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National Farm to School Network

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Kids need #realschoolfood – and farm to school is making it happen

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 11, 2016
By Emily Miller, Marketing & Education Manager, Chef Ann Foundation



Chef Ann Foundation is excited to be celebrating National Farm to School Month this October, paying homage to the hard work and dedication of food service professionals, farmers and educators across the country who are connecting their communities with with fresh, healthy and local food. As an organization that also works to spearhead school food reform and transition our nation’s schools to scratch cooking with fresh ingredients, it’s inspiring and invigorating to see how the farm to school movement has exploded over the past decade. 

At its core, farm to school is teaching our kids the importance of REAL food. Food that is grown from the earth, not manufactured in a laboratory. Food with names that you can pronounce, food that’s colorful, nutrient dense and delicious. The kind of food that provides the healthy fuel their minds need to learn and their bodies need to grow. The farm to school movement is helping to make real school food a national priority, which is a cause very near and dear to our hearts. 

In fact, we’ve launched our own awareness campaign with the same goal in mind: #RealSchoolFood. This month, we are calling on celebrities, chefs, farmers, schools, good food advocates and parents nationwide to bring attention to one key issue: our children deserve and desperately need REAL, unprocessed, healthy school food every day.

Why? Because childhood obesity and diet-related disease are crippling their futures. In America, one out of every three kids is overweight or obese, and at-risk for Type 2 Diabetes. This generation of children is predicted to have shorter life expectancies than their parents, primarily due to their diets. To make matters worse, many schools across the country are serving highly processed, heat-and-serve meals that reinforce the bad eating habits and food trends that have helped contribute to this crisis.   



Ensuring kids have access to healthy, fresh school food is a crucial part of the solution. More than 30 million children eat school lunch every day, and over 70% (22 million) of these kids come from impoverished households. The eating habits and food values they learn in childhood will follow them for the rest of their lives. So for now, while our kids are still young, and we’re still filling their lunch trays, we have an opportunity to shape the future. 

We need to help schools move away from the highly processed, heat-and-serve food trend and work with them to serve scratch cooked food made with fresh, locally procured ingredients. Instead of treating our children for diet-related diseases, we can make sure their diets prevent these illnesses from ever taking hold. Because when we make sure that our children’s meals are cooked with real food, instead of food additives and chemicals, we set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits that help them grow, thrive, and achieve. 

The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme, One Small Step, is highlighting the simple ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country. We invite you to participate in the #RealSchoolFood campaign as your small step. This is all you have to do:

1. Photograph yourself or your kids holding a “#realschoolfood” sign.

2. Post the photo to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (privacy settings set to public) with this caption: 30 million kids eat school lunch every day. It's time we served them #realschoolfood. Join the campaign now: realschoolfood.org (Or, visit the  campaign page for other suggestions).

For every person who posts using “#realschoolfood” in October, the campaign sponsors will donate $1 towards healthy school food programming for kids across the country. This is an incredible opportunity to raise awareness and work together to ensure that school food reform and farm to school keep moving forward. 

If we all spread the word, the louder the call-to-action becomes and the more likely that change can and WILL happen. Stand with us and the National Farm to School Network in the fight for real school food and join the campaign today! 


Founded in 2009 by Ann Cooper, a pioneer in the fields of school food reform and child nutrition, Chef Ann Foundation is a national non-profit that provides school communities with tools, training, resources and funding to create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. To date, we’ve reached over 7,000 schools and 2.6 million children in all 50 states. To learn more about our healthy school food programming, visit www.chefannfoundation.org.

Schools Celebrate National School Lunch Week with Farm Fresh Produce

NFSN Staff Monday, October 10, 2016
By Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS
School Nutrition Association President and Supervisor of School Nutrition Services for Loudoun County Public Schools, Va.


