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Healthy Habits Take Root

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest post by Deborah Kane, National Director, USDA Farm to School Program


Everyone’s a star during National Farm to School Month. In fact, the spotlight shines brightly on the National Farm to School Network itself. Without the Network and its role in building a coalition in support of healthy kids and local food, there wouldn’t be a USDA Farm to School Program. But because there is, today USDA is charged with providing training and technical assistance to school districts all across the country to help them transform school food and create a healthier next generation.

Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics --  how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our Fact Sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planningmarketing and more.


USDA also supports farm to school programs by distributing up to $5 million annually in grants, and there we get to shine the spotlight on some fantastic projects. New this year USDA is offering grants that support farm to school events and trainings. In Alaska, the Southeast Conference will use funds to host a statewide gathering connecting school food buyers with local producers with an emphasis on culturally appropriate local foods, including seafood and traditional Native foods; while in New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension will host five regional trainings on agriculture-based curriculum for educators across the state. In the Mid-Atlantic, the Virginia Department of Agriculture will host a statewide farm to school conference and use it as a forum to establish a peer-to-peer mentoring program for school food service directors.


Beyond grants for events, other USDA Farm to School grantees have been implementing all sorts of exciting projects to bring the farm to school. See for yourself; in celebration of National Farm to School Month, we’re excited to announce a five-part video series featuring testimonials from more than 30 USDA Farm to School grantees.  

“We’re actually seeing our farmers have hope. The farm to school program allows them to see an opportunity for a sustainable living for themselves and their families,” says Daaiyah Salaam from the Southwest Georgia Project in a video on the impacts of farm to school programs.

According to USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census, 44 percent of school districts across the country were operating farm to school programs as of the 2012-2013 school year and another 13 percent had plans to start in the future. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country.  In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased over $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. 

So hats off to the National Farm to School Network and its myriad members who sought to institutionalize farm to school at the Federal level. I’d say it was a job well done.

Editor’s Note: A new video will be released each week throughout the month of October. Access the complete series here. To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for our Farm to School E-letter


Farm to School taking root in Indian Country

NFSN Staff Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest post by Alena Paisano, Farm to Table New Mexico

Farm to Table New Mexico serves as the Southwest Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 


Randy Chatto 

Randy Chatto from the community of Ramah, New Mexico has been working with a team of community members on the “Empowering Ramah Navajos to Eat Healthy” project (ERNEH) for more than two years. This project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is the first step in developing a community-wide effort to grow fresh food for community families and the school.

The goal of the ERNEH project is to provide fresh and locally grown food for community families and for students and staff with the K-12 Pine Hill School. The food that is being brought to the school and used in meals and celebrations are traditional Navajo foods such as Navajo gray Hubbard squash, Navajo yellow corn, and blue corn. There are now over 50 family gardens spread across the community that provide local, fresh and traditional healthy foods.  

Randy has undoubtedly been a leader in the project: He designed the small grow boxes that use gravity-fed irrigation systems, went door-to-door to get people on board,  and even supports each individual garden with education and training. Randy is also working with external partners such as the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to share best practices with other Native groups and help build project sustainability. He attended the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this past April as a participant in NFSN's Native Nations convening and will continue to work with regional partners throughout this year.

The Ramah Navajo community is a very isolated, rural, desert-like community that lacks sufficient good growing soil and adequate precipitation to easily grow fresh vegetables and fruits. Another challenge Randy sees is that folks have had to learn how to garden again, as they used to, instead of relying solely on retail markets that are 50-60 miles away.

At its core, ERNEH is about community transformation - working with young children, families and elders to revitalize a local and traditional food system for the Ramah Navajo people. 

AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. RANDY CHATTO (2012)

What’s your favorite thing about being involved in your traditional foods project?      
Being a part of history: “Traditional foods” is probably one of the most important elements in any Native American/Alaskan Native’s culture. In that culture there is someone keeping that practice moving forward, keeping it alive through sowing, hunting, gathering, reaping and harvesting. You are a key component to keeping your land and your people healthy, informed, encouraged and appreciated. I feel very fortunate and blessed to know that I, in some way, am helping my people.

How has this project impacted your community?  
Many of our community members are excited to take part in a program that encourages them to plant, harvest and prepare their own traditional plant foods. Many of our families and even departments within our organization are beginning to eat healthy as they are seeing and realizing the significance of the re-introduction of family gardens, community gardens and dry land farming.   

