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Hmong farmers bring healthy food and cultural diversity to little eaters

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 18, 2016
By Emily Pence, Communications Specialist, Hmong American Farmers Association


Photo credit: Mike Hazard
Local farmers are a critical component of successful local food systems. In Minnesota, Hmong American farmers occupy an especially unique place in the efforts to feed local communities local food. In the 1970s, Hmong refugees began resettling in Minnesota from Laos and Thailand as political refugees after the Vietnam War. Many of the resettled families relied on their agricultural heritage to make a living in their new communities, growing produce and flowers for local farmers markets.

By the late 1980s, Hmong farmers had revitalized the Saint Paul and Minneapolis farmers markets and transformed Minnesotan taste buds for Thai chili peppers and Chinese bok choy. They provided a steady stream of fresh produce that fueled the exponential growth of farmers markets into the state’s suburban communities and urban corridors, and greatly increased the supply of nutritious, affordable food available to families. Today, Hmong American farmers are leading the Twin Cities local food economy, making up more than 50 percent of all farmers that sell at metropolitan farmers markets. 

In 2011, a group of Hmong American farming families formed the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). We believe that the best people to support Hmong farmers are Hmong farmers themselves, and that we are all lifted up when those who are affected by an unfair food system lead the change we seek. We formed with a mission to advance the prosperity of Hmong American farmers through cooperative endeavors, capacity building and advocacy. As part of an integrated approach to community wealth building, HAFA manages a 155-acre farm in Dakota County where member families can lease land, hone their business and agricultural practices, and sell produce to the HAFA Food Hub. The HAFA Food Hub aggregates and sells members’ produce through community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, schools, retailers and institutions.

With growing recognition amongst stakeholders of the importance of connecting young children to healthy, local food, early care and education settings emerged as an important and beneficial market opportunity. Since 2014, HAFA has sold broccoli, beets, carrots and more to the Ramsey County Head Start program to serve to its children during mealtimes. In addition to providing fresh, local produce, HAFA has partnered with the Head Start program to provide educational opportunities and activities to engage its young students, teachers, food workers and parents around eating healthy food. 

This partnership started when the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) approached Ramsey County Head Start about starting a Farm to Child Care Project. IATP wanted to focus on cultural relevance in early care and education food programs, which is important because Ramsey County Head Start is incredibly diverse, with over 25 different cultures and 34 different languages represented.  Their desire to provide culturally appropriate food prompted IATP and Head Start to reach out to HAFA. They also partnered with Russ Davis Processing and CKC Good Food to help bring healthy, local food to their young eaters. 

Here is how produce gets from the farm to the students: HAFA farmers grow fresh produce, which is harvested, washed, sorted and packaged on the farm. We then deliver the produce to Russ Davis Processing, which will peel, cut and process the produce. After the processing, the produce is sent to CKC Good Food, a woman-run, locally owned catering company. CKC creates a menu around the fresh produce, manages the kitchen and delivers the prepared meals to the Head State locations. The final result is young children enjoying fresh, healthy and locally grown food in their meals and snacks!

Not only does the partnership with HAFA allow students to become closer to their food, it also allows them to experience Hmong culture. More than 250 preschoolers visit the HAFA Farm annually, where they see first hand how food is grown. When students visit in the fall, they also participate in a traditional celebration of Hmong New Year. They try on traditional clothes, play New Year games and learn about why the holiday is an important part of the harvest season. 
Importantly, HAFA’s partnership with Head Start greatly benefits the HAFA farmers themselves. Whereas selling produce at farmers market can sometimes be unpredictable, wholesale partnerships, such as HAFA’s partnership with Head Start, provides farmers with increased stability and profits for their families. The amount of produce HAFA farmers are able to sell to Ramsey County Head Start is the equivalent to an entire summer’s worth of selling at farmers markets!