Dr. Domokos-Bays (right) joins kindergarten students at Loudoun County’s Fredrick Douglass Elementary in harvesting lettuce from their school garden. The School Nutrition Services team prepared the lettuce into salads for their classroom. (Photo credit: Rick Brady)

School nutrition professionals have always been passionate about serving students healthy meals that contribute to academic success. Now that federal nutrition standards require every school meal to include larger portions of fruits and vegetables, we are utilizing more creative methods to encourage students to eat and enjoy these nutritious choices. As president of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), I've been thrilled to witness farm to school initiatives taking root in school cafeterias nationwide as part of this ongoing effort to help students adopt healthier lifestyles.
 
School nutrition professionals have embraced farm to school programs as an effective way to source more farm fresh, local produce and to get kids to try these choices by teaching them about the healthy foods grown in their communities. A recent SNA survey of nearly 1,000 school meal program operators revealed that 57% of school districts offer locally sourced fruits and vegetables with school meals - up from 52% just two years ago. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of respondents have implemented farm to school initiatives to promote healthier choices in the cafeteria, up from 37.5% in the 2014 survey. School nutrition professionals also reported widespread use of student taste tests, chef partnerships, and salad or produce bars – all effective methods for increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables.
 
During National School Lunch Week (October 10-14), schools nationwide will showcase these ongoing efforts. At Loudoun County Virginia’s Kenneth Colbert Elementary, students will have the chance to meet Ellen Polishuk, a farmer from nearby Potomac Vegetable Farms. Ellen will autograph her farmer trading cards for students as they enjoy their school lunches. Our school nutrition department worked with the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development to design twelve different farmer trading cards, which were released on the opening day of baseball season – also declared the first day of growing season! The cards have offered a fun way to teach students about the people who grow the local produce served in the cafeteria.
  


These cards have also helped to get kids excited about working and learning in Loudoun County’s school gardens. Local farmers are key partners in this effort too - Wegmeyer Farms in Hamilton, Virginia generously donated over 400 strawberry plants to our gardens this year, allowing students in 17 schools to learn outdoors with their teachers in the process of garden planting, tending and harvesting. The School Nutrition Services Team did our part to continue the learning in the cafeteria by hosting a “Taste it Thursday” strawberry taste test with students.
 
As a parent and a dietitian, I know kids sometimes need to try a new fruit or vegetable many times before they decide they like it, and that’s why partnerships between school nutrition professionals, farmers, teachers and parents are so important. Working together through farm to school initiatives, school garden projects, taste tests and nutrition education programs, we can all help promote life-long healthy eating habits for children.

Census says: farm to school is booming!

NFSN Staff Tuesday, March 15, 2016
By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate



Today, the USDA released new data from its 2015 Farm to School Census and the results are clear: farm to school is booming! Thanks to efforts from teachers, school nutrition professionals, farmers, parents, students and other community members like you, farm to school activities have grown from a handful of schools in the late 1990s to reaching 23.6 million students nationwide. 

According to the data, 5,254 school districts - a total of 42,587 schools across all 50 states and Washington D.C. - participate in farm to school activities, including serving local food in the cafeteria, holding taste tests and taking students on field trips to farms and orchards. 

During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased $789 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers. That is a 105% increase over the $386 million of local food purchased in 2011-2012 and a huge investment in community economic development. Furthermore, 46 percent of school districts reported they will increase their local food purchases in coming school years. While fruits, vegetables and milk currently top the list of foods schools are most likely to buy locally, many indicated that they’d like to buy more plant-based proteins, grains, meats, poultry and eggs from local suppliers.

Forty-four percent of the school districts also reported having at least one edible school garden. In school year 2013-2014, more than 7,101 school gardens gave students daily access to fresh fruits and vegetables, while also helping them learn where food comes from. This is a 196 percent increase over the 2,401 edible school gardens reported in the 2011-2012 school year when the first census was conducted.

