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Farm to school is taking place in all 50 states, D.C. and U.S. Territories! Select a location from the list below to learn more or contact a Core Partner. 

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A “Try New Things” Attitude Pays Off in Georgia

NFSN Staff Monday, July 17, 2017
By Molly Schintler, Communication Intern

 Donna Martin with students at Burke County Public Schools. 
During the 2013-2014 school year, a secretary at Burke County Public Schools in Georgia had a farmer son with too many watermelons. She approached Donna Martin, School Nutrition Program Director, and asked if the school ever served local food. Donna has a ‘try new things’ attitude, so she served the watermelon and then dabbled in procuring a few other local items from farmers that she already knew. It did not take Donna long to recognize the positive impact that local food purchasing had on the students, community and farmers.  “I don’t understand how anybody can say ‘no’ to doing this (farm to school),“ Donna commented.  

Donna recognizes how farm to school is a win for everyone in the community, but she is realistic about the challenges. She says there is a whole list of barriers she’s come across; however, her ‘try new things’ attitude – that same attitude that allowed her to say “yes” to local watermelon – seems quick to overshadow the entire list. Donna and her team point out that the challenges are manageable if you are open to constantly learning, adjusting and assessing not only your own needs, but also considering farmers’ needs. Donna explained it as, “We can tell a story about practically every single one of our farmers and how we developed a relationship with them…once we develop relationships and they trust us, they are willing to go out on a limb.” Fisheads Aquaponics and Freeman’s Mill are two of the farmers that have gone out on a limb with Donna and her team in the name of bringing local food to the Burke County schools, and the effort has paid off. 

Fisheads Aquaponics: Located 17 miles from the Burke County Public Schools, Fisheads is an aquaponics operation focused on growing greenhouse lettuces since 2013. Lisa Dojan’s family has been conventionally farming in the county for four generations, so when Lisa and her husband decided they wanted to start a business, the aquaponics venture allowed them to keep their family roots in agriculture while trying something a little bit different and new. Before the operation was completely up and running, Burke County started a relationship with Lisa by coming to tour the greenhouse. Now, Burke County Schools has a standing order for Fisheads lettuce, and Lisa and her farm team supply lettuces to several school districts.

Freeman’s Mill: In telling his story, Stacey Freeman says that farming and milling are in his blood. Heading up Freeman’s Mill as a fifth generation miller in Statesboro, Ga., Stacey’s operation grinds corn and wheat into grits and flour. Stacey works with a number of school districts. In fact, he sells his products to over twelve schools, including five thousand pounds of wheat and grits annually to the Burke County Schools. As his farm to school sales have grown over the past six years, he has taken note that he is filling more and more 25 pound bags of grits and whole-wheat flour for bulk sales, as compared to the 2 pound bags for farmers market.

The increase in sales to schools has meant that Stacey was able to recently expand the mill and purchase new machinery. Fisheads has experienced similar growth. In order to keep up with the demand for their lettuces, the farm is doubling their production with the addition of a second greenhouse, and because the farm is expanding, Lisa hopes to hire their farm intern as a full time manager. 

Freeman’s Mill and Fisheads Aquaponics are just two of thousands of examples of farmers and producers across all 50 states, D.C., and U.S. Territories who have experienced significant financial opportunity when they are willing to “try new things” with local, institutional markets. Donna Martin and her team are a shinning example of the many food service workers throughout the country who have help their students win everyday by providing access to real food so they can grow up healthy. Stacey may have put it best when he simply stated, “For this to work, we all have to come together.” So let Donna and her team, Lisa and Stacey inspire you to try something new and make a connection with a local producer in your community! 

Photo Credit: All photos were provided by the Harvest Bright: Burke County Farm to School Program 

A peachy pair: growing Florida peaches for Florida kids

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 15, 2015
This week’s Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by Organic Valley, a farmer-owned cooperative representing more than 1,800 organic farmers across the United States. Committed to fostering health and wellness in the youth of America, Organic Valley is proud to support the National Farm to School Network.
 Photo credit: Florida Farm to School Program
By the Florida Farm to School Program
Home to some of the first farm to school activities in the country, Florida has a robust history of connecting kids to fresh, healthy food and supporting local farmers. So when it became clear that Florida citrus farmers were severely struggling to grow oranges, the Florida Farm to School Program was eager to work with growers and schools to foster new partnership opportunities - with peaches!

In recent years, the Florida citrus industry has experienced significant difficulties with citrus greening – a disease that causes citrus trees to grow green, misshapen fruit, and has killed millions of citrus plants in the United States. According to the USDA, Florida is currently producing 60 percent less citrus than what it was just 15 years ago because of this plant disease. The 2014-2015 season was particularly bad, what Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam called “a new low for Florida’s citrus industry and our state’s signature crop.” Now, some Florida citrus growers are confronting these losses by diversifying their crop and growing peaches. 

