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National Farm to School Network


Cultivating Food Justice with Farm to School

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 08, 2015
By Anna Mullen, Communications Intern

What does it mean for food to be just? And what factors must be considered in cultivating food justice? These questions were on the table at Just Food? A Forum on Justice in the Food System, recently held in Cambridge, Mass. Hosted by the Harvard University Food Law Society and Food Better Initiative, the event brought together activists, scholars and practitioners to explore the complex legal, political, health and environmental aspects of building a just food system. 

Food justice is interconnected with many other social justice causes, including farmworkers rights, racial justice and the environment. This multidimensional understanding of food justice requires that a plurality of voices be included in creating our vision of a just food system. Indeed, food is everyone’s issue, because everyone eats! Therefore, everyone has a hand in cultivating food justice. 

So, what’s the role of the farm to school movement in helping create a more just food system? 

  • Farm to school educates the next generation of conscious eaters: As Dr. Molly Anderson reminded listeners in her keynote address, the road to food justice is long, and will require years of activism. Farm to school is working today to help educate the next generation of food advocates. In classrooms, school gardens and cafeterias, more than 23.5 million students are engaged in farm to school across the country. By teaching kids about where food comes from – who grows food, how it is harvested, how to prepare delicious meals – farm to school is cultivating conversations about just food among our nation’s youngest eaters. 
  • Farm to school builds a spirit of inclusivity: Food is a bridge between people, communities and cultures – everybody eats! As a panelist at Just Food, Sunny Young, our Mississippi State Lead, shared how Good Food for Oxford Schools has partnered with other local organizations and churches to make healthy food a community affair. Their annual Gospel Choir Showcase in front of Oxford City Hall features local gospel music, dancing, healthy food samples and farm to school presentations from students and staff. The event brings the wider Oxford community together to celebrate the connections between the farm and their forks. Creative community collaboration can bring food change from the classroom out into the streets, and even to the steps of City Hall.
  • Farm to school can connect all students to healthy, local food: Many of our nation’s children eat two of their meals at school every day, so what better place to level the playing field on access to good food? Our Policy Associate, Natalie Talis, explained to the audience of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization workshop how the Farm to School Act of 2015 will expand and improve the popular USDA Farm to School Grant Program to reach more schools nationwide. And not only more schools, but also more preschools; critically important summer food service sites; after school programs; tribal schools and producers; and beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Collectively, these programs offer millions of children access to healthy, local food, irrespective of race, socioeconomic status or geographic location. Farm to school can connect all students to good food, and Congress has an opportunity to expand the programs supporting these efforts with the Farm to School Act. 
  • Farm to school supports small farmers: Student presenters from The Food Project emphasized that we need small-scale farmers in our communities to help know our food. Farmers make great food educators, and they’re also valuable contributors to local economies. Farm to school activities open the doors to an institutional market that spent an estimated $385 million on local food for schools during the 2011-2012 school year. Furthermore, farm to school facilitates farmer-community relationships, diverse markets and encourages grower cooperatives. It’s a win for farmers and the communities they help feed.

The National Farm to School Network is bound together by the vision that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential to the health of our children, farms, environment, economy and communities. It’s a vision that we believe is integral to the work of food justice. Join us

Reflections from Terra Madre 2014

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 10, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director    

Helen Dombalis, center, recently traveled to Turin, Italy to present at workshop titled "Challenges Facing the Sustainability of School Gardens."  

Today is Terra Madre Day, a day to reflect on the global Slow Food movement and to share inspiration from one of the world’s most important cultural forums. Hosted by Slow Food International, Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto bring nearly a quarter-million people (yes, you read that right!) to Turin, Italy every-other year in October to celebrate and preserve food cultures around the globe. Among them are 3,000 delegates traveling from more than 100 countries—all of them connecting, learning and renewing their commitments to improving the global food system so that it works for everyone. As my fellow 2014 delegate Jim Embry of Sustainable Communities Network in Kentucky put it, “Terra Madre is where you go to recharge your batteries.”

I am honored and privileged to have been among the 247 U.S. delegates in attendance this year. On the plane from JFK to Milan, I sat with an American-born chef running a restaurant in Mexico and an orchardist from California. I met cookbook authors, fishers and visionaries. I answered questions from a Grecian olive oil producer about getting started with farm to school and, in a workshop titled “Challenges Facing the Sustainability of School Gardens,” I told attendees how state policies in the United States are advancing the school garden movement. Although I was one of the only delegates with “policy” in my job title, I realized that I was among a big family of people with policy at their core, advocates for what Slow Food calls good, clean and fair food.