Photo Courtesy: USDA Food and Nutrition Service
The benefits of farm to school activities like these are far reaching. Sixty-six percent of school nutrition director respondents reported experiencing one or more of the following: 
  • Greater community support for school meals
  • Greater acceptance of school meal standards
  • Lower school meal program costs
  • Increased participation in school meals
  • Reduced food waste
These benefits, in addition to positive economic opportunities for local food producers, explain why farm to school is on pace to continue growing. Of the more than 12,500 school districts that responded to the survey, more than 2,000 indicated they plan to start farm to school activities in the future. 

The high interest in these activities confirms why the National Farm to School Network continues its advocacy for supportive policies at the national, state and local levels that will help the farm to school movement grow. To ensure that more school districts feel empowered to start new programs or expand their existing work, we’re advocating for policies like the Farm to School Act of 2015 to be included in the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). We’re calling on Congress to strengthen and expand the USDA Farm to School Grant Program so more communities have access to farm to school. Show your support for farm to school by adding your name to our petition here

See how your school district stacks up by visiting the census map, which provides detailed information on all 18,000 surveyed school districts. Want to help farm to school efforts in your community grow? Check out our tips for getting started, or contact your National Farm to School Network State or Regional Lead for local information, resources and opportunities. 

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you - congratulations for your work in helping farm to school grow! Join us at 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison, Wis., this June to continue building momentum and ensure long-term sustainability for local food efforts like these around the county. As this census data shows, together we have the power to affect great change! 

Creating healthy food environments for Latino kids

NFSN Staff Thursday, January 21, 2016
Guest post by Lisa Ellis-Veraza, Salud America! 

Salud America! The RWJF Reach Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children has worked since 2007 to increase evidence and policy recommendations to prevent Latino childhood obesity. The 50,000 member network includes researchers, community leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders working together to increase advocacy support and the number of Latino advocates seeking policy solutions to combat childhood obesity. See Salud America!’s research here.

High school students in El Paso aren’t only learning how to grow fruits and vegetables, they’re learning how to prepare and sell them, too. (Photo credit: Ana Suffle)

Healthy school food is a key component of growing a healthier next generation. But offering nutritious food in schools is particularly vital for our growing population of Latino students, who face higher risks of obesity and diabetes than their peers. 

According to a new research review from Salud America! The RWJF Reach Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children, Latino students are more frequently exposed to unhealthy foods in their school and neighborhood environments than their white peers. The review indicates when a school’s proximity to fast food increased, so did Latino students’ body mass index. It also suggests that Latino-majority schools tend to have weaker policies regarding school snacks and drinks, and may be less likely to implement nutritional guidelines.

This situation has dire health consequences, as it is expected 30 percent of the U.S. student population will be Latino by 2030. If obesity remains unchecked, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every two Latino children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. So how can we ensure healthier food environments for Latino kids?

Let’s consider school food! Most students, including Latinos, consume up to half of their daily calories at schools, and the nutritional value of the foods and beverages available at schools play a major role in influencing students’ diets and weight. School policies that reduce access to sugary snacks and drinks are likely to reduce Latino students’ consumption of unhealthy items during the school day, and positively impact student weight trends.

Michaelie Love advocated for a healthy breakfast cart at her high school in Texas.

There are many things that can be done to help drive wellness policy and system changes like these at schools. For example, student Praxina Guerra and her mentor, Cathy Lopez, advocated for hydration stations across their school’s campus in order to encourage students to drink more water and less sugary beverages. In Texas, student Michaelie Love worked in her school to offer up a healthy breakfast cart for fresh food options in the morning, and Cecil Whisenton brought healthier vending machines to her Latino-majority high school.

Farm to school initiatives can also create healthy food environments. For example, see how high school student Elena Dennis's summer school cooking camp in California brought students to local farms and taught them how to make healthy meals from scratch. Programs like Elena’s “Camp Cauliflower” are teaching kids how to grow, cook and enjoy nutritious food, planting the seeds of healthy habits for a lifetime. 

