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

NFSN Staff Monday, April 27, 2015

By Alexandra Beresford, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tree to School: Planting Heritage Fruit Orchards in Colorado

NFSN Staff Friday, April 24, 2015
By Anna Mullen, Communications Intern


Photo courtesy of Montezuma School to Farm Project
Happy Arbor Day! In celebration of the trees that help us breathe, we’re spotlighting a project in Colorado where students are embracing farm to school by planting fruit trees. The Montezuma School to Farm Project works with students across the high desert country of Southwest Colorado to plant heritage fruit tree orchards on school grounds that not only bring local fruits into the cafeteria, but are also helping revitalize the region’s unique fruit tree history.

Last fall, students at Cortez Middle School began planting an exact replica of a dying historic orchard in their region with 50 apple trees grafted from nearly 100-year-old stock. After receiving a USDA Farm to School Grant, an additional 25 trees were added to the orchard this spring, including nectarines, peaches, plums, pears, pluots (cross between plum and apricot) and pluerries (cross between plum and cherry). USDA Farm to School Grant funds are also being used to add cane fruits – including raspberries, blackberries, table grapes and strawberries – to the 2+ acres of production space on school grounds. 

When finished, the 75-tree orchard will increase annual production to more than 37,500 pounds of heirloom fruit for students to enjoy! And it also serves as a hands-on curriculum tool for the classroom: 
  • Science lessons cover the functions of fruit trees, grafting, water conservation and soil health
  • Math skills are learned by mapping out and installing drip irrigations systems
  • Students expand their business and entrepreneurial learning by projecting wholesale and retail sales of fruit at various markets, including their own Youth Farmers Market
  • Navajo language classes use the orchard to teach new vocabulary
Students are also learning local history in the orchard, like how Montezuma County once had a booming apple economy that delivered apples across the country via railroad. Revitalizing that history in schools has been a collaborative project between Montezuma School to Farm Project and the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP), which works to save dying varieties of heritage fruit trees only grown in the Montezuma Valley region. Along with MORP, students in Montezuma County are a playing key role in the development of local food systems and in rebuilding the historical lineage of heirloom food crops that will feed their community. 

Photo courtesy of Montezuma School to Farm Project
On Monday, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are heading to Washington, D.C., to tell Congress that programs like the Montezuma school heritage orchards are building more resilient communities, connecting the next generation with our agricultural history and providing teachers hands-on learning environments to inspire their students. We’re 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

Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and check back next week for more farm to school success stories here on our blog! 

We’re headed to Washington, D.C.

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 22, 2015

By Stacey Malstrom, Public Relations & Outreach Manager

“Farm to school is about feeding them more than just food, it’s about feeding passions. We are working to change our menus and influencing families to make healthier choices at home too.” - Doreen Simonds, Food Services Director, Waterford School District (Ortonville, Mich.)


Next week, Congress will hear from school nutrition directors, farmers and farm to school advocates from across the country when we travel to Washington, D.C., in support of the Farm to School Act of 2015. We’ll meet with legislators from Maine to California to tell them how farm to school is an opportunity to empower more children to make healthy food choices; support more farmers, fishers and ranchers; and contribute to more vibrant communities. 

The Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced in Congress earlier this year by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). The bill is a bipartisan approach to child nutrition being considered as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, and it has the potential to be a significant economic driver for local communities -- in the 2011-12 school year, U.S. schools spent $385 million on local food purchases. 

Not only that, farm to school is helping school districts meet science-based nutrition standards and reduce cafeteria food waste. See how Doreen Simonds describes the positive impacts of farm to school at Waterford School District in Ortonville, Mich., where she is the Food Services Director: 

