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National Farm to School Network

News

Starting the conversation: House hearing on child nutrition programs

NFSN Staff Tuesday, March 12, 2019
 
By Chloe Marshall, Policy Specialist

On Tuesday, March 12, the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services within the House Education and Labor Committee held the first hearing of the new Congress on child nutrition programs, what could be the first hearing in preparation for the next Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR). The “Growing a Healthy Next Generation: Examining Federal Child Nutrition Programs" hearing focused on the importance of these programs, including farm to school and how it helps children succeed in school and life.

Key topics discussed by committee members included the impact of nutrition programs on children’s access to food, regulatory challenges that school nutrition staff face, and the urgency of addressing children’s health early in life.

Witnesses included Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, the Principal Investigator for the Children’s HealthWatch Little Rock site at Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Cheryl Johnson, Director of Child Nutrition & Wellness for the Kansas State Department of Education; Donna Martin, Director Of School Nutrition Programs for Burke County Public Schools in Waynesboro, GA; and Nikki Berlew O’Meara, mother of two and member of Moms Rising. Witnesses were asked a number of questions ranging from how they’ve been navigating new nutrition standards to their thoughts on whole and flavored milk for children.

While no specific questions about farm to school were asked during the hearing, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) acknowledged the positive impacts farm to school has made in their home states. "As a farmer myself, I understand the importance of supporting local farmers by providing school access to local farm fresh ingredients,” said Rep. Cormer. In introducing Ms. Martin, Rep. Allen noted that he's visited Burke County schools for farm to school events on several occasions. "In fact, as a member of Congress, I've never missed that event and never will - obviously you can tell, I love good food!" he said. "I've seen first hand students growing their own food there - it's incredible."

As part of her testimony, Ms. Martin shared several ways that farm to school has been an important part of child nutrition programs in Burke County. "I'm incredibly proud of our farm to school program that provides farm fresh produce to our students. We found that when we started offering local fresh produce - like collards, berries, peaches - our fruit and vegetable consumption rates doubled,” Ms. Martin said. “We are fiscally sound because we offer seasonal fresh produce. We work with the Burke County farmers to provide local fruits and vegetables at very competitive prices. I've had local farmers beating down my door to set up contracts with me. In the school nutrition world we call this a win win win - a win for the farmer, a win for the kids, and a win for our local economy.”

Donna Martin shares testimony during the "Growing a Healthy Next Generation: Examining Federal Child Nutrition Programs" hearing.
While several representatives expressed concerns about how burdensome nutrition standards seem to be for schools, Ms. Martin noted that Georgia successfully implemented nutrition standards through farm to school activities: “If kids taste it, they will eat it. If kids grow it, they will eat it. If kids cook it, they will eat it. It's all about getting kids involved, and you have to do nutrition education.”

In closing the hearing, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) noted that with child nutrition programs, "Congress has consistently recognized through bipartisan support that a quality education includes making sure that every child has access to healthy and nutritious food." She specifically named farm to school as one of the programs that helps make this happen.

National Farm to School Network was pleased to hear praise for farm to school in the hearing. It’s a promising sign of opportunity for the farm to school movement as this critical legislation is developed. Additionally, the positive response to farm to school signals recognition of the important role it plays in the success of all of the other child nutrition programs.

While CNR is intended to be reauthorized every five years, it has been nearly 10 years since the last reauthorization. Known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the last (and current) CNR has provided monumental support for the farm to school movement by legislating the creation of the USDA Farm to School Program, which provides annual competitive grants and technical assistance to help schools, farmers, non-profits, state agencies and other entities implement and expand farm to school activities across the country. Since the first grants were awarded in FY 2013, demand for the highly successful program has been more than four times higher than available yearly funding. Opportunities to make the program accessible to more communities with an increase in annual funding is one of the policy initiatives the National Farm to School Network is exploring as we prepare for this next CNR.

What other ways can the next CNR support your farm to school efforts? We want to know! Join one of our upcoming CNR Listening Sessions, beginning March 19, to share your thoughts and ideas for our future CNR policy initiatives. And, make sure you’re subscribed to our e-newsletter to receive updates and action alerts as the CNR process continues.


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

Gearing up for Child Nutrition Reauthorization in 2019

NFSN Staff Friday, March 08, 2019

By Chloe Marshall, Policy Specialist 

“Our kids deserve healthy food!”
“School lunch is important because we need to eat and be healthier.”
“Feed the future with real, healthy meals!”