We also know students are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables when schools offer opportunities to learn in school gardens. Watch how Bowie High School’s garden in largely Latino El Paso, Texas, helped the whole community learn about healthy foods in a culturally relevant way. Or, see how teacher Lonnie Schlerandi started a school garden in Austin, Texas, that inspired students to get involved in growing produce and distributing it to school and community members.

So how can you get involved in helping create healthy food environments for Latino children? Salud America! has created an online haven for healthy change where you can become a Salud Leader and share your story, learn what changes are happening in your area, be inspired by educational videos, access research and policy briefs, sign petitions and more. 

Best of all, all of our content can be shared using social media – a primary way Latinos access health information. Once you register to be a part our network, you can access free community health reports, maps, videos, policy updates and more to drive change for Latino childhood obesity prevention. Join us, and together we can help unite the Latino voice for childhood health! 

Earlier this week, we joined Salud America for a tweetchat about ways to create healthier school environment for Latino kids. See a full recap of the conversation here

School Food Justice: strengthening school meals & farm to school in Vermont

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 21, 2015
By Anore Horton, Nutrition Initiatives Director, Hunger Free Vermont, and Betsy Rosenbluth, Project Director, Vermont FEED

 Photo Credit: Vermont FEED

When Douglas has a full stomach at school, he can focus better on that sticky math problem in front of him.

When Farmer Lauren can sell her veggies or beef to the local school, she can run a stronger business that feeds her community and keeps farms viable.

When Chef Nancy has more students lining up for lunch in her school cafeteria, she has the revenue to expand her offerings and buy more local foods.

It’s easy to connect the dots between these items. And it’s why anti-hunger organizations have been teaming up with farm to school advocates in Vermont to strengthen school meal programs.

To borrow a term from the business world, we call it the “virtuous cycle” of school meals. By expanding meal participation and the food programs offered (like afterschool meals), we ensure that fewer children are hungry, so they are more likely to be ready to learn and participate.  With more kids participating in school meal programs, program revenue climbs, so schools can buy more fresh, nutritious, and local products. And with higher quality meals (along with the greater sense of ownership local food brings) more students buy those meals, boosting participation even more. And so the cycle continues. 

But where’s the leverage point to nudge this wheel into motion?

There are several. Over the past three years, Hunger-Free Vermont and VT FEED (a project of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of VT), have focused on expanding universal meals through the new Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the 2010 School Nutrition Act —along with promoting Provision 2 of the National School Lunch Act.  

In just two years, these two programs have brought universal meals to around 50 Vermont schools – more than 15% of Vermont’s students. 

After using the CEP less than six months, school principals reported at least a  10% increase in  participation in school meals (and as high as 38%). They also reported improved school meal program finances, and greater use of local foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. The cycle set in motion!

According to Winooski Schools Superintendent Sean McMannon, “The positive financial impact of CEP has given us more flexibility to purchase local foods.  We have more local food on the salad bar, and have been able to provide more variety in our offerings.”  

James Taffel, Co-Principal at Barre City Elementary and Middle School, also celebrated their move to universal meals, which has given students more variety and choice.  “We started offering virtually limitless fruits and vegetables of many kinds, supporting local farms and farmers whenever we can.  Kids just take what they want, and the fabulous part is that they love it!”

Then there are the “spin-off” impacts. Schools reported fewer behavior referrals and school nurse visits. One more check in the “plus” column! And by providing breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students, they’ve erased the stigma of receiving a “free” or “reduced price” meal. Another plus!  The increase in demand for local foods also makes wholesale school food programs more viable and identifies them as important customers, rather than simply recipients of donated or low cost products.

In addition to taking advantage of CEP, the Vermont farm to school/anti-hunger coalition has been urging schools to move breakfast after the bell. Research shows that the single most effective intervention a school can make to increase breakfast participation is to move breakfast after the bell in some form (grab and go, classroom, ‘second chance’, etc.). 