In the past two years, we have seen amazing results from this partnership, which have been revolutionizing the food system. Hmong students feel more represented and included at school; students, staff and parents feel more connected to their community; and kids report loving lunch! Pakou Hang, HAFA’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, says, “Through this partnership, we see that we are moving our communities forward, through celebrating and incorporating cultural learning, promoting and supporting diverse role models and inviting students, parents and teachers to be allies in the celebration.” 



Helping more farmers bring farm to school

NFSN Staff Monday, October 17, 2016
By Lindsey Lusher Shute and Eric Hansen on behalf of the National Young Farmers Coalition


Farmer Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce (Courtesy of National Young Farmers Coalition)
For the past five years, young farmer Mike Nolan of Mountain Roots Produce has been selling his vegetables to the biggest restaurant in Durango, Colo., and pleasing the smallest customers. While the term “restaurant” might be a stretch, Durango’s 9-R school district serves over 2,000 meals a day, and thanks to Nolan, students munch on locally grown potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas and winter squash. This farm to school program is a huge opportunity for a farmer like Nolan, who can sell between 500 and 2,000 pounds of potatoes, for example, in a single transaction with the school district. The school district is a stable, high-volume market for him, and it’s a rewarding place to sell his produce. Not only does Nolan feel he is contributing to food system change, but those same students eating his vegetables recognize him as an invaluable part of the Durango community.
Multiple benefits come out of farm to school programs: they put more fresh fruits and vegetables into school meals, teach children where food comes from, inspire students to eat healthier and support local farm economies. From the farmer perspective, institutional buyers, like schools, represent an important piece of the local food system. Institutions provide farmers access to larger, more stable markets that require less one-on-one consumer contact than CSAs and farmers’ markets. 

Both schools and farmers benefit when schools procure local food, but a ready supply of farmers is needed to help the farm to school movement grow. And the capacity of local farmers to support farm to school programs remains a critical challenge. The ability of local farmers to meet farm to school demand extends beyond just seeds in the ground or tomatoes on the vine. Institutional markets, like schools, sometimes have additional requirements for farmers that farmers markets and other, smaller retail channels do not. 

One of these potential additional requirements, called “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP), ensures that food is grown in a way that minimizes food safety risks. While GAP is not limited to farm to institution procurement (USDA, as well as many wholesalers require GAP certification, too), it can be a factor for some farmers looking to scale up their farms and access institutional markets. Ensuring the safety of food served in our schools, hospitals, and other large institutions is of course important, however, these  additional requirements can create unforeseen hurdles for some farmers. The requirements vary from state to state, and sometimes from district to district. North Carolina, for example, requires GAP audits and certification for farms that supply its schools through their Farm to School Program. In Illinois, farmers who sell directly to schools are not requires to be GAP certified or audited. In other states, the decision about training and certification is made on a school or district level basis.   
If GAP comes into play, farmers can face two different costs to certification. First are the costs of recordkeeping, verification and certification necessary to demonstrate compliance. These costs can include fees associated with the audit and certification process, time needed for required paperwork and training to understand the certification program requirements. The second set of costs may be practice changes and equipment upgrades required to comply with the certification. These costs can include changes in the way food is grown and the way farming is conducted to minimize food safety risks.  
Assistance with these practice changes and certification costs provides a good opportunity to further farm to school programs and support small farmers. Farming has slim margins and uneven revenue, so some farmers can’t afford $1,000 for a GAP audit if it is required in order to access farm to school markets.  To address the costs of certification, a cost-share program between the USDA and the farmer would go a long way toward bringing certification within reach for a small farmer. 
Farm to school programs have shown their value, and supporting small farmers who are ready to scale up or diversify their market channels is a win for all. Targeted investment in cost-share and small grant programs would reduce the cost of entry into farm to school markets for some farmers. And by helping these farmers access institutional markets like schools, we can set them up for long-term success while supporting the growth of the local food movement and reaping educational and health benefits for children. 


