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National Farm to School Network

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Congress is Red, Blue and Green!

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 05, 2016
By Amy Woehling, Emerson Hunger Fellow

 Photo credit: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

With farm to school, advocacy isn’t just letters and phone calls – it's also about getting policymakers out to the farm! In April, the National Farm to School Network teamed-up with DC Central Kitchen, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, DC Greens and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to welcome congressional staff to K Street Farm in Washington, D.C. and witness farm to school in action. When policymakers join the fun happening in their own backyard, it provides firsthand experience with farm to school’s critical role in developing young, healthy eaters. From teachers to students, food processors to farmers, gardeners to congressmen, advocacy opportunities share the intricate stories of farm to school and how this powerful tool can be used to create healthy, lifelong habits.

Our tour at K Street Farm started with congressional staff learning about D.C.’s local farm to school advocates and the tremendous work they do year round to provide local, nutritious meals to all students across the city. Then, guests explored the garden (where students were expertly planting kale) before getting their very own taste of farm to school: Fresh Feature Fridays. DC Central Kitchen hosts Fresh Feature Fridays at schools around the city where students are able to try a local vegetable cooked three different ways and then vote on their favorite. The garden tour participants had three local squash dishes before heading to the polls. In a show of bipartisanship, the congressional staffers came together to pick curried squash as their Fresh Feature Favorite!
  Photo credit: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Hosting a farm to school tour is a great example of advocacy that demonstrates just how important policies that support farm to school are for cultivating hands-on nutrition education. Our tour specifically showcased the potential impacts of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). It is one thing to say how important the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is to schools across the country. It is another to meet the kids who benefit from garden education and to taste fresh, locally sourced school meals. 

CNR has recently seen movement from the House Education and Workforce Committee, which introduced its draft CNR bill on April 20, 2016. While the House CNR bill includes big wins for farm to school, we do have a number of concerns regarding student access to healthy, nutritious meals year round. Check out this update from our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for more details.

Try your own advocacy event and set up a farm to school tour day for policymakers in your community! Here are a few tips to get you started:
  • Choose a farm to school activity that you’re most excited about in your community - is it the school garden? Local food taste tests? Harvest of the Month?

  • Strategize how you could share this excitement with your policymakers - e.g. invite policy makers to a cooking demonstration or a harvest celebration.
  • Form a team, including community partners and other key stakeholders, to help create an agenda for the event.
  • Find contact information for the policymakers and legislative staff you’d like to invite. Consider policymakers at all levels, from US Senators and Representatives to your governor, mayor or city council members.

  • Send invitations – don’t forget to invite local media, too.

  • Celebrate your advocacy event!

  • Follow-up with all participants and make sure to send a thank you. Include a memento from the day (like a picture) to remind your policymakers what farm to school success looks like.   
Advocacy events like these bring everyone to the table (or garden!) and exemplify the mission of farm to school: empowering children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Check out our Advocacy Fact Sheet for more ideas of how to advocate for farm to school in your community. Keep an eye out this summer for our new advocacy toolkit that will provide further details on hosting your own Garden Tour Day and other efforts that you make to promote farm to school in your community.

 Photo credit: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

We agree: child nutrition programs should be about making kids healthier

NFSN Staff Thursday, March 24, 2016
By Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, School Nutrition Program Director, Burke County Board of Education and Incoming President-Elect of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Erin McGuire, Policy Director, National Farm to School Network



We couldn’t agree more: child nutrition programs should be about raising a generation of healthy kids. A recent article published in Politico’s The Agenda makes the case that the Child Nutrition Act (CNA) historically has supported farmers not children, stating, “The School Lunch Act, in fact, has served a scrum of agricultural and other interests for the entire 70 years it has existed, each angling for a bigger share of the federal lunch plate.” With this statement we take no issue – agriculture has long had a vested interest in child nutrition programs and what goes on the plate of future consumers. 

The author further elaborates on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program saying,  “Nor is it clear how kids will be aided by grants to ‘increase awareness of, and participation in, farm to school programs.” This could not be further from the truth unfolding at farm to school sites across the country. In this multi-billion dollar bill that historically has served to put calories – of any kind – on the plates of children, advocates have fought hard to put in place programs that support nutrition education like the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. 

The USDA Farm to School Program was established with a $5 million allocation in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (the last iteration of CNA). The program helps schools and other eligible entities support farm to school activities in their communities. Supported activities include identifying community stakeholders, purchasing product from local and regional farmers and processors, building school gardens, taste-testing curricula and farm field trips. The program has been incredibly successful, having a 5-1 demand to supply ratio, with 75 percent of grants made to schools, education and public health agencies, and non-profits. 