The peaches they’re growing are a new variety of “Florida Peach” recently developed by researchers at the University of Florida. This special variety can tolerate longer periods of heat than most peach varieties, better fitting Florida’s warm climate. While these Florida peaches are generally smaller in size, they are harvestable months sooner than peaches in Georgia and South Carolina. 

As these Florida peaches began ripening, our Florida Farm to School Program teamed up with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to help farmers find markets for this delicious new crop. Our #1 idea? Schools! 

While most schools had never purchased Florida peaches before, many had been supportive of sourcing local food for school meals. Florida Farm to School had a network of schools to which we could promote these peaches, as well as the resources to connect and facilitate sales between growers and schools. For many citrus growers, this was a completely new market to prosper within. 

We were able to help secure new and experienced peach growers, and work with vendors and school distributors to assist with procurement. We worked to add peaches to the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program catalog, so school districts participating in the program had the opportunity to purchase fresh, Florida peaches. These districts responded with great enthusiasm to the new addition, which encouraged us to reach out to even more districts with this local fruit opportunity. 

With schools on board, the citrus farmers developed a relationships with Florida Classic Growers to create a special distribution packaging intended just for schools. This packaging can hold larger quantities of peaches than typically packages sold to grocery chains. The partnership demonstrates the opportunity and potential for schools, growers, processors and distributors to work together in creating a food supply chain that supports all parties involved. Check out the video above to see how it works!   

This spring 24 Florida school districts purchased 434,240 peaches for student to enjoy, and supported local citrus growers with more than $250,000 spent on this special local fruit. By working directly with farmers and school food service directors, the Florida Farm to School Team was able to help Florida citrus farmers during trying years, while also giving students the chance to eat a new, “Fresh from Florida” fruit in their school lunch. We’re excited to build upon this Florida Fresh Peach Promotion next season, and continue supporting economic development and healthy kids throughout our state. 

Transforming lunch, building community with a USDA Planning Grant

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 01, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Passion, persistence, and patience in New Jersey

NFSN Staff Monday, June 01, 2015
By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director  
  

Photo courtesy of New Jersey Farm to School Network

Social media can be a powerful tool for change by connecting people with similar passions and complementary talents. Tony Kowalak and Steve Vande Vrede are a perfect example of this. Tony is the Sodexo Food Service Director in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District of central New Jersey. Steve is a farmer at Edible Garden in Belvidere, New Jersey. The two met in 2013 while participating in New Jersey Farm to School Network’s “I Tweet for Food” campaign. Noticing each other’s tweets about the importance of getting locally grown food in schools, they formed a partnership that is now bearing fruit. 

Over the past several years, Tony has been an internal advocate for sustainable practices within Sodexo, a company that provides food services to schools across the globe. Tony has also been a farm to school advocate, and has worked to establish farm to school programs across his home state of New Jersey. Through this work, he became familiar with a project in Rhode Island where local producers and food service companies worked collectively and intentionally to overcome distribution hurdles and help local produce find its way into schools across the state. Tony was fascinated by the idea and wondered how New Jersey schools could leverage similar partnerships, particularly in the winter when local fields are dormant and food must be imported. When he met Steve, who specializes in greenhouse growing and produces year-round, the two began investigating what it would take to get Steve’s lettuce into schools across New Jersey. 

Initially, the task seemed daunting. There were distribution channels that needed to be tweaked, liability insurance that needed to be increased and pilot school sites developed. With the help of others, including Beth Feehan of the New Jersey Farm to School Network and our New Jersey State Lead, Edible Gardens won approval by Sodexo and their primary distributor, PFG, to start moving Steve’s lettuce into a handful of school districts. Beginning in January, lucky students in East Orange, Long Branch and West Windsor-Plainsboro school districts began eating lettuce grown within their state – in the dead of winter. 

This new partnership is a big victory for Tony, Steve and students in New Jersey. School food can be incredibly complicated, with many layers of funding and regulation that dictate what is served in the cafeteria. And, schools that work with distributors are often limited by what is available through their established partnerships. But, as this example in New Jersey shows, when schools, distributors and producers come together to bring more local options in to the lunchroom, students can enjoy fresh, local food year-round. 

New Jersey State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher visits Catrambone Elementary School’s kitchen with students to see how local lettuce is used for lunch. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Farm to School Network)

Now that he’s been through it himself, Tony graciously shares his process with others to help them understand how they can overcome challenges facing their own local procurement projects. When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, he had this advice for people working to connect local producers with schools: “Passion, perseverance and patience is the winning combination,” he said. “Projects like this don’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it, you will ultimately prevail and know that you’ve done the right thing for kids and for farmers in your community.”

