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.