This blog post is excerpted from 16 for 2016: 16 Education Policy Ideas for the Next President, a report authored by Bellwether Education Partners with input from the National Young Farmers Coalition and others. The National Young Farmers Coalition is a national network of farmers, ranchers, and consumers who support practices and policies that will sustain young, independent, and prosperous farmers now and in the future.


Youth for Healthy Schools

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 28, 2015
This week's Farm to School Month blogs are sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation School Food Initiative, which has empowered campus food service operations to serve fresh, healthy school meals; installed school gardens; launched food literacy programs; and assisted school districts in their aspirations to become centers of health and wellness. The Orfalea Foundation applauds the efforts of National Farm to School Network and is proud to be a sponsor of Farm to School Month. 
 Photo credit: Food Justice Collective 
Bottom photo: Ron Triggs at VEGGI Farmers' Cooperative 
By Ron Triggs, Grade 8, Edgar P Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, New Orleans

I have always lived in a food desert, meaning fresh and healthy food options are not readily available where I live. Instead, there’s a gas station corner store down the street from my house where most people buy food. At school, I want to see more fresh, healthy, culturally relevant foods in our school lunches. The New Orleans student of color population is at risk when it comes to eating nutritious and culturally relevant school meals. In Orleans Parish, an alarming 83.8% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch compared to the national average of 48.1%. And, students eligible for free or reduced-priced are disproportionately students of color - 88.1% of eligible students are Black

During the 2012-2013 school year, I and other youth organizers from Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools surveyed students, staff, and administrators in New Orleans schools about their perceptions of school food. Most students reported that school food is critical to getting them through the school day, and that they care about access to fresh, healthy and local food.

Try putting yourself in a student’s shoes. Why do you think students of color struggle to get food that is nutritious, healthy, culturally relevant and tasty in their schools? Is it just because they’re low income or there a bigger problem? I think the problem is not only about giving students access to healthy food at lunch – which is important – but is a problem directly related to our food system. 

We operate in an economy that privileges profit over people. The people who grow our food work hard for a living, but the majority of dollars generated in the food system go to those at the top – not the farmers. It’s a system that benefits corporations, not people. 

To better address the root causes of these issues – which we know affect the quality of our school meals – I joined a group called the Food Justice Collective, a collaboration between Rethink and VEGGI Farmers’ Cooperative. The Food Justice Collective is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic youth of color farming cooperative that shares the practice of collectively maintaining a farm plot as a way to unearth systems of racism and colonization that are at the root of why marginalized people lack access to healthy food, land and opportunities. Together, we’re working towards food sovereignty. 

We are engaged in farming to gain knowledge and skills to grow our own fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant food - the kind of food we are working to get in our schools. We are a ten member collective and we have invested our own money and time to make this collective work. We maintain and operate our own budget, purchase seeds and tools, and are developing relationships and an accountability structure necessary to carry out our farm plan.

In the Food Justice Collective, we practice cooperative economics: everyone works together with equal decision making power and ownership. We believe that by building a youth cooperative we can begin to rebuild a food system that guarantees money is invested within our own community, and that the quality of food available is our community is fresh, healthy, and culturally relevant. Our Food Justice Collective is a way for young farmers like myself to give my peers access the healthy food we really want. 

For us, food justice isn’t just about ending hunger or only about getting better school lunches. It’s about growing food naturally and being able to have food that is affordable, accessible and high quality. I would like to end with this Vietnamese proverb that we say at every Food Justice Collective meeting: 

An qua nho ke trong cay (in Vietnamese) 
Cuando comes fruta, recuerda quien planto el árbol (in Spanish) 
When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. 


Kids Rethink New Orleans and VEGGI Farmer’s Cooperative are partner organizations of Youth for Healthy Schools, a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color in 10 states. Youth for Healthy Schools builds youth power in organizing for healthy and fresh school meals and snacks, safe places to play and exercise, strong school food standards and wellness policies and school wellness centers. Learn more about Youth for Healthy Schools here. 

