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National Farm to School Network

News

Welcome, Maximilian Merrill!

NFSN Staff Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The National Farm to School Network is excited to welcome Maximilian A. Merrill, Esq. MS, to our team as Policy Director! As an environmental lawyer, policy analyst, hydrologist and farmer, Maximilian has over a decade of experience in agriculture policy and family farm advocacy at the local, state and federal levels. 

Maximilian gained his passion for agriculture and the environment while growing up in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. He has diverse educational and experiential background in agriculture, including undergraduate and graduate degrees in natural resources and hydrology from North Carolina State University, a J.D. from Vermont Law School, and professional experience as a cartographer and wetland scientist. Prior to joining NFSN, Merrill held positions with The Land Trust for Central North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Western Growers. While working with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Merrill designed, implemented and administered the Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, which protects family farms by purchasing agricultural easements and funding agricultural development projects. He also represented agriculture stakeholders on numerous state environmental committees and commissions.

As NFSN’s Policy Director, Maximilian will lead the development and implementation of our organization’s policy priorities, cultivate policymaker and coalition partnerships, and educate and mobilize our partners, members and stakeholders around key policy issues. NFSN serves as the leading voice of the national the farm to school movement, and a principle resource on national, state and local policies that impact farm to school efforts. Maximilian will lead our continued advocacy towards the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization through the Farm to School Act, and will prepare for advocacy for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.

When not on Capitol Hill, Maximilian continues to pursue his love of agriculture with regular visits to his once fallow family farm in Pennsylvania, where he spends time pounding in fence posts, reclaiming fields and raising bison. 

Maximilian is based in our Washington, D.C. office. Reach out to him with your policy questions, to brainstorm solutions to policy challenges, to share you successes or to find out how you can get involved in advocating for policy change. Send him a message or say hello at maximilian@farmtoschool.org

Farm to School in the Every Student Succeeds Act

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 08, 2017
By Ariel Bernstein, Farm to School and Education Fellow

Farm to school is a multifaceted movement with many intersecting components. As stakeholders continue to engage in policy levers for farm to school, a large piece of education legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), comes into the conversation. To help you stay aware of and take advantage of the opportunities this legislation provides, the National Farm to School Network has created a toolkit outlining how farm to school engages with ESSA. As the farm to school movement continues to grow, it is imperative to seek new opportunities where farm to school can impact students and families. ESSA is one of them.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been one of the most important education policies to shape the way states and districts interact with their most vulnerable students and lowest performing schools. It has provided opportunities for low-income, migrants and native students, as well as outlined Title I funding, data reporting and many forms of enrichment education. In December of 2015, Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into legislation, reauthorizing ESEA and replacing its predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA has taken a different approach than NCLB did, shifting more decision making authority to states, opposed to having power concentrated at the federal level. Under the new legislation, State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) design their own education plans, giving them leverage to choose how federal funding is used. ESSA also has a heavy focus on non-academic factors that contribute to improving education. Aspects such as school climate, health and wellness, and family engagement are being pulled into conversations about student success, creating a more holistic and well-rounded educational environment for students.

These themes provide great potential for farm to school and early care and education (ECE) to interact with this legislation. There are opportunities for the inclusion of farm to school and ECE in the design and implementation of state and local plans for ESSA. Farm to school can improve educational outcomes through methods such as social and emotional learning, health and food education, family and community engagement, and healthier school climate, just to name a few. ESSA’s focus on well rounded education is a great connection point for farm to school, and one that should be taken advantage of by educators, school health professionals, parents advocates and all other farm to school stakeholders.

With education as one of the three core elements of farm to school, it is key that we stay engaged with this legislation and the opportunities it provides. This new toolkit is designed for educators, advocates, parents and farm to school and ECE stakeholders to understand and act upon the opportunities ESSA offers, and to continue to expand the reach of farm to school and ECE in our communities. 