Over 31 million children receive low cost or free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, which runs every school day, 180 days a year. Those lunches – especially when you factor in growing breakfast, afterschool snack and summer programs – are essential for student health and nutrition. 

By putting more fresh local products on the menu, farm to school programs simply make those lunches and snacks healthier. And by getting students to taste, grow, and cook these foods, farm to school ensures the food makes it into their bellies! All students can participate in the benefits of the local foods movement!

Salad Bars and Farm to School – A Healthy Match

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Emily Miller, Let's Move Salad Bars to School

Photo credit: Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools

Picture your child walking into the school lunchroom on their first day back to school. The doors swing open and what do they see? A salad bar brimming with fresh from the farm fruits and vegetables. Juicy grape tomatoes, red bell peppers, refreshing cucumbers - the colors and tastes make their mouth water, and gets them excited about this nutrient-packed part of school lunchtime.

At Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, we believe that salad bars and farm to school make a healthy match. The quality and freshness of local produce contributes to a tastier product that appeals to even the pickiest of eaters. And, when schools develop relationships with farmers, it opens up new avenues for teaching kids about where food comes from and how to make healthy choices. In honor of National Farm to School Month, we caught up with some of our Let’s Move salad bar recipients to see how they are making farm to school work. Here’s what we learned:

Richmond, VA
Richmond Public Schools, headed by Food Service Director Susan Roberson, is a district that’s proving urban environments can make farm to school procurement and education a priority. “We are an urban school system with most of our students living in food deserts,” Roberson explains. “They don’t have the opportunities at home to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, ” which is why having local variety in the lunchroom is so important. 

Around the same time Richmond began implementing salad bars (called garden patches in their schools) they also received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant that allowed them to explore the readiness and eagerness of students, staff and community for fresh local food incorporated into the school system. They found that the enthusiasm was there, but the infrastructure was lacking.

“We surveyed farmers in our community to find the obstacles and challenges of transporting crop into our schools,” Roberson notes. They found what was really needed was a food hub that farmers could deliver their goods to, and where the produce could be properly readied for distribution to the district’s 44 schools. 

Richmond Public Schools is now working with the city to make this vision a reality, and the district continues to forge ahead with their emphasis on local, farm fresh options in the meantime. For example, elementary schools are implementing school gardens that yield enough crops – such as kale, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce – to serve on the salad bar. 
 
In addition, Roberson ensures that farmers visit the kids to teach them about how food makes it from field to cafeteria tray. “Some of the funniest stories are when the farmer is telling the kids ‘this is a peach, where do you think this came from?’ and the students are hollering ‘from a can!’,” Roberson said. “The students are amazed to realize that they really don’t know where food comes from. It really helps you understand the importance of what we’re doing here.”

San Diego, CA
​Salad bars are the heart of the meal program at San Diego Unified School District. With the bountiful harvest of Southern California right on their doorstep, it’s easy to understand why. Since 2006, San Diego USD has offered salad bars to their 132,000+ students. Almost ten years later, the district has over 300 salad bars dispersed throughout 180 schools—31 of which were donated by Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools!  
The San Diego team is passionate about educational activities that bring farmers and their stories to the school too, not just their harvests. “When I initially came into the district, my experience was connecting kids to where their food comes from, and coordinating farm field trips,” says farm to school coordinator Kathryn Spencer. But working in the second largest district in California, getting the kids out to the farm is logistically very difficult. Spencer’s solution is bringing the farm to them in a Harvest of the Month video that she and her team produce and edit on an iPad.“It’s a way of taking our kids on a virtual farm field trip.” 

The three to four minute videos provide information about the farmer, how the produce is harvested, a history of the item and its nutritional properties. Spencer notes that in the schools where these videos shown by teachers regularly, there’s a real difference in how students respond to trying the new items on the salad bars. “Encouraging kids to try new fruits and vegetables is always something that needs to be thought out, reinvented, and approached in different ways.” Certainly, Spencer has come up with an innovative and engaging program for San Diego Unified School District.

