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National Farm to School Network

News

Kids counting on us: Give healthier school meals a chance

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 12, 2018
By National Farm to School Network Staff

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a final rule that will relax nutrition standards for meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP) and other federal child nutrition programs that were implemented in 2012. The rule will: 

  • Change whole grain requirements so that half of the total weekly grains served in menus be whole grain-rich. Previously, all breads, cereals and pastas had to be at least 50% whole grain. Now, a school could serve foods that are not whole grain-rich, as long as at least 50% of the total weekly menu complies. 
  • Lengthen the amount of time for sodium reduction in meals, requiring Target 2 be met by School Year 2024-2015, and eliminate the Final Target. Previously, the rule was designed to meet the Final Target and cut sodium levels in half by 2022. 
  • Allow more flavored milk options - like chocolate and strawberry 1% - to be served. Previously, flavoring was only permitted in fat-free milks. 
While the final rule does not come as a surprise, it is disappointing. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required USDA to update nutrition standards for the first time in three decades, and the healthier standards went into effect School Year 2012-2013. In 2014, USDA reported that 90 percent of schools were successfully meeting these updated nutrition standards. 

Beyond successful implementation, we know that the healthier standards can and are working to get students eating more fruits and vegetables, maintaining NSLP participation, and not increasing plate waste. But these positive impacts have taken time to come to fruition. 

At the National Farm to School Network, we know implementing healthier nutrition standards is like teaching kids how to ride a bicycle. We don’t prop them up on the seat, plant their feet on the pedals, and expect them to be able to ride on two wheels at their first go. Often times, we give them an extra set of wheels - training wheels - to teach them how to balance, feel comfortable, and catch a first thrill of self-propelled forward motion. We expect it will take a few tries before the training wheels come off, and a few tumbles before new riders are really cruising. 

Developing healthy eating habits goes much the same way. We shouldn’t expect kids to always like the taste of a new vegetable, or love whole grain pizza crust at first bite after being accustomed to white flour. That’s where farm to school makes its biggest impact. Activities like taste tests, school gardens, farm visits, and cooking demonstrations help students get excited about trying and liking new, healthier foods. This is something we hear over and over and over again, and it’s what the research tells us. Simply put, farm to school activities are the training wheels that make healthier nutrition standards stick with students

Giving kids repeated opportunities to learn about their food — by gardening, meeting farmers, cooking — and opportunities to try new foods — with Harvest of the Month, salad bars, and new menu item samples — add up to more receptiveness and enthusiasm for healthier school meals. Farm to school doesn’t guarantee that kids will like everything served to them, but it does aim to give kids every opportunity to build healthy habits that will last them a lifetime.  

Once you learn how to ride a bike, backwards is not a direction you want to move in. As our kids continue to grow accustomed to the healthier nutrition standards, now is not the time to go backwards. We owe it to our nation’s children, and they’re counting on us. With more than 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, it’s crucial that we continue to give them strong opportunities for a bright and healthy future. 

2018 Farm to School Story Roundup!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 12, 2018
by Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

In 2018, farm to school and farm to early care and education activities grew strong in all 50 states, D.C., the U.S. Territories, and Native Communities. Some highlights from this year include garden workshops for teachers, cooking competitions, garden-sourced school lunches, garden growing contests, student-run garden markets, locally-sourced meals, community partnerships, and much more! Read on for a list of farm to school stories that prove farm to school is happening everywhere in 2018! 

Alabama: Students at Colbert County High School gain confidence in growing food for themselves and their school through their horticulture class. (Times Daily)

Alaska: Students at Pottsville Junior High School learned about victory gardens that were grown by Americans to help provide fresh food for their families during difficult times and built a community garden to help provide fresh food to students and families. (Courier News)

Arizona: In June, Killip Elementary School was the first school in Flagstaff to certify its school garden, using a ‘best practices’ approach to allow produce grown in the garden to be safely served in the lunchroom and at after-school programs. (Arizona Daily Sun)