Ready to learn more? Join us on March 21, 3-4pm ET, for a Q&A style webinar about farm to school in ESSA. Register here. Or, contact Ariel Bernstein, National Farm to School Network Farm to School and Education Fellow, at ariel@farmtoschool.org

Paper Plates, Partnerships & Proclamations: 2016 Farm to School Policy Successes

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate

As the national policy leaders for the farm to school movement, policy is at the core of what we do as a network. With only a few days left in 2016, we’re celebrating this year’s policy successes, and planning for a busy 2017.

2016 Victories 
  • Farm to School Act of 2015: Farm to school advocates scored a major federal victory with the draft Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). Key Democrats and Republicans supported farm to school throughout this process. Both the Senate Agriculture and House Education and Workforce Committee versions included important policy changes from the Farm to School Act of 2015, and a doubling of USDA Farm to School Grant funds from $5 to $10 million annually. Although CNR was not completed in this Congress, we are in a strong position moving forward for future farm to school federal policy wins. We will continue working with our coalition partners and fellow advocates to ensure we don’t lose this forward momentum.  
  • Paper Plate Campaign: This fall, we delivered more than 550 paper plate messages of support for farm to school and healthy school meals to members of Congress. We launched this paper plate campaign at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in June, and continued to collect plates from our members and other farm to school advocates at the Farm Aid 2016 concert and by mail. Thank you to all who participated and made your voices heard! 
  • Partnership with USDA: We continued to work with USDA on the implementation of the Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot by collecting and disseminating feedback from partners in the eight pilot states. 
  • Proclamations and Pilots: Governors in Arkansas, Hawai’i, Minnesota, Nebraska and Rhode Island all made proclamations for Farm to School Month in October. Michigan and New York passed pilots providing schools with additional reimbursements for purchasing local foods. Louisiana passed a comprehensive farm to school policy building off their 2015 policy successes, and Arizona is making strides in reforming their food safety codes. 

2017 Opportunities
  • Farm to School Act: We will reintroduce our bipartisan marker bill in the new Congress and continue to build champions for these important policy changes and additional funding. 
  • Farm Bill Preparations: We will continue to host stakeholder listening sessions on Farm Bill programs and funding to ensure this comprehensive piece of food and farm legislation is best serving farm to school efforts across the U.S. 
  • State and Local Policy: Stay tuned for major updates to our State Policy Report, including a new user-friendly format and tools. We also look forward to the many state and local policy initiatives in the works.

It’s been a busy year for policy at all levels of government. With each of these victories, we continue to institutionalize farm to school so that all communities, in every part of the country, can benefit. Thank you to all those who participate in the policy process, whether interacting with elected officials, sharing your stories, or raising awareness in your community. None of these accomplishments would been possible without your efforts. We are constantly uplifted knowing that you - farmers, partners, educators, food service professionals, students, and more - are passionate and committed to growing healthier local food systems that support and benefit all. We are grateful to you, and are proud to be your partners in this important work. 

Here’s to 2016, a year of partnership for stronger farm to school policy, and to 2017 - a year destined for more farm to school success! 

Help us continue our advocacy efforts
by making an end of year, tax deductible donation today.

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Take Action: Paper Plate Advocacy

NFSN Staff Friday, July 15, 2016

Congress only has a few weeks left to pass the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) this year, so we’re organizing a paper plate campaign to share with legislators the many reasons that healthy school meals and farm to school are vital for a healthier next generation.
 
At the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference last month, more than 350 people joined us in writing and drawing on paper plates what school meals and farm to school mean to their communities. Here’s a snapshot of what people said: 

Kids are what they eat and will eat what they grow. Let them grow healthy!

School meals may be the best meal of the day! Make it good, make it great. Tasty, healthy food for ALL.

Helping schools source local produce improves freshness and quality and builds and supports the local economy.

School meals fuel healthy bodies & strong minds!

In the next few weeks, we’ll be delivering these plates to lawmakers as they continue to debate this important piece of legislation. 
 
There’s still time to participate in our paper plate campaign! Share your farm to school message on a paper plate (add your name, city and zipcode to the back) and send it to our office in Washington, D.C. We’ll hand deliver your plate to Congress and send a strong message to legislators that school meals and farm to school are an important part of growing healthy kids. As a reminder, this activity is not lobbying so anyone can participate!
 