Helen listens to a presentation at Slow Food International's Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy. 

Here are a few of the ideas that really impacted me:

Good food brings people together. As I found, you can sit at a table with seven people who speak different languages and laugh harder than you’ve laughed in a long time over the shared joy of a lemon and almond cookie. Or appreciate your family history through traditions like dad’s grilled barbeque chicken with corn and lima beans, and mom’s sour cream cornbread. As I walked towards the Ugandan booth where small, ripe bananas were displayed, a flood of happy memories came to me: I’d eaten so many of those bananas during my summer in Uganda in 2007. Now my work helps to ensure that kids across the United States have access to experiential education, like school gardens, so they can have memorable, community-building food experiences of their own. 

Clean food preserves natural resources. From tasting organic chocolate to listening in on Slow Fish conversations about the state of the world’s oceans, the concept of clean food was ever-present at the gathering. The Ark of Taste - a signature of this year’s gathering - reminded attendees that loss of biodiversity of foods is real.

Fair food advances food access. Slow Food International’s 10,000 Food Gardens in Africa initiative is a great example as it aims to increase the number of school, home and community gardens on the continent. Launched two years ago, the program has grown to include 2,000 documented gardens, and the goal is to reach 10,000 by Terra Madre 2016. With 35,000 people already involved in African garden projects, it’s exciting to think of how many more garden advocates will be activated with a quintupling of that number.

As Edie Mukiibi, VP of Slow Food International, said at a presentation about the African garden initiative, "the biggest yield of school gardens is not the food but the knowledge, motivation, hope” that gardens bring to children and families. That’s a belief we share here at the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). The benefits of farm to school are many, and kids, farmers and communities all win.

Get involved. Slow Food USA and the NFSN share many of the same values, and one of the primary areas where our work overlaps is around school gardens. Check out this guest post Slow Food USA contributed to our blog to announce the launch of their National School Garden Project in October. Their resources include a comprehensive school garden guide. Also check out NFSN’s own school garden fact sheet and explore other garden resources using the search functions on our resources pages. And if you haven’t already, please join the National Farm to School Network as we grow our partnership with Slow Food in the years ahead.

Farm to school highlighted at the F2Ti Symposium, New Orleans

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 04, 2014

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

Last month, I attended the 2nd Farm to Table International (F2Ti) Symposium in New Orleans. Farm to school was very well represented at this event and was a topic of great interest among attendees.

Katie Mularz, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) Louisiana State Lead kicked off a Statewide Farm to School Summit of stakeholders to strategize and plan the collaborative work that lies ahead to support robust farm to school activities in Louisiana. The high level of engagement of this group was impressive – they were thinking big about statewide legislative support for farm to school, but planning for baby steps towards it, such as populating a Louisiana Farm to School website to share best practices and promote networking, encouraging state agencies to have a unified voice with regards to farm to school, and perhaps hosting an in-person gathering twice a year to supplement the monthly calls that Katie hosts already. To stay connected with farm to school in Louisiana, contact Katie Mularz.

I had the opportunity to present at a plenary session, during which I highlighted the history, evolution and bright future of farm to school in the US, touching on the importance of local, state and national policy to raise the value placed on school meal programs.  

Through an informational workshop, Katie Mularz and Pam Kingfisher (NFSN’s South Regional Lead Agent ) described efforts at the state and regional levels, including work in tribal nations, and guided participants to resources in the region. Nicole Zammit, USDA Farm to School Southwest Regional Lead, shared the agency’s involvement and commitment to farm to school, with specific resources, grants and guidance on how to overcome challenges. Leesa Carter from the Captain Planet Foundation rounded off the discussion with best practices and lessons from their Learning Gardens program, which offers a curriculum kit, mobile, cooking carts, garden signs and guidance to elementary schools. This local initiative with schools in Atlanta, GA and Ventura, CA is going national this fall: Schools across the country will be able to apply to access these resources from Captain Planet Foundation. Stay tuned for more information on their website.

The local media was supportive of farm to school efforts too – check out this report from the TV show This Week in Louisiana Agriculture.

Also at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Kid Chef Eliana – author, radio show host and a local food personality, sharing her passion for real food. With the younger generation’s leaders like Eliana involved, the future of farm to school in Louisiana is bright.

FoodTalks: Stories of motivation and change from FoodCorps service members

NFSN Staff Thursday, June 12, 2014

FoodCorps, a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders that brings farm to school in 15 states around the country, convened in Austin, Texas in April as part of NFSN's National Farm to Cafeteria Conference. At the conference they shared FoodTalks, an evening of stories about farm to school in action. Seven service members and one alum speaker gave short, engrossing talks about what motivates them to serve, and how they know they are succeeding.

