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National Farm to School Network

News

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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New report highlights success of USDA Farm to School Grant Program

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 15, 2015

“Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them.”               –Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Photo credit: USDA Farm to School Program

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new report that provides an in-depth look at the first three years of the USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program. The report shows the program has helped 12,300 schools improve healthful meal options with local ingredients, and that this increase in local food procurement has expanded market opportunities for food producers around the country.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 tasked USDA with supporting farm to school efforts through grants, training, technical assistance and research. To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has funded 221 farm to school projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here are a few exciting highlights about these awards:

  • Millions of students benefit: 12,3000 schools and 6.9 million students are estimated to have been reached through activities funded by USDA Farm to School grants.

  • Healthier food in cafeterias: 50 percent of funded projects included expanding healthy meal options offered in the cafeteria.

  • More agriculture and nutrition-based education: A majority of grantee proposals (65 percent) included activities related to teaching kids about nutrition, agriculture and where their food comes from. 

  • Rural and urban impact: 40 percent of schools or districts impacted by a USDA Farm to School Grant were considered rural, and 56 percent were considered urban. 38 percent of grants were distributed in StrikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty. 

  • Focus on children eligible for free or reduced-price meals: 78 percent of awards went to support schools or districts with free or reduced-price meal eligibility rated great than 50 percent.

  • Demand is 5x higher than available funding: To date, a total of 1,067 applicants have requested $78.4 million in grant funds. 221 applicants have received $15.1 million – an overall award rate of 21 percent. 

“These numbers underscore why it is important that Congress increase access to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization this fall,” says Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network’s Executive Director and Co-Founder. “As demonstrated by this report, farm to school strategies enable school districts to comply with the new nutrition standards and help engage students in learning healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.”  

Together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and our network of supporters across the country, we are calling on Congress to continue its support for the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package. The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 would strengthen the grant program by fully including preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school by adding your name to our citizen and organizational sign-on letters. Already signed on? Consider writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper, inviting your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or calling your federal legislators to let them know how farm to school is positively impacting your community. 

Communities know that farm to school is growing healthier kids, supporting farmers and building vibrant communities. Now is the time to make sure our legislators know that farm to school works, too.

Look past the headlines: kids do like their fruits & vegetables

NFSN Staff Monday, August 31, 2015

By Erin McGuire, Policy Director

When I was a kid, I hated broccoli. I can sympathize with picky eaters, but I was also a kid who grew up on a farm. I was fortunate to see broccoli grow from a tiny seed into beautiful florets and carrots turn from leggy green stems to vibrant orange roots. It was those experiences that helped me learn to love vegetables. With time and repeated experiences in the garden, by age ten I was telling my chicken nuggets to move over for a mound of veggies.

Recent headlines have painted a picture of students who haven’t yet learned to love the fruits and vegetables served to them at lunchtime - but that’s not what the larger body of data shows. In 2014, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the implementation of the new school meal standards increased vegetable consumption by 16 percent. And that increase is making a difference. A recent study in Arkansas found that when kids were offered fresh fruits and vegetables at school, childhood obesity rates dropped by 3 percent. One approach to helping kids learning to like these new healthy options is farm to school. A report from Vermont FEED found that most food service directors in Vermont saw participation in school lunch go up after farm to school programs were started in their schools.

It’s because of on the ground successes like these that 86 percent of Americans support today’s school nutrition standards, and 88 percent support increasing government funding for farm to school programs. Farm to school activities like taste tests, school gardens, and farm visits are helping teach kids to embrace new options in the cafeteria. This common sense, hands-on approach to learning about food is what changed my mind about broccoli, and it’s an approach 23.5 million kids have access to with farm to school across the country.

These activities are the training wheels that help kids learn to try and to like news foods. Simply put, farm to school makes the National School Lunch Program stronger by bringing more students into the lunch line and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Take these examples:

  • Students at Lincoln Middle School in Portland, Maine, used their greenhouse to learn about growing mixed salad greens, and afterward asked the food service staff to include it in the daily lunch. Now students and staff work together to harvest and serve the mix every week.
  • At Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Hawaii, the more time kids spend on their 22-acre farm, the less plate waste there is in the cafeteria and school meal participation rates have increased
  • Just last week, Burke County, Georgia, students created their own recipes using local foods. From hundreds of submissions, the finalists had their recipes prepared in the cafeteria kitchen with Rep. Rick Allen as a taste tester of the Georgia Peach Ambrosia. The winning recipe is going on the Burke County Schools cafeteria menu.

We are 17 days out from the Senate Agriculture Committee debating the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. Do not let the negative headlines be the story that shapes this debate. Now is the time to share success stories of the great farm to school and healthy meal initiatives happening your local community. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, invite your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or pick-up the phone and call your federal representative. 

Congress has a long to-do list this fall. But now, more than ever, we need our legislators to know that healthier school meals are working, and that it's time to strengthen programs like farm to school that show results. 