Mail paper plates to:
National Farm to School Network
110 Maryland Avenue NE, Suite 209 
Washington, D.C. 20002
 
Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest CNR news. 

UPDATE: We'll be delivering the plates to Congress the week of September 19. Stay tuned to our social media channels for live updates!

House committee passes CNR amidst advocate and lawmaker concerns

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 19, 2016
By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate 

Yesterday, the House Education and Workforce Committee approved H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, marking another step forward in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process, but potentially a step backward for our nation’s children. The final vote, after 31 proposed amendments and several hours of debate, came down primarily on party lines with 20 for and 14 against. 

The markup was a contentious meeting, with members on both sides of the aisle expressing concern over the bill. On one side, Democrats proposed amendments to preserve the nutrition gains of the latest version of CNR, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. On the other, Republicans proposed amendments to further limit the federal government’s involvement in school meals.  While there are considerable issues with the bill’s potential impact on the quality and access to school meals, one of the very few bright spots of bipartisanship was farm to school. 

Several members of Congress mentioned their support of the bill’s farm to school provisions in their opening remarks, including Reps. Stefanik (R-NY), Fudge (D-OH) and Curbelo (R-FL). The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 uses much of the language from the Farm to School Act of 2015 marker bill and includes an increase from $5 to $10 million annually in funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program

Despite this farm to school victory, the National Farm to School Network urges the House to work toward a different CNR bill with a bipartisan consensus, much like the Senate Agriculture version. One of our many concerns with the House bill involves changes to the Community Eligibility Program (CEP). By increasing the qualifying threshold for this program, Congress would reduce access to school meals while increasing paperwork and the administrative burden on school nutrition professionals. An analysis of the bill from The PEW Charitable Trusts provides more details on potential outcomes from the bill here.

During the amendment portion of the markup, 6 proposed amendments earned enough votes to pass. They include:

  • An independent study to examine external/private funding opportunities for school meals. Introduced by Rep. Allen (R-GA)
  • Eliminating the cultural foods exemption for the nutrition standards. Introduced by Rep. Scott (D-VA)
  • Instructing the USDA to provide guidance on streamlining compliance paperwork for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Introduced by Rep. Stefanik (R-NY)
  • Including parents, pediatricians and dietitians to the list of stakeholders involved in a three year nutrition standard review. Introduced by Rep. Polis (D-CO)
  • Instructing the USDA to consider milk purchasing options for schools to increase dairy consumption. Introduced by Rep. Courtney (D-CT)
  • Authorization to use other forms of electronic benefit transfer in the Summer EBT Pilot. Introduced by Rep. Davis (D-CA)

Many of the failed amendments were Democratic attempts to undo the bill’s block grant pilot, increased threshold for the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) and relaxed nutrition standards. 

Although the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 has passed through committee, it is still uncertain if the controversial bill will make it to the full floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is still waiting on a revised Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to ensure budget neutrality before coming to a vote. 

With the legislative calendar winding down for this year, we remain cautiously optimistic that CNR will move forward with the necessary changes to continue building on previous successes and ensure healthy meals for every child. To stay up to date on CNR, sign up for the National Farm to School Network newsletter and follow us on social media

CACFP lifts up local

NFSN Staff Tuesday, May 17, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate and Natalie Talis, Policy Associate 



In April, the United Stated Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS) released the much anticipated Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern final rule and CACFP best practice recommendations. The National Farm to School Network, along with kids, farmers and communities, has reason to applaud these updates. The final rule and best practice recommendations create great opportunity to promote farm to school activities in CACFP programs and open the door for even more of the 3.3 million children served by CACFP to experience the benefits of farm to early care and education.  