Arkansas: In March, Arkansas Farm To School Summit welcomed farmers, educators, school nutrition staff, parents, distributors and value-chain coordinators to learn how to work with students during hands-on learning, serve the local food in the school cafeteria and sell products to schools. (thecabin.net)

California: Rep. Jimmy Panetta visited an elementary school in Watsonville to observe the impact of a school garden program designed to provide young children in resource challenged communities with fresh healthy food and knowledge about where it comes from. (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Colorado: Preschool students at Florence Crittenton Services have a school garden as part of a program introducing them to healthy food choices and influencing what the whole family eats at home. (CBS Denver)

Connecticut: More than 1,900 students at 18 schools throughout Stamford participated in the Eighth Annual Lettuce Challenge. Students had six weeks to grow a head of buttercrunch lettuce, with each class submitting their three best plants to be judged by local horticulture experts. (Stamford Advocate)

Delaware: Agriculture students from William Penn High School learned about farming at Historic Penn Farm, where they plan, sow, and gow a variety of fruits and vegetables on four acres of land. (Delaware Greenways)

District of Columbia:
High-school students who are part of Mighty Greens, a youth-led cooperative in Washington, D.C., help educate the community about healthy eating and last year produced 1,200 pounds of fresh food, which is sold or donated. (PBS)

Florida: This year a new, almost 5,800 square foot greenhouse at Vanguard High School in Ocala produced its first batch of hydroponically-grown vegetables. The Marion County Hospital District plans to open new greenhouses at all seven public high schools in Marion County over the next three years. (Ocala Star Banner)

Georgia: Completely run by students, the Garbage-to-Garden program at Athens Intermediate School reduces major food waste. With more than half of waste reduced, the whole school is on board! (WHNT News)

Guam: Guam Department of Education was awarded a Farm to School Grant by the USDA. The department aims to encourage students to consume locally grown fruits and vegetables by working with schools to sustain school garden projects, integrate agriculture and nutrition education into existing curriculum, and implement innovative student learning activities. (USDA)

Hawaii: Hawaii public schools celebrated the holiday season with an Okinawan sweet potato pie as part of November's Aina Pono: Harvest of the Month program in more than 200 cafeterias statewide. (Khon 2)

Idaho: Boise schools celebrated National Farm to School Day with Harvest Day at Grace Jordan Elementary School, featuring a lunch menu that included Idaho-based food such as local bread, cheese, sweet corn, and grapes, as well as herbs and tomatoes grown by the Boise High community garden. (KTVB)

Illinois: An agriculture program at Freeport High School in Freeport provided students with jobs and customers with fresh vegetables. In its sixth year, the program gives about 15 students each year the chance to learn self-sufficiency and business schools through growing vegetables and operating a market. (Journal Standard)

Indiana: Indiana Grown teamed up with Purdue Extension, the Indiana State Department of Health, and the Department of Education to make a resource guide to connect Hoosier farmers to Indiana Schools. (WTTV)

Iowa: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offered a five week School Garden 101 course to help local schools start or expand their school gardens, teaching participants how to build a compost bin, test soils, plant seeds, and incorporate garden produce into classrooms and cafeterias. (Morning Ag Clips)

Kansas: In April, Kansas City Chiefs tight ends teamed up with Kansas City Community Gardens at Luff Elementary in Independence to help plant vegetables in the school’s gardens. (The Kansas City Star)

Kentucky: Fifth-graders in economics class at Latonia Elementary gained real-life lessons in growing plants and selling them. Every students has a job to do, from monitoring the plants to marketing and sales. (WCPO 9)

Louisiana: The garden at F.K White Middle School in Lake Charles worked with students who might have behavior problems in other areas to help them gain pride in their work in the garden. (KPLC TV)

Maine: In April, students and food service staff from all over Maine took part in the second regional farm to school cook off to recognize school nutrition staff and students for their skills while promoting food that is grown, raised, caught, or made in Maine. (WABI 5)

Maryland: Students at Urbana High School piloted a composting program aimed at reducing school cafeteria waste. The program, led by students in an environmental science class, involves students sorting recyclables, food scraps, trash, and liquids. (The Frederick News-Post)