  • Local food tastes better: “Food waste was the common thread of what principals, lunchroom parent volunteers, teachers and custodians were worried about. Since we started implementing farm to school activities, the staff is noticing that the kids are more willing to eat fruits and veggies. We used to waste so many apples - they had no flavor. And now that we are buying them locally, the kids are eating them like crazy.”
  • Taste tests break through negative assumptions: “Farm to school activities definitely helped us meet the new nutrition standards. We needed the taste tests because the kids were programmed to think this wasn’t going to taste good, and we had to show them that it does. Now when they see a sign for local products, they know it’s going to taste good.”
  • Food education travels home: “We hear back from kids and parents that they are trying new foods at home, going to farmers markets now, and using the Double Food Bucks too. One mom said to me, ‘I would have never thought to go to the farmers market. We don’t buy fresh fruits and veggies at the store because we can’t afford them, and it doesn’t stay fresh.’ We’re passing out recipes to the parents, so they are trying that at home, too.”
  • Farm to school helps promote farms: “The Oakland Farmers’ Market is a lot busier now. When we talk to the market manager, he’s sure we have an impact because we are sharing so much information. We’re in the newspaper all the time because we take the kids there. The kids take home food from the market at the end of the trip, and we buy food there, too.”
Waterford School District leveraged a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to extend its farm to school program beyond taste tests, building new relationships with local farmers, adding a successful salad bar and providing in-depth training for kitchen staff. Doreen and her team continue to expand farm to school initiatives this school year with the USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, which provided resources needed to develop new educational programming for students and staff, purchase large capacity produce washers and add open-air merchandizers to highlight local food for sale in the cafeteria.
Doreen Simonds will join fellow farm to school supporters in D.C. next week to share these insights and more with lawmakers considering strengthening the USDA Farm to School Grant Program this year so that more districts like Waterford can benefit from these activities. 
How can you help champion farm to school priorities in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act?

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. Learn more at farmtoschool.org/cnr2015

House begins CNR hearings

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 16, 2015

By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate

Update: Watch this clip of Rep. Rick Allen's (R-GA) remarks about farm to school at the Education and Workforce hearing on April 15, 2015. 

On Wednesday, the House Education and Workforce Committee held its first hearing in preparation for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). With the current bill set to expire at the end of September 2015, the “Serving Students and Families through Child Nutrition Programs” hearing focused on key child nutrition programs, including farm to school. 

Committee members discussed flexibility for school nutrition administrators, public-private partnerships and hunger as a barrier to academic achievement. And members on both sides of the aisle called out farm to school as an important tool for school meals. 

Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) commented that in his district, the addition of fresh, local products such as collard greens and sweet potatoes in school meals increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by students. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw similar results in his district, with a 10 percent increase in school lunch participation after the introduction of local products and a salad bar. This increase in participation has created additional revenue for the school and improved its economic viability. 

In her witness testimony, Julia Bauscher, president of the School Nutrition Association, agreed that kids eat what they know. She said this happens as kids become more familiar with fruits and vegetables through farm to school taste-tests, agriculture education and school gardens. Responding to a question from Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – one of the champions of the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 – the First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, added that many students do not know where their carrots and peaches come from until they meet farmers. She has seen farm to school help students build healthy habits, and commented that it’s an important tool for supporting farmer incomes and local economies in her state. 

Committee members also commented on successful farm to school programs they have seen in their districts during school and farm tours. As Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) stated, “this is really a bipartisan issue,” and a win-win-win for kids, farmers and communities. 



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. The benefits of farm to school were heard in Wednesday’s hearing, and we will continue to work to make sure they are part of the conversation as this critical legislation is developed. 

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school with the Farm to School Act of 2015. 


March toward #CNR2015 begins: Farm to school bill introduced in Congress

NFSN Staff Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Over the past two years, farmers, teachers, school nutrition professionals and engaged community members have made one message loud and clear: the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is crucial to the success of farm to school across the country. 

The only problem? Demand for the grants far exceeds supply. In its first three years, the Farm to School Grant Program received more than 1,000 applications but only had enough funding to award 221 grants. In other words, just one in five projects was funded.

Today, Congress took an exciting step toward closing this gap with the introduction of the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Congress will consider the Farm to School Act as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30.  

The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 proposes an increase in annual mandatory funding for the grant program from $5 million to $15 million and full inclusion of 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. 

This grant program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Today, more than 23 million students are making healthier food choices at school and at home thanks to farm to school activities like school gardens, cooking classes and incorporating local foods in school meals. 

