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National Farm to School Network

News

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. 

New Resource and Funding Ideas for Grassroots Organizations

NFSN Staff Friday, November 14, 2014
By Barbara Patterson, NFSN Policy Intern
This week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released a Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs. The 2014 Farm Bill contained reauthorization of several programs that promote local and sustainable food systems. This new resource helps farmers, conservationists, entrepreneurs, researchers, and rural and urban community groups navigate new and existing federal farm and food programs to create a more sustainable agriculture system.
In particular, this guide offers accessible and easy-to-understand overviews and examples of federal programs that support farm to school efforts.  Some examples of programs featured in the guide that support farm to school are Farm to School Grants, Value-Added Producer GrantsSpecialty Crop Block Grants and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program Grants.
For each program, NSAC outlines eligibility, program history, authorizing legislation, application information and examples of success stories.  
Checkout the Grassroots Guide here.  

How can CNR 2015 support farm to school?

NFSN Staff Friday, October 17, 2014


Carrots for Ventura Unified School District, grown at Join the Farm.

Amy Grossman, executive director of Join the Farm, is in the market for a new delivery van. 

"Just in time for Farm to School Month, [our farm] had our largest delivery ever to the school district in the first week of October, maxing out the capacity of our delivery van," she explains. 

Large orders weren't always the norm for the small farm, which is a project of The Abundant Table, a California nonprofit. Everything changed after their county's school district was awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant.

"Farm to school sales now represent a significant portion of our business model and enabled us to take on more acreage and deliveries," Amy says. "Our farmers take enormous pride in knowing their produce is regularly on the cafeteria plates of more than 5,000 children in our county."

The success of Join the Farm is just one story from among the 139 USDA Farm to School Grants awarded in the first two years of the program. In the coming months, the National Farm to School Network and our partners will be telling more stories like these. That’s because in less than a year, a federal piece of legislation that supports farm to school and other child nutrition programs is set to expire. About every five years, in a process known as the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Congress reviews and updates these programs. The most recent version—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—expires September 30, 2015. 

The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (or CNR for short) authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, among others. The last CNR in 2010 was groundbreaking: For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for NFSN and farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. 

The process to reauthorize the USDA Farm to School Grants and other child nutrition programs has already begun. The CNR conversations have already started in the two congressional committees overseeing the process: the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the House Education and Workforce Committee. The Senate Agriculture Committee held two CNR hearings this summer, including a hearing featuring Betti Wiggins, executive director in the Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools and advisory board member for NFSN. 

To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, NFSN hosted nearly two-dozen CNR listening sessions over the last year-and-a-half to gather input from stakeholders. These listening sessions provided key input for the policies within CNR that would be most beneficial to the farm to school community. Here’s what we learned: 

In order to build on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program’s success, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization must include increased funding for the program. Demand for the USDA Farm to School Grants outweighs the current available funding by more than 5 times. USDA received 718 applications in the first two years but was only able to fund 139. 

The scope of the program should be expanded beyond its current focus on K-12 schools to also include early care education settings. The first few years of life are formative years of life for developing healthy habits, and farm to preschool shows promising results for starting kids on the right path to lifelong wellbeing. 

The program’s scope should also be expanded for summer food service program sites and after school programs. 

The listening sessions provided ideas on how to improve farm to school in tribal communities, specifically including by connecting tribal communities with traditional, native foods grown and raised by tribal producers.

NFSN is partnering up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to call upon Congress to provide additional mandatory funding for the grant program, both to address the tremendous demand but also to support the proposed expanded scope. For more information, check out the NFSN webinar on CNR and join our network. Let’s make sure the 2015 CNR further supports and strengthens farm to school initiatives! 

Policy Advocacy Encourages Farm to School Growth

NFSN Staff Monday, October 06, 2014

Guest post by Deb Bentzel, The Food Trust 
The Food Trust serves as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month. 

Students enjoy local strawberries. (Office of the State Superintendent of Education photo)

In the farm to school movement, policy tends to be a relatively silent partner to the work many stakeholders are doing on the ground. How does policy get put into place, and how can we rally our local and state decision-makers to support farm to school practices in meaningful ways? We can start by telling stories of where policy in action is making a difference for children, school communities, farmers, and locally owned businesses.

