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National Farm to School Network

News

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.

Evaluating Oregon’s Farm to School Policy

NFSN Staff Monday, June 18, 2018

As the farm to school movement has taken root in communities across the country over the past 20 years, so have efforts by U.S. state and territory legislatures to propose policies that support local procurement, school gardens and food and agriculture education in their states. In the last 3 years alone, over 200 farm to school policies have been proposed in state legislature and territories, which represents an important move toward the institutionalization of farm to school by generating awareness, building coalitions, and taking ownership of farm to school growth and implementation. But how do we know what makes state farm to school policies effective in programmatic implementation?  

To build on existing information about policy best practices, we partnered with RTI International to document and analyze one of the country’s most ambitious state farm to school policies. Oregon has been a pioneer in institutionalizing farm to school programs, and their legislative efforts to support local procurement have resulted in a total of $4.5 million in grants to 124 school districts. Our new report, State Policy Development for Oregon’s Farm to School Grant Program: Successes and Lessons Learned, examines the ins-and-outs of Oregon’s procurement policy efforts to provide an analysis of successes, challenges and lessons learned for future farm to school policy in both Oregon and other states and territories.

The study finds that Oregon’s farm to school legislation has been overwhelmingly successful in meeting its intended impacts, especially as they related to the effectiveness of the farm to school grants in providing access to locally grown, nutritious foods to school districts, principally low income. However, the process of conducting the study also revealed some challenges with the legislation, such as with logistics, purchasing strategies and grant administration. Farm to school policy advocates in other states and territories can learn from these findings to support their own policy efforts. The four overarching lessons from this study include: 

  • Importance of Inclusion: Not all school districts were able to participate in the Oregon Farm to School grant program when it was a competitive grant program. When the program was converted to an opt-in program and distributed grants to schools based on their number of school lunches served, participation increased among low-income school districts, distributors, and farmers.
  • Importance of Training: Although school districts may be somewhat familiar with administrative processes related to grants, the claim process for accessing the reimbursements through this grant program was significantly different, and districts would have benefited from additional training. 
  • Preparation of Implementing State Agencies: State agencies that will be implementing the state policies must be on board and adequately staffed to ensure timely processing of claims and provision of technical assistance. 
  • Clarity in Bill Language: The language of any farm to school legislation must specifically target the intent of the farm to school policy. For example, through this study, we learned that during the early implementation phase school districts were purchasing milk and bread produced in the state using grant funds. Although these were local products, schools were already purchasing them before the grant was available. Evolution of the policy resulted in new language that restricts “prior purchased processed or produced foods,” which now fully ensures that the grant funds go toward purchasing new locally grown and produced Oregon products, thereby stimulating the state’s economy.
Evaluating the effect of policies on program implementation is important for understanding policy successes and areas for improvement. This analysis of Oregon’s legislative efforts helps provide new information about the effectiveness of state policies that support healthy eating activities through a combination of targeted funding streams and state agency support. We hope its findings serve as a useful tool for policy advocates nationwide, as we together continue to strengthen state and territory legislative support of important farm to school efforts. Read the full report here

This project was funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on RTI International’s website.

Your Voice Needed: Put Farm to School in the Farm Bill

NFSN Staff Wednesday, May 16, 2018

By Maximilian Merrill, Policy Director

When it comes to policies that shape agriculture, food, nutrition and hunger in the United States, none are more paramount than the farm bill. This important piece of federal legislation is currently up for reauthorization, which presents ample opportunity for farm to school advocates to ensure policies that support healthy kids, thriving family farms and vibrant communities are prioritized in national food policy. How does that happen? Your voice! 

The process of developing a new farm bill has many phases - starting with both the House and Senate drafting and voting on their own versions of a farm bill. (Read more about the process from our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.) The House version of the bill was passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on April 18 and is expected to be voted on by the full House of Representatives soon. This House bill does not include any of the National Farm to School Network’s top three priorities. Our priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill are: 

  • Adopt the Farm to School Act of 2017 to increase mandatory funding and expand access for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. 
  • Amend 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. 
  • Continue and expand 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. 
The Senate has yet to release its version of the bill, which means there’s still time to ensure these three important farm to school priorities are included. However, it’s important that we take action quickly and demonstrate the breadth and strength of farm to school voices from across the country. The Senate bill, which may be introduced as early as next week, is one of the last opportunities for farm to school to make its way into this important legislation - so NOW is the time to make your voice heard! 