Since its launch in 2011, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has supported projects that benefit farmers, kids and communities nationwide:

  • In Ohio, Farmer Floyd Davis benefited when schools in his region bought more of his apples, lettuce and spinach thanks to Farm to School Grant funding. Davis has expanded his farming acreage and installed seven high tunnels for year-round produce production to serve local schools. And David isn’t alone: Farmers participating in farm to school initiatives nationwide have seen an average 5 percent increase in income.
  • Kale and collard greens are on the menu in South Carolina thanks to farm to school funding. School nutrition professionals at School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties attended a culinary training where they learned how to incorporate these vegetables into school meals so that students could enjoy a local source of dark, leafy greens.
  • In Nebraska, a state where one in three children are overweight, grant-funded school gardens and farm field trips have introduced healthy eating habits and hands-on agricultural experiences to kids in more than a dozen schools across the state. Participation in farm to school activities has been proven to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Nebraska currently spends more than $3 million of its school food budget locally.

TAKE ACTION!

  • Join us and our bipartisan champions in telling Congress: farm to school is a powerful tool for supporting our kids, our farmers and our communities! 
  • Add your organization to our growing list of supporters. 
  • Sign up for action alerts to stay up-to-date on the latest in the march toward CNR 2015, including how to support the Farm to School Act of 2015 – there will be many opportunities to get involved this spring! 
  • Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2015

Looking Back and Looking Forward: Farm to school policy in 2014 and 2015

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 17, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director

As the national policy leaders for the farm to school movement, policy is at the core of what we do as a network. As we near the end of 2014, we want to celebrate this year’s many farm to school policy successes and set the stage for upcoming opportunities in 2015. 

Federal policy success in 2014

  • The Farm Bill (called the Agricultural Act of 2014) was signed into law in February and included a pilot project for procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables. NFSN submitted comments to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) weighing in on implementation of the program, and earlier this month the eight selected pilot states were announced.
  • Building on our work in 2013, NFSN completed a series of nearly two-dozen Child Nutrition Reauthorization listening sessions, which informed our CNR 2015 goals. NFSN and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering on these farm to school priorities next year.
  • USDA announced the third round of annual USDA Farm to School Grant recipients. The grant program was a major policy victory for NFSN in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Demand for the grant program continues to outweigh available funding by nearly five times, demonstrating the high degree of relevance and importance of this grant program across the nation.
  • Other federal programs continue to support farm to school initiatives, including the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, and the Value-Added Producer Grant program. These programs aren’t new, but they are each having an increasing impact on the success of farm to school. 
  • NFSN and many core partners submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration about their implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. We weighed in to voice concerns that the proposed rules, as written, could hinder local and regional food innovations or limit opportunities for family farmers to launch and grow their businesses. 

New Jersey's Acting Governor, Kim Guadagno, signed five farm to school bills into law at a ceremony at Terhune Orchards in central Jersey on August 25th, 2014. 


State policy success in 2014

  • NFSN released a state farm to school legislative report for the first time since 2011. As of 2013, 38 states and DC have legislation on the books that support farm to school/preschool.  
  • Innovative new state legislation supporting farm to school was passed in 2014. Historic farm to school legislation passed in New Jersey, and the District of Columbia passed landmark farm to preschool legislation with its Healthy Tots Act.

Looking at the year ahead 

In 2015, NFSN will continue to advocate for federal policies that support farm to school across the country. We will also continue to track the exciting state policy efforts taking shape. 

  • The Child Nutrition Act is set to expire at the end of September, making 2015 an important year for farm to school stakeholders to weigh in and participate. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization only occurs once every five years. NFSN will need everyone to voice support for our efforts to improve and advance the USDA Farm to School Grant program
  • In February, NFSN will release the next report tracking state level policy. The new report will feature all laws passed this year as well as case studies that dig in to strategies employed for success. We also know that several states are preparing for their 2015 legislative cycles in order to move farm to school forward, and we’ll be tracking their progress and supporting them as needed.

2014 was a successful year for farm to school policy efforts at the state and federal levels. As we look ahead to 2015, we are eager to work with all of you to make even greater policy gains for our nation’s children, farmers and communities. We are truly growing stronger together.

Funding Outside the Lunch Box

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 09, 2014

By Barbara Patterson, Policy Intern

As school districts, farmers and communities experience the benefits of farm to school activities, more and more programs are popping up across the country, and with that increase comes greater funding need. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is already maxed out, with five times as many proposals submitted for the past three years as could be funded. The National Farm to School Network will call on Congress in 2015 to increase funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, but we can also look beyond farm to school and garden-specific funding opportunities.