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. 

The Farmer Perspective: Championing the Farm to School Act of 2015

NFSN Staff Monday, April 27, 2015

By Alexandra Beresford, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“Farm to school is great for a community because it builds social capital around health and wellness and makes the connection between the farming community and local schools.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

Jason and Hannah Grimm display black beans grown on their Iowa farm. 

When most people think of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), they think of children. However, federal nutrition programs affect many stakeholders, including those who grow and produce the food that kids eats. That’s why the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is partnering with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to champion the Farm to School Act of 2015 – because farm to school programs can be just as much a win for farmers as they are for kids.  

NSAC supports policy reform to advance sustainable agriculture, food systems, and rural communities. Farm to school helps us achieve that goal by providing significant economic opportunities for farmers, fishers, and ranchers through an institutional market worth billions of dollars. As the farm to school movement has grown over the past decade, so has its impact on local farmers – in the 2011-2012 school year, a whopping $385 million was spent on local food.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue to strengthen this economic opportunity for farmers by improving the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The program has increased the use of and improves access to local foods in schools, boosting farmer incomes and local economies. It has also brought farmers and food service directors together in new ways, building relationships that are critical for laying the groundwork of robust local food economies. Thanks to farm to school programs, farmers are expanding their markets, building positive community relationships and increasing their incomes.

Today, NSAC and NFSN are headed to the Capitol with farm to school advocates – including farmers – from across the country to tell Congress why the Farm to School Act of 2015 is a critical component of the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Here’s what farmers are saying:

  • “Farm to school creates a local economic stimulus: I’m hiring people who spend money locally, I invest in equipment, I buy local inputs to grow the produce. Not only are kids improving their diet, with access to higher levels of nutrition in the fresh produce, but school kitchens are reducing waste. Personally, [farm to school] has given me a steady outlet to sell large volumes of product – my goal is to expand to additional schools in the Kansas City area.” —Mark Jirak, Farmer, Jirak Family Produce (Atchison, Kansas)

  • “I definitely see farm to school as an important opportunity for growth for farmers. As a farmer, I’m glad to sell to schools. I know fresh, local produce provides a healthier meal – and a better tasting one.” —Cliff Pilson, Farmer, CV Pilson Farm (Cameron, NC)

  • “Farm to school helps me plan what I grow. I work with school food directors, communicating with them about what they want and when, versus going to a farmers market with irregular sales and a diversified supply. Farm to school allows me to specialize – I plant what they order and have a secure sale.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

In our current agriculture system, farmers and ranchers receive only 16 cents of every dollar spent on food, down significantly from 31 cents in 1980.  Rural poverty and jobless rates are consistently higher than urban poverty rates, posing significant threats to rural communities and the economy as a whole. With these challenges facing America’s farmers, programs like farm to school have the power to revitalize local economies by connecting communities to local food producers. Farm to school not only provides healthy, local food options for our kids, but offers exciting new economic opportunities for our farmers. 


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

Encouraging Future Farmers in North Carolina

NFSN Staff Friday, April 03, 2015

By Laura Fieselman, Executive Assistant

“I hope people will learn to revere farmers. And farmland too.” 
-North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler  

Farm to school doesn’t just happen in the cafeteria; it takes place in the classroom too. That was the case recently when North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of the university’s new Carolina Cooks, Carolina Eats initiative. The event afforded students an opportunity to interact with farm to school on a policy level, asking the Commissioner about North Carolina’s ports and the Department of Agriculture’s budget. It was also a chance for Commissioner Troxler to share what he’s most passionate about: farming. 


North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, speaks to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

A farmer himself, the Commissioner is no stranger to teaching and instilling ag excitement in young people. Commissioner Troxler encouraged the class to consider agriculture as a career – and not just farming, but also processing, transportation and the science of crop development. As the local food movement continues to take hold with schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutional buyers across the country, opportunities for new farmers and food businesses are expanding exponentially.  

