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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. 

National Farm to School Network

News

Bringing farm to school, one Thursday at a time

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 09, 2015

By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director

Photos courtesy of the Center for Ecoliterary

The premise of California Thursdays is simple: encourage school districts to serve one locally sourced and freshly prepared meal per week to benefit kids, local economies and the environment.  It’s a program the Center for Ecoliteracy and Oakland Unified School District piloted during the 2013-14 school year. By October 2014, when the California Thursdays program was rolled out statewide, 15 school districts were on board. 

Despite its relative newness, California Thursdays is already demonstrating its impact. By last fall, four of the six largest school districts in California had signed up, including Los Angeles Unified with its 1,309 schools. Combined with the 14 school districts in the original cohort, these participating school districts serve 190 million meals annually – approximately 20% of school meals in California. Now with 42 school districts from across the state joining, California Thursdays is poised to make an unprecedented impact on local procurement in California.

In February, the Center for Ecoliteracy graciously invited me to a communications and media training for participating California Thursday school districts to learn more about the program. The program is designed to take much of the guesswork and behind-the-scenes research of sourcing local food out of the equation for school food programs.  It also trains school districts in communicating the value of California Thursdays across their community to garner support.

As I sat through this California Thursdays training (one of several that the districts participate in throughout the school year), it was clear that the initiative is the result of careful listening, planning and thought partnering on behalf of the Center for Ecoliteracy and school food staff from across the state. Their hard work has resulted in a comprehensive set of supports designed to address the most common challenges schools face in sourcing and preparing fresh, local food in school kitchens, including:

  • A list of California-grown/produced foods that meet the federal reimbursable guidelines – and the vendors who sell them
  • 21 recipes featuring California-grown fruits and vegetables, including nutritional information
  • Trainings to help school districts broadly communicate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of California Thursdays to various members of their community
  • Resources in both English and Spanish to help engage parents in the discussions about school food
  • A network of school food service/nutrition directors who can reach out to each other for continuing support and ideas

California Thursdays stands out as a state-level innovation that is ripe for replication across the country. A similar program, Minnesota Thursdays, has already followed California's lead. To riff on their tag lines, what if all Thursdays were Arkansas Thursdays, West Virginia Thursdays, Rhode Island Thursdays, and Wyoming Thursdays? What if all states had initiatives that supported their schools in improving the quality of food served, building relationships with local farmers, and helping students and their communities reclaim their food heritage?

Then perhaps, one day, every day will be Local Food Day in schools. 

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!  

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.


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)

Milton, Vermont serves up farm to school

NFSN Staff Tuesday, July 08, 2014

By Mary Stein
Deputy Director

Delicious grilled chicken slices on a bed of freshly harvested greens. Just picked strawberries bursting with the flavor of summer sunshine. This isn’t how I remember cafeteria lunches as a kid, but it is a wonderful reality for the children participating in Milton Town, Vermont's summer food service program in, who I was lucky to share lunch with last week.  

Milton school food service director Steve Marinelli and his team provide 340 daily summer meals at four different sites in the community.  All of the summer food service sites are linked to activities (sports camp, gardening club, cooking classes and more), which increases participation rates and expands the reach of this delicious bounty.   

Marinelli arrived in Milton a few years back along with a new superintendent, John Barone. With a shared vision centered on the importance of healthy food to foster learning and mental/physical growth, the duo have built a remarkable year-round program that supports children, families and the community.  

The partnership around good food for kids in Milton now extends well beyond Marinelli and Barone. The Milton Community Task Force is a local coalition that has helped secure funding from a variety of sources and bridged an important relationship with the local hospital to further support healthy living in Milton.  A USDA Farm to School grant has allowed the district to bring on a farm to school educator, Brook Gannon, to expand local procurement and experiential learning opportunities for children. 

This concerted effort to connect children to healthy, fresh food is paying off in Milton. Test scores have risen and discipline incidents have declined. Participation rates in school and summer meals are up, with more kids and more teachers and staff enjoying the delicious change. To learn more, visit Milton Town School District Food Services' website.


Kids CAN make healthy food choices: Education is key

NFSN Staff Tuesday, June 17, 2014


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

While politicians in Washington debate implementation of school nutrition standards, the next generation’s leaders are sitting in a school cafeteria, deciding whether or not broccoli salad is “gross.” In both cases, the stakes are high. 

