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National Farm to School Network


House committee passes CNR amidst advocate and lawmaker concerns

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 19, 2016
By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate 

Yesterday, the House Education and Workforce Committee approved H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, marking another step forward in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) process, but potentially a step backward for our nation’s children. The final vote, after 31 proposed amendments and several hours of debate, came down primarily on party lines with 20 for and 14 against. 

The markup was a contentious meeting, with members on both sides of the aisle expressing concern over the bill. On one side, Democrats proposed amendments to preserve the nutrition gains of the latest version of CNR, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. On the other, Republicans proposed amendments to further limit the federal government’s involvement in school meals.  While there are considerable issues with the bill’s potential impact on the quality and access to school meals, one of the very few bright spots of bipartisanship was farm to school. 

Several members of Congress mentioned their support of the bill’s farm to school provisions in their opening remarks, including Reps. Stefanik (R-NY), Fudge (D-OH) and Curbelo (R-FL). The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 uses much of the language from the Farm to School Act of 2015 marker bill and includes an increase from $5 to $10 million annually in funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program

Despite this farm to school victory, the National Farm to School Network urges the House to work toward a different CNR bill with a bipartisan consensus, much like the Senate Agriculture version. One of our many concerns with the House bill involves changes to the Community Eligibility Program (CEP). By increasing the qualifying threshold for this program, Congress would reduce access to school meals while increasing paperwork and the administrative burden on school nutrition professionals. An analysis of the bill from The PEW Charitable Trusts provides more details on potential outcomes from the bill here.

During the amendment portion of the markup, 6 proposed amendments earned enough votes to pass. They include:

  • An independent study to examine external/private funding opportunities for school meals. Introduced by Rep. Allen (R-GA)
  • Eliminating the cultural foods exemption for the nutrition standards. Introduced by Rep. Scott (D-VA)
  • Instructing the USDA to provide guidance on streamlining compliance paperwork for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Introduced by Rep. Stefanik (R-NY)
  • Including parents, pediatricians and dietitians to the list of stakeholders involved in a three year nutrition standard review. Introduced by Rep. Polis (D-CO)
  • Instructing the USDA to consider milk purchasing options for schools to increase dairy consumption. Introduced by Rep. Courtney (D-CT)
  • Authorization to use other forms of electronic benefit transfer in the Summer EBT Pilot. Introduced by Rep. Davis (D-CA)

Many of the failed amendments were Democratic attempts to undo the bill’s block grant pilot, increased threshold for the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) and relaxed nutrition standards. 

Although the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 has passed through committee, it is still uncertain if the controversial bill will make it to the full floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate is still waiting on a revised Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to ensure budget neutrality before coming to a vote. 

With the legislative calendar winding down for this year, we remain cautiously optimistic that CNR will move forward with the necessary changes to continue building on previous successes and ensure healthy meals for every child. To stay up to date on CNR, sign up for the National Farm to School Network newsletter and follow us on social media

CACFP lifts up local

NFSN Staff Tuesday, May 17, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate and Natalie Talis, Policy Associate 

In April, the United Stated Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS) released the much anticipated Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern final rule and CACFP best practice recommendations. The National Farm to School Network, along with kids, farmers and communities, has reason to applaud these updates. The final rule and best practice recommendations create great opportunity to promote farm to school activities in CACFP programs and open the door for even more of the 3.3 million children served by CACFP to experience the benefits of farm to early care and education.  

The new meal pattern, which is the first revision since the start of the program in 1968, aims to improve the overall nutritional quality of CACFP meals and snacks and ensure that the standards more closely align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In the final rule, FNS highlights the benefits and growing interest in utilizing local foods in CACFP programs:

Local foods: Local foods can play an important role in creating and promoting a healthy environment. A growing body of research demonstrates several positive impacts of serving local foods and providing food education through CNPs, including increased participation and engagement in meal programs; consumption of healthier options, such as whole foods; and support of local economies.

Implementation of new CACFP meal pattern changes, such as additional fruit and vegetable variety requirements, increased whole grains and reduced sugar in snacks and beverages, can all be supported with farm to early care and education activities. By using local foods, gardening experiences, and food and nutrition education, young children learn to accept and enjoy the variety of healthy foods included in the meal pattern. To read more about the role of farm to early care and education in supporting success in CACFP, see our recent blog, Celebrating Good Nutrition for Our Littlest Eaters

In addition to the final rule, the USDA will release a policy guidance document detailing CACFP best practice strategies that further support a healthy start for our youngest eaters and help create lifelong healthy habits. The policy guidance, to be released this summer, will include using seasonal and local foods in meals along with nutrition education.

In the meantime, get started on the CACFP best practice of serving local food and other farm to early care and education activities with these National Farm to School Network resources:

The new FNS rules emphasize what we continue to see in the field: CACFP and farm to early care and education are key to building the next generation of healthy eaters.    

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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