After having passed a farm bill and confirming this year’s budget, our congressional leaders are discussing the possible return of a major opportunity for farm to school advocates - the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR). On Jan. 28, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry announced to the National School Board Association that “if we can put politics aside...there is a clear pathway for child nutrition programs to be reauthorized yet this year.” With this announcement, we find ourselves gearing up for what could be another journey to defend nutrition standards, increase funding for school meals, and of course, pave the way for embedding farm to school practices in our food system. Here’s our reflection on where CNR stands now and what we can do moving forward as a network:

What is a CNR?
The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (or CNR for short) authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, among others (see table below). The last CNR, known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, was groundbreaking for farm to school stakeholders nationwide. For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for the National Farm to School Network and farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. Policies like this ensure more schools across the nation have a pathway to practicing farm to school, even if their local district hasn’t shown support yet.

Programs Included in CNR: 
School Breakfast Program (SBP)
National School Lunch Program (NSLP)
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Farm to School Grant Program
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
The package of bills that make up CNR is meant to be reauthorized every five years, but irreconcilable differences between House and Senate versions of bills prevented this from happening in 2016. As the National Farm to School Network prepares for a possible return of CNR this year, we want to hear your voice! As our name implies, we are truly a national network of stakeholders, and our policy agenda is driven by advocates like you. We invite you to join one of our CNR Listening Sessions, beginning March 19, where you can weigh in on our future CNR policy initiatives. 

What Can You Do to Prepare for CNR?

Right now:
In the near future:
  • Prepare your asks - as a constituent, what actions do you want to see from your legislators as CNR is debated?
  • Cultivate your legislative champions
If and when the Reauthorization takes place:
  • Provide feedback to the National Farm to School Network
  • Contact your legislators

Have questions about CNR or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Chloe Marshall, Policy Specialist, at chloe@farmtoschool.org.

Building Farm to School Advocacy Skills in New Mexico

NFSN Staff Monday, February 18, 2019

By Chloe Marshall, Policy Specialist

A few weeks ago, the National Farm to School Network Programs and Policy Team visited Santa Fe, NM to connect with each other and to see the amazing work of our partners in the New Mexico Farm to School Alliance.* As a humble Midwesterner, having been no further than the Mississippi river, I entered what felt like a different world when I landed in Santa Fe. It was my first time in the “Land of Enchantment.” Both Farm to Table New Mexico and the National Education Association (who served as NFSN’s 2018 National Partner of the Year) welcomed us to their annual advocacy trainings where they trained local partners on how to advocate during the state’s intense and short legislative session. Advocacy hardly sounds like an enchanting activity, but something about the passion and dedication of the folks that I met was certainly magical and the results tangible. New Mexico partners have successfully passed bills that appropriate funding for the use of NM-grown produce in school meals and establish a Food and Farms Day; advocates are currently working on passing legislation that builds on these success.

Both advocacy trainings provided a wealth of information and facilitated some exciting connections. Before we stormed the halls of the state’s capitol building (the “roundhouse” as they call it), we learned everything from the basics of engaging elected officials to the nuances of New Mexico politics. We learned the history and context of the current policy priorities, including details of past successes and failures. Facilitators from different organizations shared personal experiences and even had us role play different scenarios to prepare. We listened to the inspiring words of Mr. Regis Peco, co-director of the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School - “There is no greater privilege than guiding the hearts and minds of children.” We collaborated and communed with local activists who taught us the vision and values of New Mexicans (and helped us test run our Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool!) We joined a celebration of the grassroots leaders and elected officials who work tirelessly to make farm to school the norm. We even feasted at San Ildefonso Pueblo with the family of our own Alena Paisano, NFSN Program Manager, who allowed us a glimpse into indigenous culture and how it endures despite centuries of efforts to silence Native people.

In each of these experiences, I got to see the very real impact farm to school advocacy has in people’s lives. Students lined up in the roundhouse ready to advocate for themselves, empowered by the educators who made farm to school their mission. That same day, in that same building, state legislators honored farm to school champions from around the state for their dedication to the work. Farm to school is not just an idea in New Mexico, it’s a whole movement built on the belief that our children, farmers, and communities deserve better.

To learn more about farm to school in New Mexico, click here.