When Stephanie finished culinary school, the only career path she imagined was one in restaurants. After a year of FoodCorps service in Arizona with Tohono O'odham Community Action, she realized there were opportunities to do great and rewarding work in the world of school food. She also realized that school cooks are "rock stars. This is her story: 

FoodCorps will be adding more of the talks to their YouTube channel in the coming weeks. Subscribe to stay in the loop!

Conference recap: Advocating for change

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 17, 2014

The National Farm to School Networks' Farm to Cafeteria Conference continued on Thursday with the local plenary session. The Sustainable Food Center, the local host for the conference, organized a great series of speakers including Texas State Representative and founder of the Texas House Farm to Table Caucus, Eddie Rodriguez; South West Workers Union representative Diana Lopez; former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Jim Hightower; and noted food and nutrition journalist, Toni Tippton-Martin.

If there was a theme that ran through the morning's presentations it was a call for advocacy. Whether to our elected representatives, to our neighbors or for often-overlooked parts of our communities, each of the speakers focused on the importance of speaking up.  Jim Hightower observed that "you don't make progress by standing guard" and he issued the following challenge:

  • Get your legislature to establish a farm to school caucus.
  • Speak from the values that inform our work: economic justice and opportunity for all. 
  • Go with your boldest agenda and negotiate from there.
  • Be respectful, but make sure all of your representatives know your name.
  • Establish a speakers bureau and go speak everywhere that will give you the floor.

As the day progressed, people began speaking up. First they spoke up about what they wanted to discuss in the open space session. A wide range of important topics were raised and attendees jumped into self-organized meetings to make plans for future efforts.


Next, the crowd voted with their dollars at an array of Austin food trucks -- small businesses with a reputation for disrupting entrenched food systems.


At the lighting talks and the poster and share fair, the group mixed and mingled with a wide range of partners and collaborators, all with something to contribute to our goal of food justice for all.


And finally, a version of the speaker's bureau that was called for in the morning came into being that night as a few of FoodCorp's service members took the stage for FoodTalks -- stories about food, food systems and the difference our movement is making.

Jim Hightower's closing thought from the morning session was about perseverance. He pointed out that the founders of the suffrage movement did not live to see their goal achieved. Like growing good food, change takes time, but we live in a very different world than did the suffragists. #PoweringUp has already reached an audience far beyond Austin. If we keep using our chorus of savvy, inspiring voices, the change we seek will come, and soon.

Conference recap: Connecting the farm to cafeteria movement

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The National Farm to Cafeteria Conference began officially on Wednesday morning with a performance by the Great Promise for American Indians Drumming Group.

Then Anupima Joshi, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the National Farm to School Network welcomed the packed room, reflecting on the incredible progress the movement has made.  Our movement has benefited more than 21 million kids - and counting.


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Jim Hightower the former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture was next on stage with a hilarious and inspiring speech.  He acknowledged the assembled crowd for their incredible achievements and challenged them to keep up the good work, and to be sure to take their efforts to policy makers across the country.


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The next speakers presented on the farm to cafeteria movement in preschools, in hospitals, in colleges and even in neighboring countries.  The conversation in the room was also broadcast on social media through an small army of social media amplifiers, all using the hashtag #PoweringUp.

After lunch, the group broke into a series of small sessions on a wide range of topics.  The opportunity to come together, to learn together, and to plan together for the next steps for programs across the country created a buzz that reverberated thought the halls as people connected with each other.  They shared stories and ideas, reported successes and challenges, and were inspired to persevere and raise the bar as they look to the year ahead.

As the evening came, an impromptu parade spilled out of the hotel and moved westward through the heart of Austin toward one of its most prominent landmarks, the flagship Whole Foods Market.  It was there, on the roof, that the connecting and collaborating continued as the sun disappeared.  

During his speech that morning, Jim Hightower quipped about a hardware store that was known for its customer service.  He joked that their motto was "Together, we can do it yourself".  In our movement, it is often the dedication of a committed individual that sparks change.  It can sometimes be lonely, but after today, the people #PoweringUp in Austin are clear about at least one thing: They are not alone.


Conference recap: Farm to cafeteria in Austin

NFSN Staff Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The National Farm to School Network is hosting the 2014 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, Texas and on Tuesday, April 15th, hundreds of leaders in the farm to cafeteria movement fanned out across the city to learn about all of the incredible work that has transformed Austin over the past decade.

One of the field trips explored how partnerships build community food system power.