New state laws boost farm to school in Louisiana

NFSN Staff Friday, August 14, 2015
On August 1, 2015, two Louisiana bills became laws that support and strengthen farm to school efforts across the state. We interviewed our Louisiana State Lead, Katie Mularz, to learn how these policies will help bring Louisiana kids fresh, local food, and why grassroots advocacy is important for helping farm to school grow. 

Tell us about these bills, and how they relate to farm to school in Louisiana. 
The first is Senate Bill 184 – the “Small Purchase Threshold” bill. Up until now, any food purchase a school made larger than $30,000 was subject to a complicated bidding process, known as a “formal bid.” This made it difficult for schools to get seasonal and local foods because the process is often challenging for smaller-scale, local farmers. The passage of SB 184 increased the small purchase threshold to meet the federal standard of $150,000, enabling schools to work more closely with small-scale farmers to serve local food to Louisiana children. 
The second is House Bill 761 – the “Urban Ag Incentive Zone” bill. This bill creates urban agriculture incentive areas and reduces taxes on land used for urban farming. It greatly reduces expenses associated with acquiring urban agricultural land, and in turn encourages Louisianans to grow more local food. This is great for schools because it means there will be even more local producers to buy from. 

What did farm to school policy in Louisiana look like before the passage of these bills?
Although these are the first state laws supporting farm to school efforts, in 2014 the Louisiana legislature unanimously passed a resolution to convene an interagency task force to study how best to implement farm to school in Louisiana. It was an important accomplishment and first step in putting farm to school on the map, and it gave us the momentum to further drive farm to school policy in our state.

What role did partnerships play in passing these bills?
Senator Francis Thompson was a crucial champion of SB 184, the Small Purchase Threshold bill. He is committed to Louisiana schools, and as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he is committed to supporting farmers. For him, working on farm to school was a natural fit. Senator Thompson's office worked to stay informed about local farm to school activities, and they shared that work with his constituents and fellow Senators. 

We also had a lot of allies and partners from organizations across the state, including more than 130 schools and organizations that are part of our Louisiana Farm to School Alliance. We had monthly calls to update our allies on the progress of the bills, and they helped spread our message that farm to school is a win for kids and farmers through a sign-on letter. I really think these relationships are what made the bills successful. 

Why is state-level policy important for farm to school? 
The farm to school movement is aching to grow – on the school end and on the farmer end. Grassroots advocacy is an opportunity for the public to express its desire to see programs like farm to school become institutionalized in state policy. Our ability to pull together and help these bills pass has given our state movement energy, momentum and a stronger voice for helping move this work forward to benefit kids, farmers and communities. 

What’s next for farm to school in Louisiana? 
We’re excited to ride this wave of momentum to continue building farm to school and our Louisiana Farm to School Alliance. We had 49 applications for the National Farm to School Network Seed Change mini grants, and although we could only fund 32, it’s encouraging to know that people want more farm to school programming in our state. We’re looking forward to building our capacity and seeing these two new laws bring more local food to students across Louisiana. 



Ramping up local in upstate New York

NFSN Staff Monday, July 20, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

Saranac Lake High School students harvest celeriac at Fledging Crow Vegetables Farm.       (Photo courtesy of SLHS Green Storm) 

Before Saranac Lake Central School District (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) was awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant, local produce in the cafeteria was rare. But serving local foods on special occasions like Farm to School Month had been successful at getting students excited to try new vegetables, so Food Service Director Ruth Pino was eager to do more. 

“I realized I could help young people learn about good food and healthy eating by serving them real, fresh food,” Pino says. “At our school, 36 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch. But the real challenge is that the district is very rural and spread out, so when students are hungry, there are not many options for accessing good, local food, aside from school.” Plus, she notes, “Farm to school is also about supporting local farmers, and there are many in our area.” 

Beginning this fall, three local farmers will supply the district’s five school with fresh, local produce including carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, onions and potatoes. Fresh fruit will be brought in from a nearby orchard. Other relationships are thriving as well, such as with Paul Smith’s College, whose culinary students teamed up with Pino this spring to prepare and serve locally raised chicken to the district’s students. “It’s helping support our community,” Pino says, “and students are getting excited when they see that we have new foods for them to try.” 

Less than 150 miles west of Saranac Lake, a similar initiative is taking root in New York’s Watertown City School District. In partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Watertown was also awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant for FY 2015. With the grant, Watertown set goals of incorporating more locally grown foods into its meal programs to improve student health and link nutrition to lifelong learning.  

In addition to introducing new local foods in the cafeteria, the district’s five elementary schools launched a harvest of the month initiative, where students not only learn about and try new local foods, but also meet the farmers who produce them. “A local dairy farmer came in February with a demonstration cow, and there was a butter-making station,” district Farm to School Coordinator April Neujean said. “The state dairy princess came, too!”