The Mid-Atlantic Region—comprised of New Jersey, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia – has many stories of how farm to school policy has changed the face of school meals, the expansion of school gardening and the funding of these and other initiatives to create lasting, meaningful change for schools and their communities. Here, are two stories of farm to school success—from policy, to practice, to results.

D.C.'s Healthy Schools Act and Healthy Tots Act

The Healthy Schools Act and the Healthy Tots Act of Washington DC are shining examples of how farm to school and child nutrition advocates can work together to support the passage of landmark bills that support healthy food and physical activity environments for children. They are also great examples of how a special emphasis on farm to school and farm to preschool practices can be integrated into broader child wellness policies. Passed in 2010, the Healthy Schools Act expands access to breakfast and lunch, encourages farm to school purchasing practices by providing financial incentives for local procurement (5 cents additional reimbursement for meals containing locally grown foods!), provides grants to fund school garden programs and farm field trips, and has a number of health and wellness components. With ample support from the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools (OSSE) and other local partners, kids across DC are eating healthy, locally-grown foods. In the 2012-2013 schools year, up to 89 percent of DC schools served healthy, local foods to students at least once per month! That’s policy in action. 

It has taken the collective and collaborative work of many partners on the ground—including DC Greens, the National Farm to School Netwok’s (NFSN) state lead for the District of Columbia—to support the passage of both acts and to translate their policy into lasting systems change. DC Greens’ Farm to School director Karissa McCarthy reflects, “The legislation has helped elevate the ongoing work of farm to school practitioners in classrooms, cafeterias and school gardens. We are lucky in DC to have a long-standing stakeholder group that not only championed this legislation, but has continued to carry our collective farm to school efforts forward.”  The recently legislated Healthy Tots Act will support farm to preschool practices utilizing strategies similar to the Healthy Schools Act, including financial incentives for local procurement. We look forward to the development of these preschool programs and to celebrating the great work our nation’s capital is doing to support the health of their youngest eaters!

Student at Ethel Jacobsen Elementary School (Surf City, NJ) work in their school garden. (New Jersey Farm to School photo) 

Five new bills support farm to school in New Jersey

Elsewhere in the region, the great Garden State of New Jersey recently signed five farm to school bills into law that will encourage farm to school practices across the state by supporting both schools and the Jersey Fresh growers. Designed to promote, celebrate and help fund farm to school practices, these innovative bills were the result of years of advocacy and support for farm to school. Championed by the New Jersey Farm to School Network, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Farm Bureau, these new bills are exciting in their fresh approach to connecting schools with NJ-grown foods and their focus on celebrating the great work of those making farm to school happen on the ground. New Jersey Farm to School Network executive director and NFSN State Lead, Beth Feehan, thanked all stakeholders “for their willingness to collaborate these past six years and to find the place where grass roots and institutions can meet to affect change.” And New Jersey isn't the only Mid-Atlantic state with farm to school policy success: Virginia, Maryland and Delaware each celebrate their own “Farm to School Week” thanks to legislative support.

Policy success in YOUR state

How can you get involved in affecting policy change to support farm to school practices in your city or state?  Start by reaching out to your farm to school stakeholders (including your NFSN state lead) to hear the latest about what may already be in discussion, on the docket or in committee. From there, you can testify to your state legislature, write letters of support and educate your elected officials about the benefits of farm to school. You can also participate in NFSN informational webinars to learn more about federal policies like the Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Reauthorization and how federal policy can also support our farmers, schools and communities for years to come.   

More information on farm to school policies across the country can be found in this comprehensive State Legislative Survey assembled by NFSN and Vermont Law School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Farm to School Project Awarded Value-Added Producer Grant

NFSN Staff Monday, September 08, 2014

Last month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the recipients of the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program for fiscal year 2014. The VAPG program assists agricultural producers with value-added activities related to processing and marketing of products. VAPG generates new products, creates and expands upon marketing opportunities, and increases farm incomes.  

Among the 247 VAPG recipients named this year was This Old Farm, Inc. in Indiana. The farm was awarded $75,000 to add chopped lettuce as a new value-added product to be marketed in a 400-mile radius around Central Indiana. In addition, This Old Farm is participating in farm to school discussions with the intent of supplying fresh cut produce to schools in the state.    