What are your plans to sustain this project?  
This project is not a temporary spark for this community but a lifestyle deeply rooted in our Diné culture. We must continue this effort to eat healthy and keep moving. We must all lend a hand and be part of a voice in keeping our people healthy. We are our own resource, and we need to continue to tap into it. The spirit of self sufficiency has always been with us but we have to carry on that community action. It’s about raising champions in every facet of our peoples’ lives: in body, in mind and in spirit!    

October 10 is Farm to School Salad Bar Day!

NFSN Staff Friday, October 10, 2014

Guest post on behalf of Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools by Diane Harris, PhD MPH Health Scientist, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is celebrating National Farm to School Month in October. Since its launch in 2010, Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools has delivered more than 3,500 salad bars to schools.  School districts all over the country use salad bars to showcase locally grown, farm-fresh produce as part of farm to school programs. Schools often find that students choose more fruits and vegetables when products are fresh, locally grown, and picked at the peak of their flavor. Kids’ choices are reinforced with educational activities in the cafeteria, classroom, and community. A beautifully stocked salad bar with a rainbow of local fruits and vegetables highlighting farmers and the farms where the products are grown adds to students’ enthusiasm to make healthier choices.

Here are some examples of how salad bars donated by Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools are contributing to farm to school programs:  

  • North Powder Charter School in North Powder, Oregon, works with Oregon Farm to School and Food Corps to promote Harvest of the Month on their salad bars. Parents are encouraged to have lunch with their children and are kept informed of the monthly highlighted product via flyers with recipes and games.  
  • Marlington Local School District in Alliance, Ohio, is working with local farmers through a farm to school grant with the Ohio Department of Education, and is showcasing these locally grown produce items to students, staff, and parents. The salad bar assists them in nutrition education and in promoting our Farm- to-School initiative. Their goal of promoting healthy eating options for all staff and students is enhanced through the use of salad bars at each school.
  • The Oxford School District in Oxford, Mississippi, received a USDA Farm-to-School Planning grant and is using it to add local fresh foods onto their menu and in their salad bars. The High School Food Club promotes their salad bar.
  • Olivet Community Schools in Olivet, Michigan, are in a rural community and have been actively involved for 5 years in the Farm-to-School program. Their Future Farmers of America chapter raises fresh greens, herbs, and strawberries in hydroponic towers in the school green house. The salad bar showcases local fresh melons, apples, peaches, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and greens in the fall of the year. Their salad bar displays these products attractively, making them more appealing and is the selling point for increased fruit and vegetable consumption.

Salad bars are a fantastic way for schools to showcase fresh, great-tasting, locally grown foods, and the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative makes it easy to get one. Any school participating in the National School Lunch Program can apply for a salad bar from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools. Check out the information on how to apply for a salad bar unit and see additional informational resources on the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools website.


Central hubs bring farms and schools together

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 09, 2014

Guest post by Will Gray, Wallace Center at Winrock International


No farm to institution relationship offers more positive benefit for local communities than farm to school. Changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and fosters a critical understanding and appreciation of agriculture among the next generation. I imagine this comes as a surprise to none of us – the National Farm to School Network has been pioneering initiatives since 2007 – but with the emergence of the childhood obesity epidemic over the last decade, it seems that fundamentally reshaping the American diet has never been more critical.

And the will to change the way our children eat is strong. Farm to school systems are evolving throughout the country, with some 44 percent of US schools serving regionally-produced vegetables to almost 24 million students. Both government and private funding opportunities continue to emerge as more states, foundations and interest groups step up and pledge support. However, in such a quickly-changing landscape, new challenges emerge alongside successes. One such challenge is the growing need for regional food system infrastructure that can support expansion in farm to school supply chains.

Farm to school relationships are complex, to say the least. Farmers work to plan production in order to meet the consistency and quantity requirements of a larger buyer, while school foodservice employees manage multiple deliveries and vendor relationships while prepping and serving meals. State and national regulatory requirements must be met; food safety certifications secured and audited; processing needs identified; education and outreach initiatives established. All the while, the bottom line looms, as market forces and budget constraints apply pressure at both ends of a seemingly impossible task: supporting the development of both farmer and student simultaneously. 

For many farmers, and for many schools, the pressures are too much to handle without support. What’s missing is a central hub – a values-driven, mission-oriented organization providing many of the services historically offered by conventional broad-line distribution companies or foodservice suppliers. These regional food hubs – over 300 nationwide, with more organizing each year – actively manage the aggregation, distribution and sale of source-identified food products from local and regional producers, increasing each partner farm’s capacity to access and satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.