The new meal pattern, which is the first revision since the start of the program in 1968, aims to improve the overall nutritional quality of CACFP meals and snacks and ensure that the standards more closely align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In the final rule, FNS highlights the benefits and growing interest in utilizing local foods in CACFP programs:

Local foods: Local foods can play an important role in creating and promoting a healthy environment. A growing body of research demonstrates several positive impacts of serving local foods and providing food education through CNPs, including increased participation and engagement in meal programs; consumption of healthier options, such as whole foods; and support of local economies.

Implementation of new CACFP meal pattern changes, such as additional fruit and vegetable variety requirements, increased whole grains and reduced sugar in snacks and beverages, can all be supported with farm to early care and education activities. By using local foods, gardening experiences, and food and nutrition education, young children learn to accept and enjoy the variety of healthy foods included in the meal pattern. To read more about the role of farm to early care and education in supporting success in CACFP, see our recent blog, Celebrating Good Nutrition for Our Littlest Eaters

In addition to the final rule, the USDA will release a policy guidance document detailing CACFP best practice strategies that further support a healthy start for our youngest eaters and help create lifelong healthy habits. The policy guidance, to be released this summer, will include using seasonal and local foods in meals along with nutrition education.

In the meantime, get started on the CACFP best practice of serving local food and other farm to early care and education activities with these National Farm to School Network resources:


The new FNS rules emphasize what we continue to see in the field: CACFP and farm to early care and education are key to building the next generation of healthy eaters.    

Congress is Red, Blue and Green!

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 05, 2016
By Amy Woehling, Emerson Hunger Fellow

 Photo credit: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

With farm to school, advocacy isn’t just letters and phone calls – it's also about getting policymakers out to the farm! In April, the National Farm to School Network teamed-up with DC Central Kitchen, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, DC Greens and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to welcome congressional staff to K Street Farm in Washington, D.C. and witness farm to school in action. When policymakers join the fun happening in their own backyard, it provides firsthand experience with farm to school’s critical role in developing young, healthy eaters. From teachers to students, food processors to farmers, gardeners to congressmen, advocacy opportunities share the intricate stories of farm to school and how this powerful tool can be used to create healthy, lifelong habits.

Our tour at K Street Farm started with congressional staff learning about D.C.’s local farm to school advocates and the tremendous work they do year round to provide local, nutritious meals to all students across the city. Then, guests explored the garden (where students were expertly planting kale) before getting their very own taste of farm to school: Fresh Feature Fridays. DC Central Kitchen hosts Fresh Feature Fridays at schools around the city where students are able to try a local vegetable cooked three different ways and then vote on their favorite. The garden tour participants had three local squash dishes before heading to the polls. In a show of bipartisanship, the congressional staffers came together to pick curried squash as their Fresh Feature Favorite!
  Photo credit: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Hosting a farm to school tour is a great example of advocacy that demonstrates just how important policies that support farm to school are for cultivating hands-on nutrition education. Our tour specifically showcased the potential impacts of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). It is one thing to say how important the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is to schools across the country. It is another to meet the kids who benefit from garden education and to taste fresh, locally sourced school meals. 

CNR has recently seen movement from the House Education and Workforce Committee, which introduced its draft CNR bill on April 20, 2016. While the House CNR bill includes big wins for farm to school, we do have a number of concerns regarding student access to healthy, nutritious meals year round. Check out this update from our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for more details.

Try your own advocacy event and set up a farm to school tour day for policymakers in your community! Here are a few tips to get you started:
  • Choose a farm to school activity that you’re most excited about in your community - is it the school garden? Local food taste tests? Harvest of the Month?

  • Strategize how you could share this excitement with your policymakers - e.g. invite policy makers to a cooking demonstration or a harvest celebration.
  • Form a team, including community partners and other key stakeholders, to help create an agenda for the event.
  • Find contact information for the policymakers and legislative staff you’d like to invite. Consider policymakers at all levels, from US Senators and Representatives to your governor, mayor or city council members.

  • Send invitations – don’t forget to invite local media, too.

  • Celebrate your advocacy event!