A 2012 study by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicted that obesity rates in the U.S. could exceed 44 percent by 2030, costing our country an additional $66 billion per year in medical expenses. But here’s the good news: After years of focused initiatives to address childhood health and nutrition, including the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, obesity rates among children are on the decline. 

And there’s more good news. In the great eat-it-or-toss-it debate that plays out in lunchrooms across America, schools have a powerful tool. More than 23 million students are now more likely to say yes to broccoli salad – as well as other healthy fruits and veggies, like roasted sweet potatoes, carrot sticks and watermelon salsa – thanks to their school’s participation in farm to school. Farm to school activities enrich the connection kids have with fresh, healthy food and local farmers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools. Kids gain access to healthy, local foods in their cafeteria as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. 

Research shows that kids eat what they know and toss what they don’t, and there’s no better way to know your food than getting your hands dirty in a garden. Local food tastes better in many cases, too, because it has been picked ripe and delivered fresh. 

Implementing farm to school practices does take time and effort, but new data released this month by the USDA shows that more than 40,000 schools across all 50 states and D.C. are already engaging in farm to school activities thanks to hard-working school nutrition professionals, farmers, parents, teachers and community partners. Most schools start small: a garden patch, samples of local foods or perhaps a visit from a farmer during National Farm to School Month in October. 

Farm to school is a critical tool for school nutrition professionals, who are superheroes navigating a complex, underfunded and demanding system every day. Students who are properly introduced to new foods through farm to school are more likely to participate in their school’s meal plan and less likely to waste food, which results in a better bottom line and healthier kids. 

We don’t expect children to master riding a bike without a little practice and training.  Nor do we expect them to succeed in calculus without first learning algebra. Why, then, are children expected to immediately like new foods without a little instruction or practice? Research says kids need to try new foods anywhere from 7 to 15 times before they acquire a taste for them. Farm to school activities serve as the “training wheels” that introduce children to new food options, setting them up for a lifelong ride of healthy eating.

The new school meal standards are based on sound science and recommendations from the non-partisan Institute of Medicine. They provide a clear roadmap of changes needed to reverse childhood obesity. We shouldn’t be debating if or when the standards should be implemented, we should be working to ensure that all students have access to farm to school activities so their daily decision whether to try or toss a new food ends on the correct side of the trashcan. 

Profile: Miguel Villarreal, Novato Unified School District

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 23, 2014

 


Editor's note: This week we are profiling a few of the wonderful people we met at the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin last week. More than 1,100 farm to cafeteria movers and shakers gathered for four days of inspiring field trips, workshops, keynotes and more. we are excited to share their stories.


Working for pint-size athletes 

At 5 years old, Miguel Villarreal hated beets. He was born into a family of migrant farm workers, and his disdain for the vegetable stemmed from hoeing them. 

Education was serious business in Miguel’s family. Though his mom stopped going to school after the 6th grade, she told all of her kids: “you are going to college.” They studied hard during the school year, but in the summers they were all back in the fields. They learned what hard work was, and from a young age, Miguel knew he did not want to work in the fields any longer than he had to.

After graduating from high school, Miguel did go to college where he studied to be a nutritionist. He wanted to work with professional athletes, but when he saw a job posting for a school nutritionist, he thought he’d apply. He got the job and has been in that field ever since. Miguel quips that while he did not did not follow his passion of being a nutritionist for professional athletes, he works for pint-size athletes instead.

Miguel’s career began in a Dallas school where the schedule left him enough free time in the evening to earn a masters degree. But he really liked the work he was doing, so he started applying for food service director positions. He was thrilled to find a job in Victoria, Texas where he would serve 12,000 kids.  After three years, he moved to Plano, Texas and served 20,000 kids. During the six years he was there, the district ballooned to 45,000 kids.

Miguel’s heart and passion have always been in nutrition, but his 20-year career in Texas left him unfulfilled. 

“I was focused on managing the bottom line and not the students’ waist lines,” he says.  “We were being asked to generate revenue by super sizing, selling soda and any junk food the kids would buy to bring in money.”

He'd had enough and quit.