On the frontlines, communities are experiencing incredible behavior change and nutrition benefits from incorporating farm to school activities.  In Georgia, we have increased student consumption of green leafy vegetables with the addition of local collard greens – a farmer went so far as to tweak his soil to grow less bitter greens for our students! And we did away with french fries in the cafeteria after students went crazy for roasted red ranch potatoes purchased from a local grower. This isn’t just what we have seen in Georgia and across the country – it’s what the data shows. Students who participate in farm to school activities eat more fruits and vegetables, are willing to try new foods, consume less unhealthy foods and sodas and choose healthier options in the cafeteria and at home. 



In the delicate state of the CNA’s Reauthorization this year, those who support this win-win strategy for students, farmers and communities have managed to eke out another $5 million dollars for this important grant program in the Senate draft. In a tough fiscal climate, Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow have prioritized support for farm to school programs that help children, and in many rural areas, also support farming families. We commend the Senate Agriculture Committee’s leadership during this reauthorizing year – yes, they brokered a deal, and it included an increase in summer feeding programs (one of the most vulnerable times for hungry children) and protected healthy meal standards for children. Those mired in the fight for better child nutrition support swift passage of this bill in the Senate, because decisions impacting the health of our future generation should not be delayed any further. 

The National Farm to School Network, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have made policy recommendations to increase the flexibility of potential recipients of USDA Farm to School Grants to include summer feeding and after-school programs, as well as to increase farmer participation – an essential aspect of farm to school activities. As the author notes, we have also supported language for more, “culturally appropriate” foods at schools serving Native Indian students.”  We 100 percent stand by that. For too long the significant barriers to using culturally appropriate food in school cafeterias have been ignored. We should celebrate the rich diversity of agriculture products and traditional dishes in our country, and be able to serve them on school lunch menus. 

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is one of the smallest grant programs, and yet a very effective nutrition education program in the Child Nutrition Act. When we talk about increasing nutrition for children at this important moment, it is essential that nutrition advocates protect what little we have and push for more, not call into question hard-fought and won programs that help students be healthy. 

Join us in urging Congress to continue its support of farm to school success by signing our petition. Add your name in support today.

Census says: farm to school is booming!

NFSN Staff Tuesday, March 15, 2016
By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate



Today, the USDA released new data from its 2015 Farm to School Census and the results are clear: farm to school is booming! Thanks to efforts from teachers, school nutrition professionals, farmers, parents, students and other community members like you, farm to school activities have grown from a handful of schools in the late 1990s to reaching 23.6 million students nationwide. 

According to the data, 5,254 school districts - a total of 42,587 schools across all 50 states and Washington D.C. - participate in farm to school activities, including serving local food in the cafeteria, holding taste tests and taking students on field trips to farms and orchards. 

During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased $789 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers. That is a 105% increase over the $386 million of local food purchased in 2011-2012 and a huge investment in community economic development. Furthermore, 46 percent of school districts reported they will increase their local food purchases in coming school years. While fruits, vegetables and milk currently top the list of foods schools are most likely to buy locally, many indicated that they’d like to buy more plant-based proteins, grains, meats, poultry and eggs from local suppliers.

Forty-four percent of the school districts also reported having at least one edible school garden. In school year 2013-2014, more than 7,101 school gardens gave students daily access to fresh fruits and vegetables, while also helping them learn where food comes from. This is a 196 percent increase over the 2,401 edible school gardens reported in the 2011-2012 school year when the first census was conducted.

Photo Courtesy: USDA Food and Nutrition Service
The benefits of farm to school activities like these are far reaching. Sixty-six percent of school nutrition director respondents reported experiencing one or more of the following: 
  • Greater community support for school meals
  • Greater acceptance of school meal standards
  • Lower school meal program costs
  • Increased participation in school meals
  • Reduced food waste
These benefits, in addition to positive economic opportunities for local food producers, explain why farm to school is on pace to continue growing. Of the more than 12,500 school districts that responded to the survey, more than 2,000 indicated they plan to start farm to school activities in the future. 