In April, a celebration was held at Catrambone Elementary School in Long Branch. New Jersey State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher and other representatives from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Sodexo management, and New Jersey farm to school champions visited the school to highlight the program and participate in a lunch where lettuce from Edible Gardens was featured. Tony, Steve and all those involved hope that their lessons learned and success will inspire similar partnerships and programs across the country. 


Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner: Student-raised chickens on school lunch trays

NFSN Staff Friday, March 06, 2015

By Sarah Elliott, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Wisconsin state lead for the National Farm to School Network

On January 30, students across the Holmen School District in northwestern Wisconsin had a special farm to school lunch, aptly named “Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner.”  Over the past year, students in Roger King’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) classes raised over 450 meat chickens to be served to more than 3,000 Holmen students during this special lunch. The fantastic partnership between the FFA program; the Holmen’s nutrition services director, Mike Gasper; and the Coulee Regional Farm to School Program, made this extraordinarily unique project a farm to school success!

Last month I interviewed Holmen Mike Gasper, to learn more about this project and other farm to school activities in the district.

What prompted you to undertake this chicken project?
About a year ago, 25 of our FFA students came to me to ask if we would be interested in serving chickens they raised. We said yes, and so began the adventure that culminated in our Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner event.

The school helped pay for the equipment that was needed—feeders, waterers and chicken feed, and in May, the students got their first chicks. When they reached maturity, the birds were processed at a USDA licensed facility and then picked up by our distributor partner, Reinhardt Foods, who froze the chickens and stored them until enough birds had been raised to feed the whole district. The last batch of chickens went to the processor in the beginning of November.

What were some of the lessons you learned during the course of this project?
Well, we learned a lot about raising chickens. And we worked hard to put a system in place to ensure proper protocols and insurance while transporting the chicken between locations. To accomplish this, we actually became a processing member of Fifth Season Cooperative – a multi-stakeholder organization that includes six member classes that span the entire supply chain at the local level. Producers, producer groups, processors, distributors, buyers and workers all contribute. We sold the chicken to Fifth Season, they sold it to Reinhardt and then we bought it back. Now that the system is in place, we anticipate that next year will be even less expensive.  

Was the event a success?
Most definitely! “[This is the] best school meal I’ve ever gotten!” was a comment echoing throughout the cafeterias. In addition to the chicken, we served hydroponic lettuce grown at our high school, locally-grown potatoes sourced from Fifth Season and local milk, plus a non-local fruit. The FFA students helped serve the meal, and everyone had a great time. The cafeteria atmosphere was very celebratory – I even saw some kids doing the “chicken dance!” Our staff did an outstanding job. We are definitely planning on doing it again next year—and have even been talking to the FFA about the possibility of four-legged animals!

What is the history of farm to school activities in Holmen?
We started farm to school in 2008, which was my first year with the district. We started with apples and still partner with the same orchard today. Our county program started the following year, with the introduction of a Harvest of the Month Program and cooking classes with Chef Thomas Sacksteder. This past year we also partnered with the FFA to grow three fields of sweet corn. The chickens were our first meat project, and the first time we served so many local products on one day!  

Farm to school in Arizona: A conversation with Linda Rider

NFSN Staff Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Our Arizona State Lead, Cindy Gentry, recently sent us this great Q&A between Libby Boudreau, a community dietitian at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, and Linda Rider, director of nutrition services for the Tempe Elementary School District in Arizona. Thanks to Libby for conducting the interview, to Cindy for sending it our way and to Linda for her great farm to school work! 

How long have you been doing farm to school?
I feel that I dabble in it. I first did farm to school about five years ago when we received a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, and the Arizona Department of Education gave us a big list of farmers.

What was the first item that you purchased locally?
Since 2009 we’ve purchased local apples every fall–I only want them when they’re being harvested. We expanded to include carrots from Rousseau Farms in 2011. I really want our local produce to come as much as possible from Maricopa County. Part of my initiative is to have a smaller carbon footprint and get food directly from the farms to the district. That means working with smaller farmers to support the local economy.

What other items have you been able to purchase from local farmers?
Last year I was able to bring in specialty lettuce from Duncan Family Farms through the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. It was a pilot project, and the farm was identified through Stern Produce [a local distributor]. It was only four days from harvest to door, and the lettuce was washed and chopped in between. We used it in entrée salads and side salads from November until mid-April.

What is your kitchen setup? Do you have a central processing kitchen or does each school receive and process its own deliveries?
We have a central facility and we send produce out to schools, but most of what we receive is already prepped. We don’t really have to chop and clean, but we could. As I start pulling in smaller farmers, they may not be able to get things processed. That system is still being implemented.