TAKE ACTION: Take five minutes to pick up the phone or write an email to both of your Senators about why farm to school is important in your community. Tell your story, share your success, and offer pictures and anecdotes about how farm to school is a triple win for kids, farmers and communities. It’s easy - 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’m calling to ask that farm to school be prioritized in the Senate’s version of the farm bill. Farm to school enriches the connections communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites. Farm to school is strong agricultural policy that should be included in this important legislation! However, it’s been left out of the House version. That’s why I’m asking the Senator to support a Farm Bill that includes three things: (1) Adopts the Farm to School Act of 2017, (2) Updates “Geographic Preference” language so that schools can more easily purchase fresh food from local farmers, and (3) Continues and expands the successful Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program. [Share any personal stories about why these are important asks for your community.] 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 the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has been successful. 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 farm to school is included the farm bill. Continue to follow the National Farm to School Network here on our blog, in our e-newsletter and on social media for updates as the farm bill progresses and for more opportunities to be an advocate for farm to school. 

$5 Million for Farm to School in Funding Bill

NFSN Staff Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Last week, Senate and House leaders worked on an appropriations bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, and through this process, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) championed a huge win for farm to school! The final bill, which was signed by the President on Friday, includes $5 million in discretionary funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which doubles the current available funding for this highly impactful and important program for one year. This is great news and a big victory for the farm to school movement!

Please join us in thanking Sen. Leahy and Sen. Cochran for this win, their continued efforts in championing farm to school, and for helping make healthy, local food in schools a reality for millions of children across the country. Give them a shoutout on social media (@SenatorLeahy, @SenThadCochran), write them a quick thank you note, or give their offices a call (Sen. Leahy at (202) 224-4242, Sen. Cochran at (202) 224-5054) to let them know that you appreciate their ongoing efforts to strengthen farm to school, and how farm to school has been a win for kids and farmers in your community. 

The 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. However, demand for the program is more than five times higher than available funding. Since 2013, USDA has received over 1,600 applicants requesting more than $120 million, though has only been able to make 221 awards from the $20 million available. 

The Farm to School Act of 2017 - co-sponsored by Sen. Leahy and Sen. Cochran in the Senate, and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in the House - addresses this funding issue and other important policy changes needed to strengthen and grow the USDA Farm to School Program. While last week’s surprise $5 million in discretionary funding is an incredible boost for the program, the funding is temporary. It’s important that we continue to advocate for a more permanent solution for sustaining this program and its impact for high-need communities across the country. 

As the National Farm to School Network continues to advocate for this marker bill to find a legislative vehicle that it can pass with, we need your help advocating to your member of Congress. Help us get your Senators and Representatives signed on as co-sponsors of the Farm to School Act of 2017. (See who’s already signed on here and here.) Reach out to them to share how farm to school is a win for your community, and to ask for their support on this important piece of legislation. If you haven’t yet, you can also add your name to our citizen and organizational sign-on letters, which helps us demonstrate strong grassroots support for this marker bill. 

Today we celebrate, but also continue our work to make farm to school opportunities accessible to every student, farmer and community across the country. Stay tuned to our blog for more policy news, updates and opportunities to make your voice heard. 

The State of State Policy

NFSN Staff Tuesday, November 21, 2017

By Maximilian Merrill, Policy Director
 
Farm to school policies have been a key strategy for making local food procurement, food education and school gardens a reality for millions of children. To support the continued growth of state policy advocacy, we’ve updated one of our signature resources that tracks how farm to school-supportive bills are strengthening the farm to school movement.

The State Farm to School Legislative Survey: 2002-2017 provides state-by-state summaries of every enacted, defeated or pending farm to school-related bill from January 1, 2002 through March 31, 2017. It also includes analysis and infographics on state farm to school legislative trends; case studies on successful farm to school advocacy efforts in Alaska, Oregon, Texas and Washington, D.C.; and, additional resources to help advocates learn about and replicate the wide variety of existing state farm to school laws, policies and programs. 