Massachusetts: Students at Framingham High School work in the cafeteria and Flyers Farm in a youth program called the Partnership for Skilled Workforce. The produce is used to help make 1,000 meals per day for the Framingham Schools Food Service. (Metrowest Daily News)

Michigan: This year, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians teamed up with TCAPS’ Central Grade School to grow the student’s knowledge of ancient gardening techniques. Members of the Grand Traverse Band spoke to students about the significance of their three sisters garden and gave students rare ancient squash seeds to use. (Up North Live)

Minnesota: Middle and high school students in a Minnesota district learned about agricultural careers at a camp hosted by the Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence. Students learned about animal and food science, and they made and took home a small hydroponics system (The Free Press)

Mississippi: Tupelo Public School District worked to expose its pre-K and elementary students to healthy food sources and eating habits with and combat the state’s obesity crisis with the help of the district’s fifth FoodCorps volunteer. (Daily Journal)

Missouri: Columbia Public Schools and the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture teamed up to create a new farm to school coordinator position to help encourage third to fifth grade students to eat more fruits and vegetables. (Missourian)

Montana: At Helena Flats School, a section of the school’s garden contains only plants that are native to the state to bring awareness of native ecosystems into school curricula. (Flathead Beacon)

Native Communities: This year, a group of Democratic senators and representatives pushed for federal legislation to allow for tribes to administer free federal food and nutrition programs to school children. (Associated Press)

Nebraska: In March, Fairbury Public Schools kicked off their Farm to School Lunches, for the first time ever serving hamburgers raised and processed in Jefferson County. (KWBE)

Nevada: Two nonprofits in Las Vegas partnered together to create a STEM curriculum for the Clark County School District. The curriculum, which is being used by more than 3,000 teachers at more than 100 CCSD  schools aims to promote healthy living by taking classroom lesson plans for kindergarten through fifth grade out into the garden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)                                                                                                                
New Hampshire: LEAF Charter School in Alstead ran a Food and Garden program where students grow their own food and prepare healthy meals every day at school. (Sentinel Source)

New Jersey: The Princeton School Garden Cooperative was awarded “Top Tomato” status by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture for its work familiarizing local school children with locally grown produce. (Town Topics)

New Mexico: The New Mexico Public Education Department announced that it is investing in a statewide initiative to promote farm to school produce for meals in local schools. More than $400,000 is being spent to serve some 250,000 students nutritious fruits and vegetables from local farms. (KSFR)

New York: New York State announced it would invest $1.5 million in additional funds in Farm to School lunch programs in efforts to bring fresh, locally grown farm products to public schools in the 2018-19 school year. (U.S. News)

North Carolina: Wake County School system and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle partnered to launch an after school gardening program called Sprout Scouts at Bugg Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, where students learn how to grow their own healthy food and think about where their food comes from. (WRAL)

North Dakota:
Bismarck Public Schools launched its own farm to school initiative this year, partnering with a local farmer who provides 75 pounds of cucumbers each week to the district’s elementary schools. (The Bismarck Tribune)

Ohio: A partnership between Badger Schools and Red Basket Farm in Kinsman worked to change the perception of school lunch in their area. They started out with greens for salads, then expanded to apples, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and peppers. (WFMJ 21)

Oklahoma: Oklahoma had over 98 school districts that participated in the farm to school, working to improve the health of school children and help local farmers. (Oklahoma Farm to School Network)

Oregon: Corvallis School District’s Urban Farm, which gives students struggling in traditional classrooms an environment where they can learn through hands on work on the farm, also gave four students the chance to have jobs on the farm during the summer. (Corvallis Gazette Times

Pennsylvania: In January, students at Patton Middle School grew vegetables in the middle of winter in their indoor Tower Gardens. The towers were in addition to the school’s FCS Garden Initiative, which already included 30 raised beds outside the school. (Chester County Press)

Puerto Rico: A Puerto Rican high school student founded E-Farm, a digital platform that connects farmers across the island with consumers to help bring products that are both healthy and good for the environment. (NBC News)

