a box of fresh garden produce, a party or event tickets.
  • Spread the word: Invite your crowd to support the campaign by sending out emails, flyers, posting on Facebook, etc., and don’t be afraid to ask, ask, ask your extended community to support your efforts. 
  • Expand your reach: Keep promoting until you reach your goal, then keep going! There is no limit to what you can raise if the campaign builds enough momentum.
Crowdfunding platforms are a great way to reach your local school community and a wider online audience that shares your desire to connect students to good food and local farmers to new market opportunities. Look for a platform that helps you find your crowd and offers support in promoting your campaign. 
Chef Hollie Greene and Miguel Villareal serve healthy food samples at Lu Sutton Elementary School. 
(Photo courtesy of JoyFondly)      
Why Barnraiser?
Raising money takes work and the team at Barnraiser is here to help! As your advisors, consultants and cheerleaders, we will review your project and give feedback before the campaign, then offer encouragement and suggestions as you work your way toward your goal. Our staff is comprised of professionals from the front line of the good food movement, including trained chefs, organic farmers, school gardeners and more. 
We are committed to your success because we believe that your work is what is going to change our food system for the better. Our 70% project success rate doubles that of other crowdfunding platforms and our growing Barnraiser audience is ready to support your project, too. Discover successful Barnraiser campaigns including Lettuce Learns and Yountville Community Garden. Remember, when the community comes together and one farmer gets a new barn, the whole community gets better food. Let’s raise some barns!
Marie Sayles, Projects and Partnerships Director for Barnraiser, can be reached at marie@barnraiser.us. Learn more and launch your campaign at Barnraiser.us


Seed Change on its way in three states

NFSN Staff Thursday, March 12, 2015


By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director

Today marks the launch of Seed Change, the National Farm to School Network’s major new initiative to change the dynamics of farm to school at the state level in support of growing healthier kids and better economic opportunities for small farmers. 

Every state has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to improving community health, tackling childhood obesity and supporting farmers and local food systems, including funding and people power. With a $1.5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, we are able to kick off Seed Change in three states that are poised for significant growth in farm to school programming. 

Seed Change by the numbers:

  • 1.8 million students in Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania engaged
  • 100 mini grants to emerging farm to school sites for local food purchasing, school garden activities, nutrition education, retrofitted kitchens, food service staff training and more 
  • Six farm to school demonstration districts and training hubs established
  • Goal of 10 percent growth in farm to school sites, student participation and number of school gardens in each state in 18 months

Leveraging the power of existing partnerships and networks in each state, Seed Change will provide the direct investment and proactive outreach needed to significantly increase the number of schools, children and farmers participating in farm to school activities and the dollars spent on locally sourced food. 

The project will be coordinated locally by NFSN partners the Kentucky State Department of Agriculture, Market Umbrella in Louisiana and The Food Trust in Pennsylvania, who will lead statewide outreach efforts, trainings and technical assistance to create a vibrant and active farm to school network in each state for long term program sustainability.

Learn more about Seed Change here, and sign up for our e-newsletter to stay updated about applying for mini-grants this spring. 

Funding Outside the Lunch Box

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 09, 2014

By Barbara Patterson, Policy Intern

As school districts, farmers and communities experience the benefits of farm to school activities, more and more programs are popping up across the country, and with that increase comes greater funding need. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is already maxed out, with five times as many proposals submitted for the past three years as could be funded. The National Farm to School Network will call on Congress in 2015 to increase funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, but we can also look beyond farm to school and garden-specific funding opportunities.

“Farm to school” is not a box. It’s an umbrella for improved health, stronger local economies and sustainable food systems, and there are funding streams through the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Act and other federal programs intended to advance these same goals. Just since this summer, USDA has awarded more than $52 million in grants to grow local and regional food systems through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), and nearly $118 million to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG). Many of these grants were awarded to farm to school projects, including:  

  • Under the FMLFPP, Lake-to-River Food Cooperative in Youngstown, Ohio, was awarded a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to strengthen its online market for local produce delivery and encourage purchases from schools and other institutions.
  • Also through the FMLFPP, Ecotrust of Portland, Ore. (NFSN Western Regional Lead Agency), was awarded a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) to analyze Oregon’s supply of regionally produced, antibiotic-free chicken and to assess demand and specifications for this chicken from local institutions, including schools. Similarly funded, Heart and Hand House, Inc. of Philippi, W.Va., will develop an aggregation center to improve access to locally produced foods in public schools.
  • With a Specialty Crop Block Grant, Arizona Department of Agriculture will partner with Western Growers Foundation to increase students’ knowledge of the importance of good nutrition and better understand where their food comes from by creating and sustaining edible school gardens at fifty Arizona K-12 schools.
  • Also through the SCBG program, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry will partner with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center to create and promote the Harvest of the Month program which will market the consumption of Louisiana specialty crops in schools and other institutions.
  • Hawaii Department of Agriculture will partner with the Kohala Center under the SCBG program to encourage USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) schools to spend more of their allocated funds to buy local and to increase local farmers’ knowledge of requirements necessary to participate in the program.