Farm to School in Austin 

The group traveled by bus to the first of four stops on the field trip: Dell Children's Medical Center.  Kristi Katz Gordy, Sr. Director of Development, lead one of the groups on a tour of the LEED Platinum building and the extensive gardens and grounds.  One interesting fact is that Dell Children's was built on the site of the old Austin airport, and 47 tons of concrete from the old runways was reclaimed and re-purposed for the building.


Rusty Lynch is the chef for Dell Children's and he was ready for the visitors with delicious tomato mozzarella, basil, pesto skewers.  Rusty partners with local farms like Green Gate Farms, Boggy Creek Farm, and Johnson's Backyard Garden to source 30 - 60% of his produce depending on the season.  Once each quarter, he turns his cafeteria into a farmers' market where he sells produce to patients and their families at cost.

When asked why he places such a priority on partnering with local farmers, Rusty quickly cites a number of sustainability and economic benefits, but adds a quip about freshness too: "The food just tastes better".  He also mentions that contrary to popular belief, the local produce doesn't necessarily cost more: "The chicken and eggs are the same price".


Walking away from the cafeteria, the group was impressed, but also struck by Rusty's attitude.  For him, this is not a big deal - it just makes sense.  As Brooke Gannon from Winooski, VT remarked: "Food is medicine". 

The visit concluded with a presentation from Dr. Stephen J. Pont discussing the connection between gardening, environmentalism and reducing childhood obesity. Dr. Pont will also be presenting on that topic at our conference later this week.


The next stop was Urban Roots, a youth development farm based on the model established by The Food Project in Boston.  Urban Roots operates a small 3.5 acre farm by hiring urban kids between the ages of 14 and 17 to do the farming with the guidance of a small staff lead by Max Elliott, who was on hand during the tour. 


Urban Roots partners with a number of local organizations to provide food for people in need.  Meals on Wheels and More is one such organization and Seanna Marceaux was also present to speak about the difference the partnership with Urban Roots makes for the roughly 2,000 home-bound people in Austin who depend on her services.

Max mentioned the importance of finding the right partner to receive the produce.  He said "It's hard to grow food in Central Texas, so we want to make sure that what we grow gets used well."

As the farm tour continued, Max said that he has the youth who work on the farm deliver produce personally to people in need.  He said that it establishes a deep connection between the food producer and the food consumer that helps the youth to persevere in the fields through the hot Austin summer - they know exactly why they are there.

As the tour ended, Max mentioned that there is an old saying that the best fertilizer is a farmer's footsteps.  He thanked the group saying that since we had come from all over the country and had walked through his farm, that we had done much to fertilize his fields and help his program.  That sentiment struck a chord.

Carly Chapel came to Austin from New Jersey, and Darlene Beach came from Ft. Apache Arizona and they found themselves engaged in conversation at Urban Roots.  There was a feeling among the attendees that by walking these fields, halls and paths together, this gathering was fertilizing ideas and connections that would help everyone to grow. 


A trip to Austin would not be complete without connecting with the University of Texas.  It was time for lunch and Steve Barke, the Chef for Kinsgiving Dining, gave the group a quick run-down of UT's gardens and its inspiring commitment to composting before inviting us to enjoy everything his dining hall had to offer.

Steve and the UT Dining Services crew even prepared a special dish with greens from the garden.  Couscous and red quinoa with a refreshing mixture of herbs.  Steve said "As a chef, one of the best tools to have on hand is a garden."

 Next, it was off to UT Elementary (home of the Little Longhorns) where Bob Knipe and chef Mario told the story of how this demonstration school came to be a leader in the Farm to School movement. 

"There was a conflict between what was being taught [in nutrition] and what was being served," Bob said. To address the problem, the school stopped looking at incremental changes and dreamed big.  Through dozens of partnerships and generous support from St. David's Foundation, the EduKitchen was born.  It is a tool to completely integrate diet and nutrition into the curriculum.  Parents were brought on board with the new menu by participating in 'Happy Kitchen' programs in the EduKitchen that changed how they saw themselves and put them in control of their diet and wellness.

UT Elementary has gardens as well, and procures as much local produce as they can.  In many ways, it is a model Farm to School Program, incorporating school gardens with local procurement, and a robust curriculum that takes full advantage of 'lunch time' as a great opportunity for additional learning during the school day.

With that, the field trip was over and the group returned to the hotel to share stories and learning with all of the other groups that had embarked on different, but similarly rich experiences in Austin.


The Sustainable Food Center, one of Austin's most notable local food organizations, and the local sponsor for the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, hosted a beautiful outdoor pig roast dinner to round out the day on Tuesday.  More learning, training and networking are ahead as the formal conference kicks off on Wednesday.

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