Rhode Island: The University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension School Garden Initiative (SGI) helped to set up a garden at Narragansett Elementary School. The SGI is a plan which seeks to set up gardens in voluntary schools to expose students to the benefits of such space. (The Narragansett Times)

South Carolina: The Florence chapter of Eat Smart Move more received grants from the city to design and construct garden beds at a handful of Florence schools and churches. The local chapter of Eat Smart Move More is a coalition dedicated to reducing obesity by promoting healthy eating and exercise. (SC Now)

South Dakota: Every elementary school classroom in the Vermillion School District received a visit from the Coordinator of Sanford FitKid, who brings them the Produce of the Month program. The program helps introduce the students to new fruits or vegetables each month. (Vermillion Plain Talk)

Tennessee: At Kingsbury High School in Memphis, the garden program has been around since 2013, but this year is the first time that students were able to work in the garden over the summer and get paid. (WMC5)

Texas: A garden program at Pre-K 4 SA in San Antonio helped picky eaters grow their curiosity for nutrition by engaging all of their senses. Some of the student’s families planted seeds at home and learned new recipes from school demonstrations. (KENS 5)

U.S. Virgin Islands: After last year’s hurricanes, staff, former students, and other volunteers worked to resurrect the Farm to School program. (The St. Thomas Source)

Utah: Provo City School District made every effort to use local products, using signs highlighting the local farms to show students where their food comes from and bringing in whole pumpkins during Farm to School Month to show students what the inside of the food looks like. (Daily Herald)

Vermont: Students throughout Vermont traveled to Essex Junction in March to take art in the 11th annual Junior Iron Chef Vermont Competition. Junior Iron Chef VT is a statewide culinary competition organized by Vermont FEED. (Bennington Banner)

Virginia: During Virginia Farm to School Week in October, students at Charlottesville High School welcomed people from Casa Alma to discuss urban farming with its garden to market class to help the students develop an appreciation for where food comes from. (NBC 29)

Washington: This spring, fifty-two volunteers brought more than 1,500 students into their gardens through the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School Program, offering class lessons and after-school and recess garden clubs where students who planted crops in the garden got to taste the fruits of their labor. (Union-Bulletin)

West Virginia: With funds from Intel and a grant from the State farm Youth Advisory Board, Crellin Elementary School was able to construct a barn and a greenhouse for the school’s farm, Sunshine Farm, where agriculture is included in everyday lessons and students are responsible for daily chores on the farm. (The Garrett County Republican

Wyoming: Students at Summit Innovations High School in Jackson have their own organic farm enclosed in a small greenhouse to the side of the school, where they grow produce to sell at a farmers market. (Gillette News Record)

Celebrating 10 Years and 200 Partners

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 13, 2017

As the National Farm to School Network celebrates our 10-year anniversary, we embark on an exciting new chapter of our work to strengthen and expand the farm to school and early care and education (ECE) movement. It is with great excitement that we announce the selection of nearly 200 partner organizations across all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and, for the first time, U.S. Territories, to serve as our 2017-2019 Core Partners and Supporting Partners.  

Representing non-profits, state agencies, school districts, farms and universities, these partner organizations will work in collaboration with NFSN to advance the farm to school and ECE movement at the local, state and national levels. Serving as the primary contact for farm to school and ECE in their state, D.C. or Territory, Core Partners will take the lead on building capacity and support for farm to school and ECE, and serve as liaisons for information, resources, needs and opportunities with NFSN. Each Core Partner is supported in these activities by up to four Supporting Partner organizations. Together, NFSN’s Core and Supporting Partner organizations are recognized leaders in farm to school and ECE, and we are thrilled to be collaborating with them for the next phase of farm to school and ECE growth and evolution. 