The State Farm to School Legislative Survey: 2002-2017 builds on a survey that was originally released in 2011, and updated in 2013 and 2014. This most recent version reflects legislation through March 31, 2017. With this update, we’ve found that 46 states, including Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have proposed 491 bills and resolutions supportive of farm to school activities. Forty of these states, including D.C., have enacted farm to school-related legislation. Since the last legislative survey published in 2014, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona have enacted their first farm to school legislation, with only a handful of states remaining that have yet to pass farm to school policy.

In the last two years alone, over 200 farms to school-related policies have been proposed in state and territory legislatures. The most popular policy initiatives were food education, funding and promotional events. Other popular policies included price percentage preference legislation to enable schools to purchase local foods and farm to school pilot programs. 

In addition to providing summaries on each of these proposed policies, the State Farm to School Legislative Survey also offers tools to help advocates advance new legislation in their states. Check out four case studies that analyze successful farm to school advocacy efforts and compare how different states have tackled farm to school policy opportunities with different approaches. While each state and territory has a different political climate, these case studies offer examples that can be replicated across the board. For example, farmer databases or local preference laws may be more attractive for a legislature concerned by budgets or boosting local jobs. 

The State Farm to School Legislative Survey is designed to offer farm to school advocates like you a roadmap to learn about and compare existing, potentially replicable state farm to school laws, policies and programs in order to advance new legislation in your state. So dig in, and start exploring the opportunities! 

Have questions about this new resource or need a thought partner on how to connect with your state lawmakers? Don’t hesitate to contact our Policy team for support! We look forward to hearing how your advocacy efforts continue to support the growth of farm to school, state by state. 

Farm to School Act of 2017 Introduced in Congress

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 07, 2017

By Maximilian Merrill, Policy Director 

Yesterday, members of Congress took the first step toward a major win for local economies, farm families and the health of our nation’s children. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2017

The two identical bills, originally introduced in the last Congress, build on the progress of the farm to school movement by expanding the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofits, farmers, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods and to support farm to school activities in cafeterias, classrooms and communities. In its first five years, the program has received more than 1,600 applications totaling more than $120 million in requests. With only $5 million available annually, the program has only been able to fund 365 awards. In other words, demand for the program is nearly 5 times higher than available funding. The Farm to School Act proposes an increase in funding to $15 million annually to level this disproportionate ratio of demand to supply. In addition, the bill will also ensure that the grant program fully includes early care and education sites, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers, while improving program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.   

We know that farm to school activities have proven to be an economic driver for local farms across the country. In the most recent USDA Farm to School Census, schools reported purchasing nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors in just one school year. Every dollar spent on local food generates up to an additional $1.60 in economic activity, indicating school districts’ local food purchases are driving over $1 billion in local economic activity. The Farm to School Act will expand these efforts by supporting the growth of farm to school activities in schools, while also ensuring that more farmers and local food producers can reap the benefits of these new market opportunities. 

In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition - along with our network of supporters from across the country - successfully advocated for the creation of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. In 2015, we teamed up again to advance farm to school priorities in the reauthorization process of the Child Nutrition Act, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. While CNR was not completed in the last Congress, we scored major victories with key Republicans and Democrats supporting farm to school priorities through the process (see more here). This puts us in a strong position for federal policy wins with the reintroduction of this marker bill. 

“Farmers have been struggling for years with a weak agricultural economy,” says Wes King, NSAC Policy Specialist. “One of the many benefits of farm to school programs is that they open up new, lucrative marketing channels to American producers. The Farm to School Act would create opportunities across the board – children win by gaining access to delicious local food and agricultural programming that is both fun and educational, schools and families win by helping children to maintain and/or improve their health, and farmers win by gaining new customers for their products.”

This grant program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Help us champion the Farm to School Act of 2017 and grow farm to school across the country. Here are five ways to get involved: 

TAKE ACTION 
  • Tell Congress you support the Farm to School Act of 2017 by signing a letter of support as an individual or on behalf of your organization. (Note: individuals who signed on to support the previous Farm to School Act are still signed on – no need to submit your info again! Organizations, please re-sign on to show your support!)
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest Farm to School Act of 2017 news and opportunities to take action by signing up for our action alerts
  • Help spread the word about this important bill and the importance of farm to school activities in your community by posting to social media with the hashtag #F2SAct. Download our campaign graphics and sample messages here
  • Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2017 in this fact sheet
  • As Congress considers the Farm to School Act of 2017 over the coming months, expect to hear more from us about steps you can take to encourage your legislators to support the bill. 

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
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