The North Carolina Farm to School program has been serving fresh, local produce in the state’s lunchrooms since 1997. Originally a pilot project with strawberries, today the program has grown to serve tomatoes, zucchini, collards and sweet potatoes, along with blueberries, cantaloupes, apples, peaches and sprite melons. During the 2013-2014 school year, nearly a million dollars worth of North Carolina produce was served to the state’s students in farm to school programs. That’s a lot of food dollars reinvested in local and regional agriculture. 

The National Farm to School Network believes that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential for building healthy kids and healthy communities. In North Carolina, Troxler is helping students learn this in the classroom, and encouraging them to taste it too. 

Learn more about how farm to school is a win for kids, win for farmers and win for communities here.   






Feeding and Teaching the Next Generation

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest post by Wendy Allen, Organic Valley


Susan Hardy helps a PS41 student grind corn the old fashioned way. (Photo courtesy Organic Valley) 

We at Organic Valley have always believed that farm to school programs are vital to the health of our children as well as to our communities. Farm to school lets students learn creatively, physically, personally. It’s hands-on and fun, and these two qualities almost always guarantee a great learning experience for kids and adults. And it’s even better when the experiences also support local family farms and economies. Here are the stories of two schools (and two farmers) who are making a difference: 

The Harvest Challenge

Organic Valley is a cooperative of member-farms located all across the country, and many of the communities in which our farmers live also have farm to school programs. One program located near our headquarters in southwestern Wisconsin is Vernon County Farm to School. Even though this is a rural area, many of the students here had never seen, let alone grown, vegetables like garlic and eggplant. Vernon County Farm to School also organizes an after-school gardening opportunity, teaches nutrition education, runs a Harvest of the Month program, and—
the highlight of the year—hosts a Harvest Challenge.

Created as a fundraiser for Vernon County Farm to School, the Harvest Challenge matches teams of high school students with school staff mentors and local chef mentors. The teams and their mentors must create recipes that use local, seasonal foods; cost less than $1 per serving; and meet all school nutrition requirements. Oh, and of course the recipes have to taste good, too! If the recipes meet all the requirements, then they can be used in the Vernon County Schools’ lunch menus.

After the judging—which rates the recipes on presentation, use of local food, knowledge of school nutrition requirements, taste and aesthetics—the teams are then truly put to the test: They prepare their recipe for about 300 community members, who then vote on their favorites.

“We are really able to reach out to the high school students in our county with the Harvest Challenge,” says Ashlee Gabrielson, outreach coordinator for Vernon County Farm to School. “They are not only able to connect with a staff member but also a local chef who has volunteered to help their team out. This really connects our communities to our schools and gives them support. Also, students really learn an appreciation for their food service staff and how challenging and how much work it is to make these meals on a budget and at the quantity they make them.”

Susan Hardy and her husband, David, walk the pastures of their organic family farm in New York State. (Photo by David Nevala for Organic Valley) 

Farmers visit the big city

Many Organic Valley farmers enjoy visiting local schools to talk about organic farming with the students. David and Susan Hardy and Maureen Knapp, organic farmers in New York State, travel into New York City to visit Public School 41 (PS41) a couple times a year. Coming with them to the classroom are jars of organic cream that will be shaken into butter by little hands and sometimes the peeping of fluffy chicks, which the kids hold in their hands with wide-eyed wonder. These visits connect students to farm life and give them food and farm experiences they would never get otherwise. Our farmers may be too humble to brag, but these personal visits make such an impact on young minds. We are proud to brag on their behalf.


We believe family farming is the key to healthy food systems, healthy communities and healthy children. Not only are organic family farmers growing food for us, but they are being good stewards of the land by reducing their impact on it and passing on important knowledge to our children, who most certainly will be the next generation of responsible, conscious eaters, and who just might be the next generation of farmers to care for the land that feeds us all. 

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.

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