* New Mexico Farm to School Alliance partners:
Farm to Table New Mexico
New Mexico Public Education Department
New Mexico Health Department
University of New Mexico Community Engagement Center
New Mexico Student Nutrition Association

FY 2019 Funding Bill Includes $5 Million for Farm to School

NFSN Staff Friday, February 15, 2019


The funding bill passed by the Senate and House this week, and signed by the President on Friday, included a bright spot for the farm to school movement. Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill includes an additional $5 million in discretionary funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which doubles the annual available funding for this highly impactful and important program for one year. This is a significant win for the farm to school movement. Demand for the program is more than four times higher than available yearly funding, and this additional discretionary funding will help make the program accessible to more schools, farmers and communities across the country. 

Please join us in thanking Sen. Leahy for this win and for helping make healthy, local food in schools a reality for millions of children across the country. You can send him a thank you on social media (@SenatorLeahy) or give his office a call at (202) 224-4242 to let him know that you appreciate his ongoing efforts to strengthen and support farm to school. Sen. Leahy championed a similar funding win in the 2018 appropriations bill. As a result, approximately $7.5 million will be awarded in FY 2019 and FY 2020 USDA Farm to School grants. 

National Farm to School Network has been advocating for an increase in funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program for several years. This important program increases the use of and improves access to local foods in schools – thus boosting farm income and economic opportunities – while also fostering experiential food education for our nation’s children. Since the first cycle of grants in 2013, USDA has received over 1,900 applications requesting more than $141 million, though has only been able to make 437 awards from the $30 million available. 

While the additional $5 million in discretionary funding included in the FY 2019 funding bill is a big boost for the program, this funding is temporary. It’s important that we continue to advocate for a more permanent solution for sustaining the USDA Farm to School Grant Program and its impact for communities with high-need across the country. National Farm to School Network continues our advocacy work to ensure that farm to school opportunities are accessible to every student, farmer and community across the country. Stay tuned to our blog for more policy news, updates and opportunities to join us in this advocacy and make your voice heard. 

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. 

Policy Review: Farm to School and the 2018 Farm Bill

NFSN Staff Wednesday, August 08, 2018
In the first half of 2018, the National Farm to School Network, as the leading policy voice for farm to school, advocated to advance three important federal farm to school priorities:   
  • Adopting the Farm to School Act of 2017 to increase mandatory funding.  The Act expand access for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to fully incorporate 1) beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, 2) early care and education sites, summer food service program sites, and after school programs, and 3) native and tribal schools.
  • Amending the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food. Current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request. 
  • Continuing and expanding to more states the Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables and allow participating states more flexibility in procuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. 
Given the benefits farm to school has on farming communities and economies, NFSN looked to the farm bill as the best legislative vehicle this year for moving these priorities forward. In fact, two of the priorities - geographic preference and the pilot program - had been taken up in previous farm bills. 

Over the the past year, NFSN and its partners worked tirelessly to recruit cosponsors for the Farm to School Act of 2017, and also highlight the other two priorities aforementioned. Many of our Core and Supporting Partners helped NFSN make connections with their respective federal “decision makers” and their staff. Through these efforts, we were successful in gaining 13 bipartisan House cosponsors and 13 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and we educated many more policymakers on the benefits and opportunities of farm to school in their respective districts and states. 

Although the House bill did not include farm to school priorities, NFSN recognized opportunities remained with the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee version of the farm bill also did not include any of NFSN’s three farm to school priorities when it passed out of committee. However, the farm to school message was received on Capitol Hill when two of these priorities were filed as amendments to be considered by the full Senate in its final vote on the bill: 

Amendment #3179 - Geographic Preference Provision
Co-Sponsored by Senator Brown (D-OH), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Tillis (R-NC) & Senator Hassan (D-NH)

Amendment #3129 - Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables
Sponsored by Senator Wyden (D-OR)

The inclusion of these two priorities as amendments was a major step forward for farm to school being part of the federal policy making dialogue, and it was a direct result of tireless advocacy efforts from farm to school champions across the country. There were over 150 amendments scheduled to be considered by the full Senate, however, ultimately, Senate leadership only allowed a handful to be voted on before closing the amendment process. This meant that many amendments, including these two farm to school amendments, were not voted on and thus not included in the final version on the Senate farm bill, which passed with a 86-11 vote.  