Food hubs are as diverse as the producers and the markets they serve. Some are for-profit, some non-profit, some are lean start-ups, while others are well-established and have operated for years. Some provide processing and value-adding services, food safety training and certification, and marketing and branding services, while others simply aggregate and distribute. While size, services, and legal status vary according to regional need and organizational vision, a few defining characteristics emerge across the industry, most notably a triple bottom line commitment to positive economic, social and environmental impacts within their respective communities and a focus on increased food access, equity and community development.  

Food hubs play a valuable role in the farm to school supply chain – perhaps a critical role, as further development of farm to school initiatives creates more and more need for local food consistency, quality control, food safety assurance, and school-friendly processing. With a diverse population of farmers, academics, politicians, and business entrepreneurs dedicating themselves to the common goal of food system improvement, the Wallace Center is working to link together local activities into regional initiatives and finally into national impact. By building partnerships with support organizations like the National Farm to School Network and School Food Focus, government agencies like the USDA, universities and extension agencies, and for- and non-profit producers, food hubs and other Good Food businesses around the country, Wallace Center is able to provide research, technical assistance, and other support initiatives to hundreds of organizations and thousands of producers across the United States.

As farm to school continues to expand, building on years of tireless advocacy, organization and on-the-ground implementation, Wallace Center will continue to capture and communicate the challenges, successes, and lessons learned along the way. Our own hub, The National Good Food Network, is a hub of information where we aggregate, distribute and market best practices, business development tools, case studies and industry benchmarks from our own research and that of partner organizations all over the country. As a hub, we too strive to provide the strong infrastructure necessary to support Good Food expansion. Through collaboration and communication, we build the capacity of our partners in pursuit of our common goal: feeding better food to more people.


The Wallace Center at Winrock International facilitates regional, collaborative efforts to move Good Food – healthy, green, fair, affordable food – beyond direct-marketing and into wholesale markets to expand the impact of regional food systems. We believe this work increases the viability of small and medium-scale growers, adds economic vitality to both rural and urban areas, and reaches families in their schools, communities, and homes.

The people factor: Funding farm to school

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest post by Gary Matteson, The Farm Credit System 


Linking local farms and schools is about building a network of supply and demand. That sounds like a terribly sterile economics class lecture until you insert the “people” factor into it. Where farm to school is concerned, the people are kids, who are empowered to make better food choices and learn where their food comes from, and farmers, who are able to expand their market.

The long-term effect of farm to school is yet to be seen, but I speculate that getting local food into schools is a powerful way to maintain local communities. This applies both to supporting farm businesses that keep economic activity circulating in the region as well as the mindset of kids who grow up knowing that some of their food is local—and maybe even that a career in farming is something to pursue.

Farm Credit lends money to farmers so that they can operate successful businesses. Part of being a successful farm business is finding a place to sell what you grow. Farm to school increases access to markets for farmers and educates the community in the richness of having local food from local farms.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Farm Credit supports farm to school, since farm to school also helps farmers. But it may be a surprise that Farm Credit does this in different ways, in all sorts of communities. 

Here in Washington, DC, the Farm Credit organization known as CoBank gave two refrigerated trucks to the DC Central Kitchen. The trucks travel to auctions where local farmers sell their fruits and vegetables.  Those fruits and vegetables become part of the 2,500 meals provided daily to eight DC public and two private schools.  Another portion of what those trucks carry is taken to small “bodega” corner stores in communities where access to fresh produce is limited.  And, finally, those trucks carry some of the 5,000 meals a day that DC Central Kitchen prepares for the city’s homeless population.

In New Hampshire, Farm Credit East sponsored the second annual New Hampshire Farm to School conference, which brought together farmers, fishermen, teachers, school food service directors, non-profits and others to look at school gardens, composting, fundraising, institutional procurement, opportunities for new and beginner farmers, communications, and farm-based education and curricula.

 The Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit sponsored the Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year Contest.  The winners were chosen from Arkansas schools, grades pre-K through 12, that had a school garden open during the 2013-14 school year.

These examples from around the country are all local efforts, aimed at improving local communities.  Farm Credit seeks to build public understanding of agriculture in many ways, and it often involves making connections between farms and schools.  Supporting farm to school programs is our way of keeping the “people” factor in mind, so that school kids, teachers, farmers and others can share knowledge, eat better and benefit the local economy at a scale that communities can absorb and learn from.

Gary Matteson works for the trade organization of the Farm Credit System in Washington, DC as Vice President, Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach. A former farmer and agricultural entrepreneur, he now works in local foods and emerging markets.

Kids Find a Chef in their Garden, Learn to Pickle Beets – And Love It!