Miguel moved to California and got a job selling software to schools. That company had to downsize during the recession, and he found himself unemployed. He eventually found a new job as school food manager for Novato School District in California. At first, he was less than enthused about his new position. “I was in a smaller office, in a smaller district and I said ‘man, I’m moving backwards.’ But after having a pity party for a couple days, I chose to accept my new reality,” he says.  


Ready for change in California

Miguel looked around and saw he was in Marin county. He saw that there were a lot of farmers and that people generally really cared about their health and that they were active ... or so he thought. He happened to attend a meeting at which the Health and Human Services Department of Marin County presented the statistics on childhood obesity. What he learned was that 35 percent of students in his district were overweight. “I heard her say it, and I saw it in the graph, and it blew my whole image of California,” he says. “We've got a problem.”  

Back at the office, Miguel looked at the menu and went line by line to examine what they were selling. The first thing he saw that didn't make any sense was soda. So he got rid of soda.

Getting rid of soda also meant getting rid of a $70,000 annual revenue stream for the district. He told his business manager that he would find a way to make up the difference. At the time, only 200 of 1,600 potential free-or-reduced lunch students were eating breakfast. Since the government pays for each meal eaten by students who qualify for the program, increasing the number of students eating breakfast at school would serve a dual purpose: It would help to make sure they got a good, nutritious breakfast, and it would generate new revenue.

Miguel’s strategy was to make breakfast part of the school day. He persuaded the administration to create a nutrition break after the first class ended around 9 a.m. They went from 200 to 1,200 students eating breakfast each day, creating more than $70,000 in new revenue and, more importantly, providing 1,000 more kids with a good breakfast. Soda was out, and breakfast was in.


Time to learn more and find partners 

After this success, Miguel decided that to take on other parts of the problem. He quickly realized that he needed to get out in the community and meet the other people who were involved in the system he was trying to change. He attended meetings, found books to read and became a sponge for information. As his understanding expanded, he felt he had an obligation and a responsibility to do something. Maya Angelou says "you do your best until you know better, and when you know better you do better." It became a personal mantra. 

Miguel also knew he couldn't do it alone. He spent 2003 and 2004 networking and finding coalitions. That led him to Marin Organic, a non-profit organization near his school district. The executive director at the time was Helga Hellberg. He taught Miguel that 20 percent of crops were being tilled under because of blemishes that would have made them unsalable in the market. At the same time Helga was looking for a way to use this extra produce, Miguel was looking for a way to buy food from local farms. It was a serendipitous match.  

They started a gleaning program. Once the perfect-looking produce had been harvested, students and their families would go through the fields for a second round of harvest to gather food that was perfect in every way except appearance. They established a distribution system that allowed food to be gleaned on Monday, delivered to schools on Tuesday and served on Wednesday. The program is still running today, but the deliveries are now sent to local food banks.

Miguel estimates that in his 20 years in Texas, he had met five teachers. Through a large number of lunch meetings (with food provided), he met every single teacher in the Novato district - all 400 of them - in his first few years in Marin County. As his coalitions grew, five different universities began to send interns to help out and learn what was going on.


From food service director to wellness director 

Miguel is now focused on transforming the role of a food service director into that of wellness director. He and his colleagues in other school districts influence so many areas of school and education – indeed, food service is about much more than food.

It was in Food Justice, a book co-authored by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi (executive director and co-founder of NFSN), that Miguel first learned about the 3 C’s of farm to school: cafeteria, classroom and community. The idea grew on Miguel, and now he uses it to explain what he does at work every day. Miguel’s concern for the environment, the health of his students, California’s water crisis and the overall carbon footprint of his operation are the things that drive him on. The less processed foods are and the more plant-based his meals are, the better they tend to be in each of his areas of concern.

This year, the superintendent and the community have asked Miguel to do what he has done in Novato for the rest of the schools in the county. That means 18 school districts are about to collaborate to recast the food service director as the wellness director.

Miguel emphasizes that none of this is the result of the efforts of one person, but he asserts that it only takes one person to get started. Miguel believes that there needs to be someone doing this work in every community in America. 

For people seeking to make changes in their school district, Miguel offers this advice: “Break the huge tasks down into smaller, manageable programs. Take this thing we call school lunch, and ask, ‘what one thing can I do today?’  Start. Even if it is at just one school. But do it well. Celebrate the success and do the next thing tomorrow.”

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