“Farm to school” is not a box. It’s an umbrella for improved health, stronger local economies and sustainable food systems, and there are funding streams through the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Act and other federal programs intended to advance these same goals. Just since this summer, USDA has awarded more than $52 million in grants to grow local and regional food systems through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), and nearly $118 million to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG). Many of these grants were awarded to farm to school projects, including:  

  • Under the FMLFPP, Lake-to-River Food Cooperative in Youngstown, Ohio, was awarded a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to strengthen its online market for local produce delivery and encourage purchases from schools and other institutions.
  • Also through the FMLFPP, Ecotrust of Portland, Ore. (NFSN Western Regional Lead Agency), was awarded a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) to analyze Oregon’s supply of regionally produced, antibiotic-free chicken and to assess demand and specifications for this chicken from local institutions, including schools. Similarly funded, Heart and Hand House, Inc. of Philippi, W.Va., will develop an aggregation center to improve access to locally produced foods in public schools.
  • With a Specialty Crop Block Grant, Arizona Department of Agriculture will partner with Western Growers Foundation to increase students’ knowledge of the importance of good nutrition and better understand where their food comes from by creating and sustaining edible school gardens at fifty Arizona K-12 schools.
  • Also through the SCBG program, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry will partner with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center to create and promote the Harvest of the Month program which will market the consumption of Louisiana specialty crops in schools and other institutions.
  • Hawaii Department of Agriculture will partner with the Kohala Center under the SCBG program to encourage USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) schools to spend more of their allocated funds to buy local and to increase local farmers’ knowledge of requirements necessary to participate in the program.

There are many more examples of successfully funded farm to school proposals within these awards. As you’re planning for 2015, consider exploring these federal programs to help sustain and expand your farm to school activities.

For more ideas on new funding streams, read our blog post on the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant Program and download our Funding Farm to School Fact Sheet

USDA Farm to School Grants Propel Movement Forward

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 02, 2014

By Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director

Today the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the allocation of more than $5 million for farm to school programming and activities across the country. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides competitive grants and technical assistance to increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools while fostering opportunities for experiential food education for our nation’s children. The Program is proving that farm to school is a win for kids, farmers and communities.

Congratulations to all of the grant awardees. From projects focused on procurement of local and traditional foods, like the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council in South Dakota; to crucial networking and training venues, like Kansas State Department of Education’s Child Nutrition and Wellness Team workshops; and funds to execute the comprehensive implementation plans developed during past grant cycles, like in Arkansas’ Lawrence County School District, these grants will help foster the development and growth of farm to school activities throughout the country.

The farm to school movement has grown tremendously since the National Farm to School Network and its partners advocated for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to be funded in 2010 as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Our collective efforts resulted in passage of this groundbreaking legislation for farm to school, providing, for the first-time, annual mandatory funding of $5 million. 

Betti Wiggins, Executive Director of Food Services for Detroit Public Schools and National Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member, testifies in Congress in support of healthy school food.

As in the previous two years of the program, the demand for USDA Farm to School Grants continues to outweigh available funding by nearly five times. As we look ahead to next year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, the National Farm to School Network will call on Congress to increase USDA Farm to School Grant funding to better meet the need and to expand the program’s scope to support preschool, summer and after school programs. 

As the leading advocacy organization for the farm to school movement, the National Farm to School Network serves as an information, networking and advocacy hub for farm to school in the U.S. Your support enables us to work on the ground to facilitate farm to school activities and to advocate for policies in Washington, D.C., that encourage increased local procurement by schools, comprehensive farm and nutrition education for students, and market access for producers.

Today is Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. Join the farm to school movement with a donation today and help us build stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

Donate Now!

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Note: National Farm to School Network is the recipient of a Fiscal Year 2015 USDA Farm to School Grant to host a national conference next year titled “Strengthening the Farm to School Supply Chain Across the Nation.” This event will be a key educational and networking opportunity for farm to school leaders and will serve to strengthen and expand farm to school initiatives in all geographic reaches of the U.S. 

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