There are many more examples of successfully funded farm to school proposals within these awards. As you’re planning for 2015, consider exploring these federal programs to help sustain and expand your farm to school activities.

For more ideas on new funding streams, read our blog post on the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant Program and download our Funding Farm to School Fact Sheet

USDA Farm to School Grants Propel Movement Forward

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 02, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director

Today the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the allocation of more than $5 million for farm to school programming and activities across the country. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides competitive grants and technical assistance to increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools while fostering opportunities for experiential food education for our nation’s children. The Program is proving that farm to school is a win for kids, farmers and communities.

Congratulations to all of the grant awardees. From projects focused on procurement of local and traditional foods, like the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council in South Dakota; to crucial networking and training venues, like Kansas State Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Wellness Team workshops; and funds to execute the comprehensive implementation plans developed during past grant cycles, like in Arkansas’ Lawrence County School District, these grants will help foster the development and growth of farm to school activities throughout the country.

The farm to school movement has grown tremendously since the National Farm to School Network and its partners advocated for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to be funded in 2010 as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Our collective efforts resulted in passage of this groundbreaking legislation for farm to school, providing, for the first-time, annual mandatory funding of $5 million. 

Betti Wiggins, Executive Director of Food Services for Detroit Public Schools and National Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member, testifies in Congress in support of healthy school food.

As in the previous two years of the program, the demand for USDA Farm to School Grants continues to outweigh available funding by nearly five times. As we look ahead to next year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, the National Farm to School Network will call on Congress to increase USDA Farm to School Grant funding to better meet the need and to expand the program’s scope to support preschool, summer and after school programs. 

As the leading advocacy organization for the farm to school movement, the National Farm to School Network serves as an information, networking and advocacy hub for farm to school in the U.S. Your support enables us to work on the ground to facilitate farm to school activities and to advocate for policies in Washington, D.C., that encourage increased local procurement by schools, comprehensive farm and nutrition education for students, and market access for producers.

Today is Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. Join the farm to school movement with a donation today and help us build stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

Donate Now!

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Note: National Farm to School Network is the recipient of a Fiscal Year 2015 USDA Farm to School Grant to host a national conference next year titled “Strengthening the Farm to School Supply Chain Across the Nation.” This event will be a key educational and networking opportunity for farm to school leaders and will serve to strengthen and expand farm to school initiatives in all geographic reaches of the U.S. 

Collaboration and Innovation with Newman’s Own Foundation

NFSN Staff Wednesday, November 19, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director and Co-founder 

Newman’s Own Foundation announced today the formation of an innovative Nutrition Cohort, a coalition of organizations including the National Farm to School Network that will work to improve health among children and families in underserved communities through fresh food access and nutrition education. Together with five other nonprofits and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the National Farm to School Network will share its knowledge, experience and deep network of expert practitioners to help accelerate systems change on a national level. 

Farm to school practices that connect children to healthy food through local sourcing and experiential education have been shown to improve the eating habits and health of children of all ages and their families while also strengthening local agriculture and economies. Several studies, like this one taking place in Vermont, also show that kids who participate in farm to school/preschool education opportunities, like cooking lessons and school gardens, are more likely to try new foods and perform better in school, both academically and socially. More than 23 million students across the country now participate in farm to school activities, a huge increase over the handful of programs that were in place when the National Farm to School Network was founded in 2007.  

As part of the Nutrition Cohort, National Farm to School Network has been awarded a three-year $600,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation to support innovative programmatic expansions and further build capacity for providing relevant information, networking opportunities and policy advocacy for the farm to school community. We are honored to be part of the Nutrition Cohort, which also includes the Fair Food Network, FoodCorps, Inc., The Food Trust, Wellness in the Schools and Wholesome Wave. Newman's Own Foundation is providing a total of $4.5 million in grants for the Cohort program as part of its overall $10 million support of nonprofits that increase fresh food access and nutrition education in underserved communities.

Download our Benefits Fact Sheet to learn more about the impact of farm to school. 

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