  • Follow-up with all participants and make sure to send a thank you. Include a memento from the day (like a picture) to remind your policymakers what farm to school success looks like.   
Advocacy events like these bring everyone to the table (or garden!) and exemplify the mission of farm to school: empowering children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Check out our Advocacy Fact Sheet for more ideas of how to advocate for farm to school in your community. Keep an eye out this summer for our new advocacy toolkit that will provide further details on hosting your own Garden Tour Day and other efforts that you make to promote farm to school in your community.

 Photo credit: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

We agree: child nutrition programs should be about making kids healthier

NFSN Staff Thursday, March 24, 2016
By Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, School Nutrition Program Director, Burke County Board of Education and Incoming President-Elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Erin McGuire, Policy Director, National Farm to School Network



We couldn’t agree more: child nutrition programs should be about raising a generation of healthy kids. A recent article published in Politico’s The Agenda makes the case that the Child Nutrition Act (CNA) historically has supported farmers not children, stating, “The School Lunch Act, in fact, has served a scrum of agricultural and other interests for the entire 70 years it has existed, each angling for a bigger share of the federal lunch plate.” With this statement we take no issue – agriculture has long had a vested interest in child nutrition programs and what goes on the plate of future consumers. 

The author further elaborates on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program saying,  “Nor is it clear how kids will be aided by grants to ‘increase awareness of, and participation in, farm to school programs.” This could not be further from the truth unfolding at farm to school sites across the country. In this multi-billion dollar bill that historically has served to put calories – of any kind – on the plates of children, advocates have fought hard to put in place programs that support nutrition education like the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. 

The USDA Farm to School Program was established with a $5 million allocation in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (the last iteration of CNA). The program helps schools and other eligible entities support farm to school activities in their communities. Supported activities include identifying community stakeholders, purchasing product from local and regional farmers and processors, building school gardens, taste-testing curricula and farm field trips. The program has been incredibly successful, having a 5-1 demand to supply ratio, with 75 percent of grants made to schools, education and public health agencies, and non-profits. 

On the frontlines, communities are experiencing incredible behavior change and nutrition benefits from incorporating farm to school activities.  In Georgia, we have increased student consumption of green leafy vegetables with the addition of local collard greens – a farmer went so far as to tweak his soil to grow less bitter greens for our students! And we did away with french fries in the cafeteria after students went crazy for roasted red ranch potatoes purchased from a local grower. This isn’t just what we have seen in Georgia and across the country – it’s what the data shows. Students who participate in farm to school activities eat more fruits and vegetables, are willing to try new foods, consume less unhealthy foods and sodas and choose healthier options in the cafeteria and at home. 



In the delicate state of the CNA’s Reauthorization this year, those who support this win-win strategy for students, farmers and communities have managed to eke out another $5 million dollars for this important grant program in the Senate draft. In a tough fiscal climate, Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow have prioritized support for farm to school programs that help children, and in many rural areas, also support farming families. We commend the Senate Agriculture Committee’s leadership during this reauthorizing year – yes, they brokered a deal, and it included an increase in summer feeding programs (one of the most vulnerable times for hungry children) and protected healthy meal standards for children. Those mired in the fight for better child nutrition support swift passage of this bill in the Senate, because decisions impacting the health of our future generation should not be delayed any further. 

The National Farm to School Network, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have made policy recommendations to increase the flexibility of potential recipients of USDA Farm to School Grants to include summer feeding and after-school programs, as well as to increase farmer participation – an essential aspect of farm to school activities. As the author notes, we have also supported language for more, “culturally appropriate” foods at schools serving Native Indian students.”  We 100 percent stand by that. For too long the significant barriers to using culturally appropriate food in school cafeterias have been ignored. We should celebrate the rich diversity of agriculture products and traditional dishes in our country, and be able to serve them on school lunch menus. 

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is one of the smallest grant programs, and yet a very effective nutrition education program in the Child Nutrition Act. When we talk about increasing nutrition for children at this important moment, it is essential that nutrition advocates protect what little we have and push for more, not call into question hard-fought and won programs that help students be healthy. 

Join us in urging Congress to continue its support of farm to school success by signing our petition. Add your name in support today.
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