You can connect with your state, D.C. or Territory Core and Supporting Partners here: farmtoschool.org/ournetwork

The selection of Core and Supporting Partners comes at an important juncture in NFSN’s work. The first decade of our efforts focused on developing a strong network of partnerships across sectors, building awareness and increasing activities at the state and regional levels through training, capacity building and policy advocacy. This approach resulted in unprecedented growth for the farm to school movement, with farm to school activities now reaching more than 42,000 schools across the nation. Since 2011, we’ve prioritized ECE settings as touch points for expanding our network and activities. Our 2015 Survey of Early Care and Education Providers indicates farm to ECE activity in 850 sites covering 48 states and Washington, D.C.

While this growth is impressive, we recognize that there remain significant hurdles to expanding access to farm to school and ECE so that it is a norm in all K-12 schools and ECE settings, and its benefits are available to all children and all communities. In the next phase of our work, advancing farm to school and ECE in areas of high-need – including locations with high poverty and obesity rates, high free and reduced price meal eligibility, lack of policy support, weak or nonexistent state networks, and minimal funds to support farm to school and ECE efforts – will be a priority. 

As our name implies, the National Farm to School Network is truly a network – a connected and collaborative group of passionate people working to make healthy kids, thriving farms and vibrant communities a reality in all places across our country. Our network is made up of Core and Supporting Partners, national staff, an Advisory Board and you - our 15,000 members. (Not a member? Sign up here!) We believe that robust movement building is possible only when we work collaboratively across all sectors and locations. So dig in! Meet your Core and Supporting Partners, learn what’s happening in your community and get involved. Get started by visiting our network map and selecting your location. With your engagement, the National Farm to School Network is Growing Stronger Together!

2016 Innovation Awardees

NFSN Staff Tuesday, April 12, 2016

As the backbone organization for the U.S. farm to school movement, the National Farm to School Network has the privilege to work with some of the country’s most enthusiastic, invested and creative organizations and individuals toward a future where all children, farmers and communities have the opportunity to benefit from farm to school activities. Our Core Partners are the farm to school leaders bringing these strategies into schools and communities at the state and regional level, expanding our capacity to keep this grassroots movement growing across the country.

With funding support from Newman’s Own Foundation and Farm Credit, the National Farm to School Network presented Innovation Awards in February 2016 to three new projects by our Core Partners in Georgia, the Great Lakes and the Northeast in celebration of their efforts to advance farm to school and to share their knowledge with practitioners. This year’s theme, Engaging Farmers and Producers in Farm to School, inspired projects that will use creative approaches to outreach and resource development to bring new farmers and producers into the farm to school movement.  

Projects will take place throughout 2016, and each will result in the creation of shareable information resources for farmers and farm to school practitioners about innovative strategies to engage farmers that can be used across the country. From sustainable fisheries to preschool pop-up markets, the following projects will highlight creative farm to school approaches that can inspire new opportunities in your community:

Sea to School in New England
Maine Farm to School, Massachusetts Farm to School, New Hampshire Farm to School
Award: $5,000 // Estimated completion by October 2016
Three Northeast states will create a Sea to School resource guide based on New England efforts including: case studies, best practices, recipes and an educational video appropriate for elementary school classrooms about sustainable fishing and aquaculture in the Gulf of Maine. To the extent possible, farmers/fishers will be engaged in this project and sea to school work through state and regional conferences and events throughout 2016. 
 
Growing Farm to School by Sharing Farmer Stories

University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
Award: $5,000 // Estimated completion by October 2016
The six Great Lakes states will team up to develop a series of short videos featuring conversations between regional farmers and food service directors who have good working relationships. This series of professionally filmed and edited videos will highlight a diverse collection of farmers, production methods, success stories and relationships between farmers and food service directors.

Pop-Up School Market: Engaging Farmers at Preschools
Georgia Organics
Award: $5,000 // Estimated completion by December 2016
This project will pilot 10 pop-up farmers markets at childcare facilities across Georgia as direct marketing opportunities for small/medium family farmers, while engaging parents in farm to school through incentives to purchase, cook and eat healthy farm fresh food at home. Nutrition education and cooking demonstrations will be provided at the pop-up markets, and to the extent possible, farmers will be able to accept WIC vouchers. A shareable guide to pop-up markets will be produced as part of the project.