Erick and Jessica Smith, owners of This Old Farm, are collaborating with the Indiana Farm to School Network to foster relationships with stakeholders. They are using the VAPG funds to conduct a feasibility study to explore production of and processing of romaine lettuce for school markets. An integral component of their farm to school goals requires developing strong relationships with schools to garner support and commitments for local procurement of lightly processed produce. This Old Farm currently operates as a food hub with meat processing, and they aim to use their knowledge and experience to expand the scope to produce processing for smaller growers.

To learn more about farm to school in Indiana, visit NFSN’s Indiana farm to school page. To read more about the VAPG awards, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog post



Farm to School Legislation Supports New Jersey as the Garden State

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 02, 2014

By Beth Feehan, Director of the NJ Farm to School Network & Deb Bentzel, Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead of the National Farm to School Network

It’s said that New Jersey’s nickname of the “Garden State” came into being as far back as 1876, when Camden resident Abraham Browning used the phrase to describe his home state, whose bountiful agricultural products were supplying not just New Jersey, but also Pennsylvania and New York.  Over the past 138 years, New Jersey remains the “Garden State,” boasting over 9,000 farms spread across 715,000 acres.  However, like farming in most states, New Jersey has faced challenges remaining economically viable in the face of an increasingly nationalized and globalized food system.  Enter farm to school.


Farm to school advocacy efforts in New Jersey began in 2008 with a stakeholder meeting kick off at Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield. At the time, the term “farm to school” in New Jersey was not commonly used, despite many groups working on school garden education in varying communities. As the years progressed, more groups joined in the discussion to engage the agriculture community in the state, including the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the New Jersey Farm Bureau and state legislators.  This cross-sector collaboration has now resulted in an amazing legislative effort designed to put the farm back on the cafeteria tray, and to further support the three pillars of farm to school: procurement, school gardening, and education.



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. Witnesses to the signing included the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, New Jersey Farm Bureau, state legislators, representatives from the Department of Education and the New Jersey Farm to School Network.

On Monday, August 25, 2014, New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno signed into law five new actions to support farm to school across the state. These new laws will help advance farm to school practices through:


Promotion and recognition initiatives:  The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will now have more dedicated space to promote farm to school and success stories on their website and will create an annual farm to school awards program designed to recognize school meal programs that have taken their food purchasing to the next level by purchasing locally grown foods in meals, and by educating students about the value and benefits to eating Jersey Fresh.


Local food procurement support:  Development of an online farm to school clearing house will help connect New Jersey school food buyers to farmers, foods banks, and other suppliers in order to facilitate local food sourcing and relationship-building among those that grow healthy foods in the state, and those that serve it to the state’s K-12 population.


Enhanced funding:   New Jersey taxpayers may now voluntarily contribute funds to the “New Jersey Farm to School and School Garden Fund” via a check box on their yearly income tax returns.


Additionally, the state Department of Agriculture is not permitted to accept private donations for farm to school.


We applaud a truly bi-partisan effort in which legislators were able to intrinsically understand the future benefits of farm to school and how support at the statewide policy level would help develop youth into healthy, happy, educated consumers, supporting the state’s talented and dedicated farmers and their communities and preserving agriculture as the industry of which New Jersey is most proud.  


A cohort of farm to school advocates from across New Jersey as well as the National Farm to School Network's Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead, approved of the bill signing as is evident by their smiles. 
From left to right: Back row - Meredith Taylor (NJ Farm to School Network Board Member), Larry Kuser (NJ Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member); Front row - Deb Bentzel (Mid-Atlantic Regional Lead for National Farm to School Network), Sheri Kurdakul (NJ Farm to School Network Marketing Director), Beth Feehan (NJ Farm to School Network Executive Director) and Chris Cirkus (NJ Farm to School Network Programs Director).

If you are interested in finding out what your state has done to support farm to school through legislative efforts, check out NFSN's State Farm to School Legislative Survey 2002-2013, which was released earlier this year. Since 2014 has been a busy year for New Jersey and other states, we plan to update this survey next year to include activity from 2014. If you know of farm to school policy efforts underway in your state, please contact NFSN's Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director, Helen Dombalis.




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