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Guest post by Dean Zatkowsky, Orfalea Foundation

Outdoor learning, fresh produce, and happy kids.

This past school year, Orfalea Foundation Chef Instructor Janet Stevenson and Explore Ecology Environmental Educator Maggie Iba offered a Chef in the Garden session at Aliso Elementary School in Carpinteria, California. The Orfalea Foundation’s School Food Initiative installed or enhanced 35 school gardens throughout Santa Barbara County in an effort to connect children with how food is grown and encourage them to accept healthy food choices. The same Chef Instructors who empower food service personnel at Culinary Boot Camp visit each garden twice per school year to share their knowledge of seasonality, cooking tips and their conviction that healthy food can taste great.

In this Chef in the Garden session, children learned about food systems and the way food is grown, processed, transported, retailed and consumed. They also harvested beets from their school garden and watched with fascination as Janet and Maggie showed them how to pickle the beets they had just pulled out of the ground.

Students harvest beets under the supervision of Environmental Educator Maggie Iba.

Here’s what most impressed this visitor at the event: When the children were allowed to sample pickled beets, they jumped at the chance and even asked for seconds. Now, I don’t know about you, but I was a picky eater as a kid, and even the words “pickled beets” would have grossed me out. But, Janet and Maggie did such a great job showing the kids how to make a delicious snack from a plant growing in their own garden that the kids were enthralled and enthusiastic.

Participation – and the example set by adults around them – makes a big difference in a child’s receptivity to new foods. The Chef in the Garden program involves the kids and demystifies where real food comes from, opening their minds – and palates – to new food experiences. There are many good reasons to build gardens in schools and yards, but helping children make healthier food choices throughout their lives is at the top of my list. And if any of you are picky-eater adults, remember to set a good example by trying new foods with your kids.

The Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative Chef in the Garden curriculum is available here.

Students investigate the pickling ingredients.


Policy Advocacy Encourages Farm to School Growth

NFSN Staff Monday, October 06, 2014

Guest post by Deb Bentzel, The Food Trust 
The Food Trust serves as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

Students enjoy local strawberries. (Office of the State Superintendent of Education photo)

In the farm to school movement, policy tends to be a relatively silent partner to the work many stakeholders are doing on the ground. How does policy get put into place, and how can we rally our local and state decision-makers to support farm to school practices in meaningful ways? We can start by telling stories of where policy in action is making a difference for children, school communities, farmers, and locally owned businesses.

The Mid-Atlantic Region—comprised of New Jersey, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia – has many stories of how farm to school policy has changed the face of school meals, the expansion of school gardening and the funding of these and other initiatives to create lasting, meaningful change for schools and their communities. Here, are two stories of farm to school success—from policy, to practice, to results.

D.C.'s Healthy Schools Act and Healthy Tots Act

The Healthy Schools Act and the Healthy Tots Act of Washington DC are shining examples of how farm to school and child nutrition advocates can work together to support the passage of landmark bills that support healthy food and physical activity environments for children. They are also great examples of how a special emphasis on farm to school and farm to preschool practices can be integrated into broader child wellness policies. Passed in 2010, the Healthy Schools Act expands access to breakfast and lunch, encourages farm to school purchasing practices by providing financial incentives for local procurement (5 cents additional reimbursement for meals containing locally grown foods!), provides grants to fund school garden programs and farm field trips, and has a number of health and wellness components. With ample support from the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools (OSSE) and other local partners, kids across DC are eating healthy, locally-grown foods. In the 2012-2013 schools year, up to 89 percent of DC schools served healthy, local foods to students at least once per month! That’s policy in action. 

It has taken the collective and collaborative work of many partners on the ground—including DC Greens, the National Farm to School Netwok’s (NFSN) state lead for the District of Columbia—to support the passage of both acts and to translate their policy into lasting systems change. DC Greens’ Farm to School director Karissa McCarthy reflects, “The legislation has helped elevate the ongoing work of farm to school practitioners in classrooms, cafeterias and school gardens. We are lucky in DC to have a long-standing stakeholder group that not only championed this legislation, but has continued to carry our collective farm to school efforts forward.”  The recently legislated Healthy Tots Act will support farm to preschool practices utilizing strategies similar to the Healthy Schools Act, including financial incentives for local procurement. We look forward to the development of these preschool programs and to celebrating the great work our nation’s capital is doing to support the health of their youngest eaters!