The high interest in these activities confirms why the National Farm to School Network continues its advocacy for supportive policies at the national, state and local levels that will help the farm to school movement grow. To ensure that more school districts feel empowered to start new programs or expand their existing work, we’re advocating for policies like the Farm to School Act of 2015 to be included in the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). We’re calling on Congress to strengthen and expand the USDA Farm to School Grant Program so more communities have access to farm to school. Show your support for farm to school by adding your name to our petition here

See how your school district stacks up by visiting the census map, which provides detailed information on all 18,000 surveyed school districts. Want to help farm to school efforts in your community grow? Check out our tips for getting started, or contact your National Farm to School Network State or Regional Lead for local information, resources and opportunities. 

Farm to school is a grassroots movement powered by people like you - congratulations for your work in helping farm to school grow! Join us at 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison, Wis., this June to continue building momentum and ensure long-term sustainability for local food efforts like these around the county. As this census data shows, together we have the power to affect great change! 

Senate Agriculture Committee passes CNR draft

NFSN Staff Wednesday, January 20, 2016
   Watch Senator John Thune’s (R-SD) remarks on the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 at the Senate Agriculture Committee business meeting. 
This morning, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved their version of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). The bipartisan bill, Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016, is a big victory for the farm to school movement, with all priority policy pieces recommended in the Farm to School Act of 2015 included. 

Under the bill, funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is doubled from $5 million to $10 million per year, helping schools across the country increase their local food purchases and expand food and agriculture education. The bill also increases the ability for tribal schools and feeding programs to serve culturally significant foods and increase the scope of the USDA Farm to School Program to include early care and education centers, summer food service program sites and after school programs. You can find a full summary of the bill markups here

During the brief committee business meeting, farm to school was mentioned by Senators on both sides of the aisle. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), champion of the Farm to School Act of 2015, commented, “Farm to school programs offer support to farmers and local economies, while teaching kids about nutritious foods and where they come from. The program has helped schools across the country meet nutrition standards by offering children local, fresh produce that tastes great.”

Senator John Thune (R-SD) focused his comments on the benefits to Indian Country, noting that tribal leaders “have expressed their deep desire to make traditional foods integral parts of their nutrition programs” and that “farm to school programs have proven to be successful in providing greater access to locally grown and culturally significant foods to students in South Dakota.”

This exciting progress in the Senate Agriculture Committee is the first of many steps in the reauthorization process. With the committee markup completed, the bill will now be sent to the Senate floor for final debate. The exact timing for the Senate floor debate is not yet known, but the bill is widely expected to pass without major difficulty. The House of Representatives must then work through its own version of the bill. See this handy flowchart to follow along with the process.

We need your help to keep the momentum going! 

If you have a Senator in the Senate Agriculture Committee (check here), thank them for their fantastic work so far. Share this message and/or graphic on social media: Thank you @(insert Senator here) for your bipartisan support of healthy kids & #farmtoschool in #CNR2016 bill!

If your Member of Congress  is not on the committee, let them know you want to see a CNR with strong support for farm to school programs brought to the Senate floor for passage. Share this message and/or graphic on social media: We need a strong CNR with #farmtoschool to grow healthy kids. @(insert Senator here), bring #CNR2016 to the Senate floor!



Thank you to everyone that has lent their voices to CNR so far. This victory is a direct result of your advocacy efforts and hard work to demonstrate the importance of farm to school to Congress. Thank you! 

Farm to school policy flourishes in 2015

NFSN Staff Monday, December 21, 2015
By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate
Top Left: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) speaks at the Farm to School Month reception on Capitol Hill; Botton Left: Farm to school advocates gather in Washington, D.C. in April for a day of action; Bottom Right: Donna Martin, Jason Grimm, Karra Hartog, and Jim Stone testify at a House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015. 
It’s been a busy year for policy in the farm to school world! Developments in federal, state and local policy have advanced opportunities for the expansion of farm to school activities, while also creating new legislative champions and advocates. Join us in celebrating our 2015 policy successes, and see what’s on deck in 2016: 