Did your costs increase when you implemented your farm to school program?
They stayed pretty balanced. The cost for carrots was break-even. Apples are a little more costly due to the distribution. I was getting them directly from a farmer at first, and at that time, the cost was equitable. That farmer can no longer deliver directly to the school, so they now come from a distributor called Patagonia Orchards. Because of that, the apples are a little more expensive, but they’re also organic.

What are the biggest challenges of your farm to school program?
Distribution and procurement. A distributor won’t pick up apples from a farm just for me; it doesn’t fit their model. It’s about finding out who can help with that distribution. You have to be creative to get it to come to you, unless it comes through the Department of Defense. Some of the larger distributors are highlighting local products now, and that can be a viable way to help access local farmers.

Another challenge is knowing who is out there, who the smaller farmers are. And then you have to think about food safety. Are they GHP/GAP certified, or have they had another type of third-party audit?

Finally, volume is a challenge. Our organic apples are not the only apples we serve because we don’t get enough to cover all of our needs. They’re mixed in with other apples.

What resources were useful to you as you developed your farm to school program?
There are some good procurement guides that have been very helpful. One, from USDA, is called Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs. Another one, by School Food FOCUS, is called Geographic Preference: A primer on purchasing fresh, local food for schools

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about farm to school programs?
That nobody wants local produce. I hear a lot of school nutrition directors talking about local, but when I call my distributor, they tell me I’m the only person asking for it. I don’t believe that. If you look at what your distributor offers and ask them about local products, there will be a shift. Schools have to tell their distributors that they are looking for local and what local means to them.

What benefits do you see from your farm to school program?
Bringing in local produce is a way to maintain nutrient density and freshness, and that’s why I like it really local – within the county. It’s just so fresh. It’s also exciting to market to the school community and help them be aware of our efforts. I know our families appreciate local, so I’m always finding ways to make them aware of what we do. It’s a customer service issue. And if we can get the teachers involved, then they get the kids excited. That’s the best way to get kids involved. Also, supporting the local economy is important. 

Tell us about your very favorite farm to school moment.
I love seeing all of the apple varieties. We’re getting Pink Lady apples in today, and they’re the perfect size for schools. We just had Fuji apples. They’re always juicy and fresh – just great apples. And they’re pretty! I think people think that if you buy organic or local, the produce is going to be ugly, but it’s not.

New pilot program for locally-grown produce accepting applications

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 23, 2014


By: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition staff

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a request for applications from states interested in participating in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Kevin Concannon, the USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, announced that under the pilot, up to eight states across five regions will be granted flexibility in using a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

The pilot project “offers states an additional opportunity to bolster local farm economies while providing the children who participate in our school meals programs with healthy food from within their own communities,” said Under Secretary Concannon.

USDA’s FNS and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be working closely together to implement the pilot project and anticipate having deliveries start in the middle of the 2014-2015 School Year.

Applications

Applications must be submitted via email using the forms and instructions in the request for applications. Interested State Distributing Agencies (SDAs) must submit an application by September 30, 2014 to be considered for selection for the 2014-2015 school year. The pilot projects are anticipated to be multi-year and may involve additional requests for applications. 

In states selected to participate in the pilot project, school food authorities (SFAs) or SDAs (acting on behalf of participating SFAs), will be permitted to competitively solicit a USDA-approved vendor using USDA NSLP entitlement funds for unprocessed fruits and vegetables. SDAs or SFAs will be able to use their pre-existing commercial distribution channels and relationships with farmers, produce wholesalers and distributors, as well as apply geographic preference in procurement.

State and vendor selection process and pilot project details

The Farm Bill requires that at least one project be located in a state from each of the five regions of the U.S.: Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Western, Midwest, and  Southern. FNS plans to prioritize applications based on: the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the applicant states on a per capita basis; the demonstrated commitment of the States to farm to school efforts; and whether the states contain a sufficient quantity of SFAs, varying population sizes and geographic locations.

Once pilot project states are selected, AMS will work with those states to identify approved vendors, such as farmers, food hubs, wholesalers, distributors and processors. Vendors must submit documentation certifying compliance with AMS requirements regarding a comprehensive food safety program, 100 percent domestic origin and food defense. AMS will publish an approved vendor list on the AMS website. SFAs or SDAs from pilot project states can then procure unprocessed fruits and vegetables from these vendors, up to the amount of USDA entitlement that the states set aside for the pilot project. SDAs must submit monthly reports to FNS and AMS summarizing delivery and pricing information from all USDA-approved vendors, who are then paid by AMS in accordance with these reports.

USDA technical assistance and contact information for state applicants

FNS plans to conduct conference calls on August 7th and September 10th to answer questions and provide technical assistance with the application process to states that wish to apply. Details from USDA are forthcoming.

For questions regarding the pilot project and application, SDAs should contact:

Carolyn Smalkowski (703-305-2674) or Christina Conell (415-705-1353)

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