Student at Ethel Jacobsen Elementary School (Surf City, NJ) work in their school garden. (New Jersey Farm to School photo) 

Five new bills support farm to school in New Jersey

Elsewhere in the region, the great Garden State of New Jersey recently signed five farm to school bills into law that will encourage farm to school practices across the state by supporting both schools and the Jersey Fresh growers. Designed to promote, celebrate and help fund farm to school practices, these innovative bills were the result of years of advocacy and support for farm to school. Championed by the New Jersey Farm to School Network, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Farm Bureau, these new bills are exciting in their fresh approach to connecting schools with NJ-grown foods and their focus on celebrating the great work of those making farm to school happen on the ground. New Jersey Farm to School Network executive director and NFSN State Lead, Beth Feehan, thanked all stakeholders “for their willingness to collaborate these past six years and to find the place where grass roots and institutions can meet to affect change.” And New Jersey isn't the only Mid-Atlantic state with farm to school policy success: Virginia, Maryland and Delaware each celebrate their own “Farm to School Week” thanks to legislative support.

Policy success in YOUR state

How can you get involved in affecting policy change to support farm to school practices in your city or state?  Start by reaching out to your farm to school stakeholders (including your NFSN state lead) to hear the latest about what may already be in discussion, on the docket or in committee. From there, you can testify to your state legislature, write letters of support and educate your elected officials about the benefits of farm to school. You can also participate in NFSN informational webinars to learn more about federal policies like the Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Reauthorization and how federal policy can also support our farmers, schools and communities for years to come.   

More information on farm to school policies across the country can be found in this comprehensive State Legislative Survey assembled by NFSN and Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

In celebration of farmers

NFSN Staff Friday, October 03, 2014

Guest post by Kathie Starkweather, Center for Rural Affairs
Center for Rural Affairs and the National Center for Appropriate Technology serve as the Midwest Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Farm to School Month than to honor the reason farm to school exists: Farmers.

Anybody out there who has tried to grow food in a pot, a small garden, vertically, horizontally … you name it, you know what a challenge it can be. Pests gravitate to your lovely plants. Weather conditions are rarely perfect: too much heat, too much rain, not enough rain, not enough heat…. Growing food isn’t easy. 

So what gets you through all of trials and frustrations? Love and enjoyment for what you are doing. The sense of accomplishment you feel as you see your plants grow, flower and produce. The amazing taste and color of the foods you’ve toiled over. Providing for your family. 

Most of us raise food as a hobby. If we have a hailstorm or a drought, we are disappointed and frustrated, but it doesn’t impact our income or our family very much. You might miss out on the pleasure of eating fresh peas right off the vine, but if you have a farmers’ market in your area, you can find a farmer who is selling them.

Take that love of growing things and eating good food and all those challenges and risks, multiply them many times, and you have a farmer. I want to tell you about three farmers I know and why they do what they do: 

Darlin' Reds Farm

I know two young women who started a small vegetable farm called Darlin' Reds. They both have off-farm jobs, as many farmers and farm families do in order to get by. And while they are fortunate to do work they enjoy in their off-farm jobs, their true passion is growing food and providing it to people like you and me. 

They want children, some of whom have never tasted a fresh vegetable, to eat their tasty squash, peppers and carrots. They want kids to know where their food comes from and that the veggies on their lunch tray come with a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears and love. 

So they toil in 110-degree weather, making sure their plants are okay. Since they farm organically, they pull weeds instead of spraying them. They invest in their farm by adding season-extending hoop houses so they can provide schools with a few more months of fresh vegetables.

It’s hard work, but they think it is worth it if just one more child can experience the taste of a fresh green bean or learn that asparagus tastes pretty darned good. 

Prairie Pride Poultry

A young farmer-veteran I know named Dan raises chickens and sells eggs. He first connected to the land through his grandparent’s farm. Prairie Pride Poultry was started about a year and a half ago, and today has over 500 chickens. Visit his farm and you’ll find those 500 chickens clucking through greening grass and clambering for bugs. With over 450 eggs collected every day, he is pleased and expanding his markets. In the fall of 2013, Dan sought out the food service director at York Public Schools, which is close to his farm. As both of them tell the story, a mutually beneficial relationship began.

The food service director recognized that pasture-raised birds produce healthier eggs. Providing the best food to students was important to her. It has become a great partnership, not only for the students and Dan but also for the teachers and office staff who are now buying eggs from Prairie Pride Poultry.

I write this blog post to celebrate farmers and thank them for what they do. Without them we would have no farm to school program, and we would have no access to fresh, healthy food. 

See if you can find a farmer and thank him or her today in honor of National Farm to School Month. And next time there is a 110-degree day or a month-long drought, remember how lucky you are that somebody is out there, growing food for you and making sure our kids have the best possible food on their cafeteria trays. 

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