Despite not crossing the farm bill finish line, there are reasons to be proud of our farm bill advocacy efforts: 

  • NFSN and the farm to school movement gained new, bipartisan Congressional champions for farm to school - most notably the amendment champions listed above.
  • Together, we increased exposure to farm to school with Senators on both sides of the aisle, thanks to advocates calling, emailing, and using social media to contact  your representatives, asking for their support of farm to school in the farm bill.
  • NFSN forged new coalitions with national organizations, such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
As the farm bill process concludes, we now turn our attention towards other federal legislative opportunities to advance farm to school. While the National Farm to School Network continues advocacy at the federal level, it’s important to remember that federal policy is just one policy approach to advancing farm to school. State farm to school policy can be equally - if not more - important in fostering and growing farm to school programs in your communities. Our State Farm to School Legislative Survey: 2002-2017 shows that state and territory legislatures are proposing farm to school policies in record numbers. So even as things slow down on the federal level, there are still ample opportunities to keep up our advocacy work in state, local, and school policies. Don’t forget the significant of your voice in helping creating change at every level of government! 

To learn more about the National Farm to School Network’s policy advocacy and to find resources to help you shape farm to school policy in your community, visit our policy webpage

Action Alert: Two Opportunities for Farm to School in the Farm Bill

NFSN Staff Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The 2018 farm bill is back in action today. As the bill moves forward, we are thrilled to see that TWO of our farm to school priorities will be introduced as amendments to this legislation, and could be included in the final version of the Senate’s farm bill. 

Senator Brown (D-OH), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Tillis (R-NC) & Senator Hassan (D-NH) Amendment #3179
Amends the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food. Current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request. 

Senator Wyden (D-OR) Amendment #3129
Continues and expands to more states the Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables and allows participating states more flexibility in procuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. 

Both of these amendments are crucial for advancing farm to school procurement in your communities. These amendments are a direct response to ongoing calls, letters, and story sharing from farm to school advocates like you. Please join us in one last push to help these important farm to school priorities make it across the finish line! 

TAKE ACTION: Take five minutes right now to call both of your Senators and ask them to support these two farm to school amendments. Here’s how:  

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or look up contact information for your two Senators here.

Once you’re connected, leave a message like this: 

Hello, my name is [______] and I’m a constituent of Sen. [______]. I understand the Senate is debating the 2018 farm bill this week, and I’d like to ask that the Senator vote YES on two important, bipartisan amendments: (1) Vote YES on the Sen. Brown, Sen. Collin, Sen. Tillis and Sen. Hassan Geographic Preference amendment (#3179), which would allow schools to prioritize local, fresh produce when procuring foods for school meals. And, (2) Vote YES on Sen. Wyden’s amendment (#3129) to expand the unprocessed fruit and vegetable pilot program. These two amendments would be a win for children, farmers, and communities across our state. Thank you for passing along this message to the Senator, and for your time. 

If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Follow the same actions above, but instead of mentioning the specific policy asks, share general information about farm to school in your state and how you have had troubles with purchasing locally and/or how the pilot program has benefited you. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which all of us can do! 

Local food procurement in our nation’s schools is more than a win for kids and farmers - it’s strong agricultural policy. Make your voice heard and help us ensure that these important farm to school priorities are included the farm bill. 

USDA Announces 2018 Farm to School Grant Recipients

NFSN Staff Thursday, June 21, 2018

Congratulations to the newest USDA Farm to School Grant Program recipients! USDA announced today that 73 communities in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Guam  have been awarded farm to school grants to explore, expand, or scale up their farm to school activities. The 2018 awards total $5.2 million, and will impact 2.8 million students.

While this year’s funding will reach 6,006 schools, there are thousands more eager to have access to these crucial funds. In fact, 296 communities submitted applications this grant cycle, requesting nearly $21 million — four times higher than current available funding.

That's why the National Farm to School Network is working with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congressional champions to strengthen this important grant program and support other farm to school priorities with the Farm to School Act. While the Farm to School Act has not been incorporated into current drafts of the farm bill, we’re continuing to work with our Congressional champions to find a legislative path to move these priorities forward.

Your voice is crucial in this ongoing work to advocate and advance farm to school at the federal level. If you haven’t yet done so, please take 2 minutes to add your name to our citizen sign-on letter and/or organizational sign-on letter in support of the Farm to School Act. And, continue sharing your #farmtoschool stories and successes with your members of Congress and on social media.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Join us in calling on Congress to continue and expand its support for this highly impactful program.
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