Bristol, Vermont 
Walking away from the salad bar with lunch trays packed with vibrant veggies, students in Bristol, Vermont are exclaiming “I love those beet things!” or “I love that kale stuff,” all thanks to Kathy Alexander. Food Service Director of the Addison Northeast Food Service Cooperative (ANFSC). There seven salad bars in this school district—one in every cafeteria. The salad bars, which consist exclusively of fresh fruits and vegetables, have transformed the way her schools serve kids. Students head to the salad bar first, where they're excited by the range of options and the fact they’re allowed to make their own choices.

Alexander works alongside ten different local farms. Last year, the food service program set a goal of 15% local procurement – and they reached it! During the early fall months, between 30% and 50% of produce is local, from both school gardens and area farms. A seasonal favorite is the Tuscan Kale Salad: light lemon vinaigrette, breadcrumbs, and kale. (Hint: shred the kale to make it more appealing and palatable.)

The students notice when the produce is local. The unique brightness of the fresh vegetables catches their eyes.  Parsnip chips and kale chips are both hugely popular. Every ANFSC school has a fruit and vegetable garden, and each school’s curriculum includes agriculture in some way. Students are actively connected to their regional food shed, whether it’s through the school garden or a field trip to a farm just down the road.

At a local legislative meeting, where preserving farm to school funding was on the agenda, Alexander brought a seventh grade boy who had graduated from a local elementary school’s farm to school curriculum. “So, I just want to know what difference it has made in your life?” inquired the legislator to the boy. The student spoke enthusiastically about his views, “Now I think twice about my food. I think about where it came from. I think about who grew it. And I think about eating it so I don’t waste it.”

Look past the headlines: kids do like their fruits & vegetables

NFSN Staff Monday, August 31, 2015

By Erin McGuire, Policy Director

When I was a kid, I hated broccoli. I can sympathize with picky eaters, but I was also a kid who grew up on a farm. I was fortunate to see broccoli grow from a tiny seed into beautiful florets and carrots turn from leggy green stems to vibrant orange roots. It was those experiences that helped me learn to love vegetables. With time and repeated experiences in the garden, by age ten I was telling my chicken nuggets to move over for a mound of veggies.

Recent headlines have painted a picture of students who haven’t yet learned to love the fruits and vegetables served to them at lunchtime - but that’s not what the larger body of data shows. In 2014, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the implementation of the new school meal standards increased vegetable consumption by 16 percent. And that increase is making a difference. A recent study in Arkansas found that when kids were offered fresh fruits and vegetables at school, childhood obesity rates dropped by 3 percent. One approach to helping kids learning to like these new healthy options is farm to school. A report from Vermont FEED found that most food service directors in Vermont saw participation in school lunch go up after farm to school programs were started in their schools.

It’s because of on the ground successes like these that 86 percent of Americans support today’s school nutrition standards, and 88 percent support increasing government funding for farm to school programs. Farm to school activities like taste tests, school gardens, and farm visits are helping teach kids to embrace new options in the cafeteria. This common sense, hands-on approach to learning about food is what changed my mind about broccoli, and it’s an approach 23.5 million kids have access to with farm to school across the country.

These activities are the training wheels that help kids learn to try and to like news foods. Simply put, farm to school makes the National School Lunch Program stronger by bringing more students into the lunch line and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Take these examples:

  • Students at Lincoln Middle School in Portland, Maine, used their greenhouse to learn about growing mixed salad greens, and afterward asked the food service staff to include it in the daily lunch. Now students and staff work together to harvest and serve the mix every week.
  • At Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Hawaii, the more time kids spend on their 22-acre farm, the less plate waste there is in the cafeteria and school meal participation rates have increased
  • Just last week, Burke County, Georgia, students created their own recipes using local foods. From hundreds of submissions, the finalists had their recipes prepared in the cafeteria kitchen with Rep. Rick Allen as a taste tester of the Georgia Peach Ambrosia. The winning recipe is going on the Burke County Schools cafeteria menu.