Students at North Elementary School learn about cow from local farmer Ron Kuck during February’s Harvest of the Month activities. (Photo courtesy of WCSD Farm to School) 

The district’s middle and high school students are learning about local food systems as well, with guest lectures on hydroponics, beneficial and invasive bugs, and robotic tilling. Furthermore, the district has planted its first school garden, giving students the opportunity to engage in growing their own food. As Neujean explains, “This education has been a good way to help students become excited about the food changes in the cafeteria. When kids have a farm to school program, they have a positive attachment to food because they know where it comes from.”

Getting kids excited about healthy eating isn’t the only benefit of these farm to school programs. What makes farm to school at Watertown and Saranac Lake school districts impressive is their drive for collaboration and growing the movement throughout upstate New York. “The community support and excitement has been remarkable,” Neujean said. The two districts have worked together to share ideas and build capacity for making more local procurement possible. And, Saranac Lake is actively encouraging nearby school districts to join them in farm to school activities. By encouraging more schools to buy local, the districts are helping open the doors to new institutional markets for local family farmers. 

Thanks to these two USDA Farm to School grantees, an entire region is poised for local food transformation. Their initiatives are helping kids develop healthy eating habits, providing new markets for farmers and building up strong partnerships that foster vibrant communities. These programs are not only ramping up local procurement in their cafeterias, but also laying the groundwork for schools across upstate New York to go local.  That’s a delicious win for students, an economic win for farmers, and an energizing win for all of upstate New York. 

Transforming lunch, building community with a USDA Planning Grant

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 01, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

“I've seen the effect of farm to school activities in our school and in our community at large. Kids are eating better because the food is better, but the way the community has come together to support it and the various partnerships we've created since receiving the USDA Farm to School Planning Grant have been amazing." 
- Susi Jones, Executive Director for Julian Pathways, Julian, Calif.

Chef Jeremy Manely (left) and Julian Pathways students tour “Down the Road” Farm, where local produce is grown for school lunches. (Photos courtesy of Tricia Elisara

Farm to school at Julian Pathways started with an unused plot of asphalt. Parents were the first to suggest the asphalt be cleared and a school garden planted, and it didn’t take long for students and teachers to follow. The new garden at Julian Pathways became a living laboratory for students, and it sparked efforts to extend nutrition and agriculture education to the lunchroom. Six years later, farm to school at Julian Pathways has become a whole community affair. 

As Julian Pathways Executive Director Susi Jones explains, expanding farm to school beyond the garden and into the lunchroom was not an easy task. Without facilities to cook meals or room to build a kitchen, Julian Pathways had served frozen, pre-packaged lunches. “At the time, we felt it was the best option,” she said. “But we also felt our students were getting the bad end of the deal. It was not good food, and we were not nurturing our students.” 

Although students were learning about local, fresh food in the garden, they weren’t connecting with healthy eating in the cafeteria. So in 2012, the Julian Union Elementary School District applied for a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to identify ways to secure local, fresh and delicious meals for their students. Julian Pathways, the student and family support program for the district, coordinates the farm to school program. Alumnus and local chef Jeremy Manley jumped at the opportunity to cater lunches at his alma mater. Jeremy’s on the Campus – a play on his restaurant Jeremy’s on the Hill – pays particular attention to sourcing its food locally and students are gobbling up the fresh fruit and vegetables options. 


 “January was broccoli month, and I over heard two four-year-old girls say, ‘There’s broccoli in the salad! I love my broccoli raw!’ What kind of four-year-olds talk like this without exposure in the garden?” –Susi Jones, Julian Pathways Executive Director
Students in Club Jaguar's afterschool garden class eat the Harvest of the Month – broccoli – that they planted and tended. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Elisara)
The USDA Farm to School Planning Grant enabled Julian Pathways to explore what farm to school activities best fit their community, and it helped build a creative partnership with a local chef that grew to include local farmers, small businesses and a vibrant sense of community. Their next goal is to plant a large heritage apple orchard that will provide local fruit for students, as well as serve the entire community with jobs, re-invigorating the town’s historic apple industry.  

Julian Pathways has done an incredible job supporting these innovative and burgeoning new partnerships, but more must be done to realize their full potential.  “We are such a small district, and there’s not a lot of money,” Jones explained. “Our reimbursements are small, and we really are reaching and scrounging for funding.” To grow the program’s infrastructure, Julian Pathways applied for a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant. But because of such high demand across the country, Julian Pathways was not awarded these funds. Nationally, demand for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is five times higher than available federal funding. 

Julian Pathways’ story exemplifies the power of farm to school to support child nutrition, strengthen local economies and build vibrant communities. All across the country, people like Susi Jones and Jeremy Manley want the opportunity to experience the positive impacts of farm to school in their own communities. That’s why we are asking legislators to strengthen the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package this year

Will you join us? Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and let’s keep farm to school programs like Julian Pathways’ growing strong! 

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


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