View an overview of the 2016 and 2015 Innovation Awards here

Help support more innovative ideas like these by making a donation to the National Farm to School Network. Your donations mean more healthy meals for students, more opportunities for farmers and more communities connecting around local food.
 
Help farm to school grow by making a donation today! 

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Share your story: 5 tips for building better media relationships

Stacey Malstrom Wednesday, January 14, 2015

By Stacey Malstrom, PR & Outreach Manager

Today I’m giving a presentation at the 24th annual conference of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) about how to grow awareness for your farm to school program through targeted media relations. Incredible farm to school work is happening all across the country. School lunch programs are sourcing from family farms, students are working in school gardens and asking their parents to make kale salad at home, and local economies are benefiting. But does your broader community know what’s happening before the bell and beyond the classroom? 


Students in Louisiana enjoy strawberries from their garden. When you pitch to the media, make sure they know the story will have engaging visual elements, like kids in a garden. 

At its core, good media relations is about RELATIONSHIPS. Editorial staffs are shrinking, and journalists are being asked to take on more responsibilities. Their time and attention is limited; now more than ever, media need savvy sources that they can depend on. Follow these five tips to start building better media relationships and engage a wider audience in your work:

  • Stop blasting your entire media list: The quickest way to end up in someone’s junk folder is to send information that is not relevant to them or their audience. For example, a writer who only covers politics at the state capitol should not receive an event announcement for a farm field trip unless there is a policymaker attending. Narrow your media list to those contacts that you genuinely think will be interested in covering this piece of news, based on their outlet, section or personal interests. 
  • Make a connection: Media are people too, and a little attention goes a long way. Read their work, research their recent articles and follow them on twitter. Then shape your pitch for each individual. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it will be worth it when you land that feature on the front page of your regional newspaper. 
  • Be there when they need you: You may not always hear back in response to your story ideas. Don’t get discouraged and be patient—remember how busy they are? But when they’re on deadline, responding quickly and being a resource on more than just your organization is a great way to establish trust. And before you know it, they’ll start responding to your emails and ideas more often. 
  • Send good story ideas: Not every event, report or new resource produced by your organization is media-worthy. Think about what is interesting to their readers and be selective about what you pitch. Some news is better suited for your own newsletter or social media channels. At the end of the day, it’s still the NEWs, and timely, relevant and unique stories always win.
  • Put it in context: Make it easy for media to see the story and how it connects to the bigger picture or their audience. Localize national news or trends by connecting it to your community and your work. Tell them why your program is different than others, what makes the story new now, and who else is working on similar issues. 

Join us for our next Lunch Bites webinar on Feb. 10, at 1 p.m. EST to learn more about storytelling best practices and media relations. And download the Media Tip Sheet from my SSAWG presentation here. 

Farm to school in the news

SimpleFlame.com Admin Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Preschool teacher honored in Virginia 

Today is Farming in the City Day in Harrisonburg, Virginia, an annual celebration started by preschool teacher Lauren Arbogast (pictured above), who also has the honor of being this year's Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year in Virginia.

Arbogast teaches preschool at W. H. Keister Elementary School in Harrisonburg and integrates agriculture into not only her own classroom but also the entire school. [….] She and her husband, Brian, and their two sons, Brandon and Jackson, live on a multi-generational farm where they produce beef, poultry and crops. She blogs about her life on the farm at paintthetownag.com.


USDA pilots new farm to school programs 

On Civil Eats, National Farm to School Network policy director Helen Dombalis weighed in on how the new Farm Bill supports farm to school through a new pilot program: 

Starting next school year, these programs would provide local fruit and vegetables for at least five, and up to eight, pilot schools across the country, with at least one state in each of the five main regions of the country (the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, the South, the West, and the Midwest). (The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the coming months.) 

Along with school gardens and food systems education, the National Farm to School Network’s (NFSN) Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director Helen Dombalis says “local procurement is the third key piece of farm-to-school.” NFSN advocated for the pilots along with National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and Dombalis sees them as an important start. 

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