Federal Policy in 2015
  • Farm to School Act of 2015: The Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced in February with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. We partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to build Congressional support for this marker bill, which currently boasts 44 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and nine cosponsors in the Senate. 
  • Spotlight on farm to school: The benefits and successes of farm to school were mentioned at multiple congressional hearings on the Child Nutrition Act (see here and here). This reaffirms that Members of Congress are hearing from their constituents about the benefits of farm to school in their communities.
  • Partnership with USDA: We collected feedback and worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide input on the new Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. This pilot is a great new opportunity for schools to expand local purchasing of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Support from Members of Congress: National Farm to School Month (October) was an exciting time for policy, with 442 advocates weighing-in on the Farm to School Big Day of Action and six Members of Congress taking to the House floor to celebrate the benefits of farm to school. The month ended with our first ever Capitol Hill reception, which hosted 120 guests, including Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Tim Ryan (D-OH) and USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. 
State Policy in 2015
  • 2015 State Policy Report: We released our annual State Policy Report with new graphics, case studies and tools to help support our partners’ state advocacy work. As of the February 2015 report, over 40 states have farm to school related policies.
  • New and strengthened state policies: Many states saw a flurry of policy activity in 2015. Multiple supportive bills passed in Louisiana, Hawaii and Oregon, while other states (like New Mexico) strengthened and expanded their existing farm to school programs. 
Looking to 2016
  • Child Nutrition Reauthorization: The Senate Agriculture Committee has said it will tackle Child Nutrition Reauthorization in early 2016. We remain optimistic that the Farm to School Act of 2015 will be included in this important bill.
  • New priorities areas: The National Farm to School Network will make race and income equity priority policy areas in 2016 by branching into new federal policy territory, including health and education. We know that farm to school activities can positively impact kids in every zipcode, and we're working to level the playing field so everyone can take advantage of farm to school's benefits.
  • Focus on state policy: Our annual State Policy Report will be released in fall 2016 with an expanded advocacy toolkit designed to guide those working on policy at the state level. We’ll dive even deeper into state policy by providing additional technical assistance and resources to further farm to school legislative and regulatory goals. 
As the national policy leader for the farm to school movement, policy is at the core of what we do as a network. In celebrating our 2015 accomplishments, we have you, our network of members and supporters, to thank. Much of our policy success is credited to on the ground farm to school advocates willing to call, email, write letters and visit elected officials so that those in Washington, D.C. can see the importance of farm to school back home.

Here’s to 2015, a year of partnership for stronger farm to school policy, and to 2016 - a year destined for more farm to school success! 

Help us continue our advocacy efforts by making an end of year, tax deductible donation today.

Celebrating 5 years of healthy kids

NFSN Staff Friday, December 11, 2015
Students at Malabon Elementary (Eugene, Ore.) enjoying their Oregon Harvest Lunch.

Happy 5th anniversary to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA)! In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and our partners were active in supporting HHFKA legislation, with a primary focus on advocating for the creation of the USDA Farm to School Program. The program was successfully included in the HHFKA, and provides competitive grants and technical assistance to help schools, farmers, non-profits, state agencies and other entities implement and expand farm to school activities across the country. 

In the 5 years since its creation, the USDA Farm to School Program has been so well received that demand for grants is five times higher than available funding. The grant program provides initial support for those who are just exploring the possibility of bringing farm to school to their community, and for those who want to expand their farm to school activities by leaps and bounds. That's why we're continuing our advocacy for farm to school at the federal level with the Farm to School Act of 2015

 Left to right: 5th graders at Airport Heights Elementary (Anchorage, Ala.) celebrate their 6th season of gardening. Photo credit: I. Valadez; Guy Lee Elementary (Springfield, Ore.) students at the FOOD for Lane County Youth Farm.

We know that farm to school activities like taste tests, farm visits and school gardens are the training wheels that get kids excited about healthy eating. The 2015 USDA Farm to School Census shows that school participating in farm to school see more kids in the lunch line and less food waste in the trash. Farm to school also benefits local economies and farmers. Local food purchasing grew to $598 million during school year 2013-14 – an increase of more than $212 million since the last Census in 2012.  

We're proud to have worked alongside champions of the legislation that created the USDA Farm to School Program that's strengthening farm to school initiatives across the country. Our network of farm to school practitioners and supporters has been an essential part of this policy process, and together we continue working to make our voices heard in Congress. The farm to school movement has come a long way in the past 5 years - just look at these smiling faces! Here's to healthy kids, thriving farms and vibrant communities everywhere. 

Photo credit, top left to bottom right: DC Greens; S.C.R.A.P. Gallery; Shelburne Farms/VT FEED; DC Greens. 

Help us continue to support federal policies that strengthen farm to school by donating to the National Farm to School Network this season of giving. Your tax deductible donation supports healthy kids and vibrant local food systems across the country. Together, we can make sure all students have access to a bright and healthy future.  

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USDA Farm to School Grants Awarded

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 02, 2015

In 2013, Alaska Gateway School District received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to assess the area’s existing food supply chain, and used the funds to develop a business plan for sustainable farm to school activities – like growing their own produce, and eventually sourcing 40 percent of the school’s food from within Alaska. With 92 percent of Alaska Gateway students on the free and reduced meal plan, school meals are a particularly important source of overall nutrition for these kids.