We are 17 days out from the Senate Agriculture Committee debating the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. Do not let the negative headlines be the story that shapes this debate. Now is the time to share success stories of the great farm to school and healthy meal initiatives happening your local community. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, invite your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or pick-up the phone and call your federal representative. 

Congress has a long to-do list this fall. But now, more than ever, we need our legislators to know that healthier school meals are working, and that it's time to strengthen programs like farm to school that show results. 

Transforming lunch, building community with a USDA Planning Grant

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 01, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

“I've seen the effect of farm to school activities in our school and in our community at large. Kids are eating better because the food is better, but the way the community has come together to support it and the various partnerships we've created since receiving the USDA Farm to School Planning Grant have been amazing." 
- Susi Jones, Executive Director for Julian Pathways, Julian, Calif.

Chef Jeremy Manely (left) and Julian Pathways students tour “Down the Road” Farm, where local produce is grown for school lunches. (Photos courtesy of Tricia Elisara

Farm to school at Julian Pathways started with an unused plot of asphalt. Parents were the first to suggest the asphalt be cleared and a school garden planted, and it didn’t take long for students and teachers to follow. The new garden at Julian Pathways became a living laboratory for students, and it sparked efforts to extend nutrition and agriculture education to the lunchroom. Six years later, farm to school at Julian Pathways has become a whole community affair. 

As Julian Pathways Executive Director Susi Jones explains, expanding farm to school beyond the garden and into the lunchroom was not an easy task. Without facilities to cook meals or room to build a kitchen, Julian Pathways had served frozen, pre-packaged lunches. “At the time, we felt it was the best option,” she said. “But we also felt our students were getting the bad end of the deal. It was not good food, and we were not nurturing our students.” 

Although students were learning about local, fresh food in the garden, they weren’t connecting with healthy eating in the cafeteria. So in 2012, the Julian Union Elementary School District applied for a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to identify ways to secure local, fresh and delicious meals for their students. Julian Pathways, the student and family support program for the district, coordinates the farm to school program. Alumnus and local chef Jeremy Manley jumped at the opportunity to cater lunches at his alma mater. Jeremy’s on the Campus – a play on his restaurant Jeremy’s on the Hill – pays particular attention to sourcing its food locally and students are gobbling up the fresh fruit and vegetables options. 


 “January was broccoli month, and I over heard two four-year-old girls say, ‘There’s broccoli in the salad! I love my broccoli raw!’ What kind of four-year-olds talk like this without exposure in the garden?” –Susi Jones, Julian Pathways Executive Director
Students in Club Jaguar's afterschool garden class eat the Harvest of the Month – broccoli – that they planted and tended. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Elisara)
The USDA Farm to School Planning Grant enabled Julian Pathways to explore what farm to school activities best fit their community, and it helped build a creative partnership with a local chef that grew to include local farmers, small businesses and a vibrant sense of community. Their next goal is to plant a large heritage apple orchard that will provide local fruit for students, as well as serve the entire community with jobs, re-invigorating the town’s historic apple industry.  

Julian Pathways has done an incredible job supporting these innovative and burgeoning new partnerships, but more must be done to realize their full potential.  “We are such a small district, and there’s not a lot of money,” Jones explained. “Our reimbursements are small, and we really are reaching and scrounging for funding.” To grow the program’s infrastructure, Julian Pathways applied for a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant. But because of such high demand across the country, Julian Pathways was not awarded these funds. Nationally, demand for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is five times higher than available federal funding. 

Julian Pathways’ story exemplifies the power of farm to school to support child nutrition, strengthen local economies and build vibrant communities. All across the country, people like Susi Jones and Jeremy Manley want the opportunity to experience the positive impacts of farm to school in their own communities. That’s why we are asking legislators to strengthen the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package this year

Will you join us? Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and let’s keep farm to school programs like Julian Pathways’ growing strong! 

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.


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