Two weeks ago, the Alaska Gateway School District found out that they received a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant to carry out their procurement plan and scale up their farm to school work. The grant will allow them to continue educating students in agriculture and nutrition, as well as grow fresh fruits and vegetables in a year-round greenhouse that can withstand harsh winter temperatures that sometimes dip to -70 degrees Fahrenheit.

A total of 74 communities in 39 states received USDA Farm to School grants in November, and now have a similar opportunity to explore, expand, or scale up their farm to school activities. The 2016 awards total $4.8 million, ranging in size from $15,000 to $100,000, and will impact 2.9 million students. The USDA Farm to School Grant program has always been highly competitive, and the 2016 grants were no exception; 271 applications were submitted from school districts and communities around the country.

While this year’s funding will reach 5,211 schools, there are thousands more eager to have access to these crucial funds. These schools use the grants to invest in their local communities by creating relationships with farmers and ranchers and buying their products. That is why the National Farm to School Network is working with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congressional champions to incorporate the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the reauthorization package for the Child Nutrition Act.

This bill will increase access to the farm to school grant program and small business opportunities for veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as expand the grant program’s flexibility to support preschool, summer and after school sites so that all students have access to a healthy future and strong communities like this new group of grantees we are celebrating. 

The National Farm to School Network has connected with supporters on both sides of the aisle to demonstrate the importance of the Farm to School Act and farm to school in general. Watch some of the movement’s champions discuss the benefits of farm to school here: Rep Westerman (R-AR)Rep. Delbene (D-WA)Rep. Davis (R-IL),  Rep. Pingree (D-ME)Rep. Stefanik (R-NY)Rep. Garamendi (D-CA). The Farm to School Act also has strong grassroots backing with hundreds of local and national non-profits signing our petition to Congress in support of this bill.

Help us continue to support federal policies that strengthen farm to school by donating to the National Farm to School Network this season of giving. Your donation supports healthy kids and vibrant local food systems. Together, we can help grow healthy kids, farmers and communities. 

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Building farm to school policy in Hawai’i

NFSN Staff Thursday, November 12, 2015
 Photo credit: Hawai'i Governor's Office
From reimbursements for locally sourced school meals to clarity on food safety regulations, state policies are an effective tool for growing robust farm to school program that connect children with fresh, healthy food and support local food producers. The National Farm to School Network is proud to provide the resources, information and support needed for farm to school advocates to achieve state policy success. 

Here’s a recent example: in 2014, a group of farm to school advocates from Hawai’i attended our National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin, Texas, where they learned about state legislation and its power to affect change. Energized and filled with new ideas, they left the conference and began identifying their policies needs – like the need for an official state farm to school coordinator to orchestrate the multiple programmatic efforts happening around Hawai’i.

With a policy goal identified, the National Farm to School Network worked with Hawai’i leaders and offered resources and information to drive their legislative process forward. Our  “Benefits of Farm to School” and “Farm to School Advocacy” factsheets proved to be helpful tools for raising awareness of farm to school activities and encouraging Hawaiians to become politically active in the farm to school movement. Our network of state and regional leads offered the Hawai’i leaders insight on how other states fund farm to school positions. And, our Policy Team provided written testimony to be considered by lawmakers as the bill made its way through the legislative process. 

In July 2015, all of the hard work paid off. The bill unanimously passed both Hawai’i legislative chambers, creating a statewide farm to school program and providing funds for a farm to school program coordinator position in the Department of Agriculture. In addition to signing the bill into law, Hawai’i Governor David Ige made a proclamation in support of farm to school. Proclamations like this can often lead to greater awareness of farm to school activities in states and ideally, grow stronger statewide support in the form of resources and legislation.

Legislative wins don’t always come this easily. That’s why the National Farm to School Network is committed to building upon its tools and resources that help set up farm to school champions for policy success. There are now more than 40 states with enacted farm to school legislation, including Oregon and Louisiana – two additional states that passed strong farm to school legislation this year. Learn about every enacted, defeated and pending farm to school-related bill from 2002-2014 in our State Farm to School Legislative Survey

Help us continue to support state policies that strengthen farm to school by giving to the National Farm to School Network on #GivingTuesday. Donate on Tuesday, Dec. 1 and Newman's Own Foundation will match all gifts up to $10,000. Together, we can help kids, farmers and communities in every state thrive. 

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