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National Farm to School Network

News

Kids CAN make healthy food choices: Education is key

NFSN Staff Tuesday, June 17, 2014


By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network

While politicians in Washington debate implementation of school nutrition standards, the next generation’s leaders are sitting in a school cafeteria, deciding whether or not broccoli salad is “gross.” In both cases, the stakes are high. 

A 2012 study by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicted that obesity rates in the U.S. could exceed 44 percent by 2030, costing our country an additional $66 billion per year in medical expenses. But here’s the good news: After years of focused initiatives to address childhood health and nutrition, including the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, obesity rates among children are on the decline. 

And there’s more good news. In the great eat-it-or-toss-it debate that plays out in lunchrooms across America, schools have a powerful tool. More than 23 million students are now more likely to say yes to broccoli salad – as well as other healthy fruits and veggies, like roasted sweet potatoes, carrot sticks and watermelon salsa – thanks to their school’s participation in farm to school. Farm to school activities enrich the connection kids have with fresh, healthy food and local farmers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools. Kids gain access to healthy, local foods in their cafeteria as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. 

Research shows that kids eat what they know and toss what they don’t, and there’s no better way to know your food than getting your hands dirty in a garden. Local food tastes better in many cases, too, because it has been picked ripe and delivered fresh. 

Implementing farm to school practices does take time and effort, but new data released this month by the USDA shows that more than 40,000 schools across all 50 states and D.C. are already engaging in farm to school activities thanks to hard-working school nutrition professionals, farmers, parents, teachers and community partners. Most schools start small: a garden patch, samples of local foods or perhaps a visit from a farmer during National Farm to School Month in October. 

Farm to school is a critical tool for school nutrition professionals, who are superheroes navigating a complex, underfunded and demanding system every day. Students who are properly introduced to new foods through farm to school are more likely to participate in their school’s meal plan and less likely to waste food, which results in a better bottom line and healthier kids. 

We don’t expect children to master riding a bike without a little practice and training.  Nor do we expect them to succeed in calculus without first learning algebra. Why, then, are children expected to immediately like new foods without a little instruction or practice? Research says kids need to try new foods anywhere from 7 to 15 times before they acquire a taste for them. Farm to school activities serve as the “training wheels” that introduce children to new food options, setting them up for a lifelong ride of healthy eating.

The new school meal standards are based on sound science and recommendations from the non-partisan Institute of Medicine. They provide a clear roadmap of changes needed to reverse childhood obesity. We shouldn’t be debating if or when the standards should be implemented, we should be working to ensure that all students have access to farm to school activities so their daily decision whether to try or toss a new food ends on the correct side of the trashcan. 

New USDA census results show 23.5 million kids participating in farm to school

Chelsey Simpson Wednesday, June 11, 2014

This week the USDA released the final results of the Farm to School Census, a first-of-its-kind effort to measure the amount and type of farm to school activity taking place across the country. Initial results were released last year, but the data now includes new or updated information from 1,500 school districts, resulting in an overall school district response rate of 75 percent. The data reflects farm to school activity during the 2011 - 2012 school year.

The new census data is also packaged in an updated website that offers a customized search tool, raw data downloads and infographics, all aimed at helping users find and share detailed information and local statistics. The survey results demonstrate that farm to school is taking root across America, impacting the health of kids and their communities:

  • 23.5 million kids are participating in farm to school activities
  • 40, 328 schools are using farm to school practices
  • $385+ million dollars were spent on local food for schools 

Since our network first took shape in 2007, we have encouraged the expansion of farm to school practices across the country by serving as a resource and information hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into school systems and preschools. We advocated for and informed the content of the census, and we applaud the USDA Farm to School Program for their great execution of this important piece of work. We are thrilled that farm to school is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception and that we have the data to prove it! 

Local and regional food marketing funding available

NFSN Staff Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Editor's note: This post was written by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and originally appeared on their blog. The National Farm to School Network is a member of NSAC.

On Thursday, May 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) posted a Request for Applications (RFA) for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), a competitive grants program which provides a total of $30 million for a wide spectrum of direct-to-consumer and intermediated marketing projects to help grow economic opportunities and income for small and mid-sized family farmers, increase consumer choice and access to fresh and healthy food, and improve the economy in rural communities.

As an expanded version of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), the FMLFPP recognizes the skyrocketing consumer demand for locally-grown food, one of the fastest growing sectors in American agriculture.  Yesterday’s release of the Request for Applications follows on the heels of an announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack of both the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and a change to the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Local Food Enterprise Program.

FMLFPP and its predecessor program, FMPP, have been championed by NSAC for over a decade.  The scaling up of the program in the 2014 Farm Bill was part of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) with a host of co-sponsors.

The fundamental goal of FMLFPP is to develop new marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers.  Details on the RFA, which for this initial year of farm bill implementation, was divided into a Farmers Market Promotion Program RFA and a Local Food Promotion Program RFA, are available below.

The 2014 Farm Bill divides the funding for FMLFPP in halves.  Hence, under the request for applications released yesterday, $15 million is available in grants for direct-to-consumer outlets like farmers markets, community supported agriculture, pick your owns, agritourism, and other forms of direct marketing; another $15 million will be available in grants for local and regional food enterprises that are not direct farmer-to-consumer markets, including food hubs, food aggregators, food distributors, food wholesalers, food processors, and other value-added production enterprises, such as shared-use kitchen or kitchen incubator operations.

AMS has posted the two RFAs on their website, one for direct-to-consumer marketing projects and one for non-direct-to-consumer marketing projects.

Applications for both the “FMPP” and the “LFPP” portions of the program are due on June 20, 2014 via the www.grants.gov website.

Eligible Grant Recipients

For both direct marketing and local food projects, eligible entities are:

  • agricultural businesses;
  • agricultural cooperatives;
  • producer networks;
  • producer associations;
  • community supported agriculture (CSA) networks;
  • CSA associations;
  • local governments;
  • nonprofit corporations;
  • public benefit corporations;
  • economic development corporations;
  • regional farmers market authorities; and
  • tribal governments.

Priority Consideration

For both types of projects, USDA will give priority to projects that:

  • primarily serve low income/low food access (LI/LA) communities as defined by the USDA in its ERS Food Access Research Atlas map; or
  • involve Promise Zone Lead Applicant Organizations.

Please see RFA for detailed instructions on how to demonstrate the fulfillment of these categories.  At least 10 percent of the total funding will be reserved for projects from the LI/LA priority category.

Direct Marketing Specific Project Information

Direct Marketing – Eligibility

Projects funded must assist in the development, improvement, and expansion of domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, agritourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities.  Additionally, projects must demonstrate benefits to two or more farmers, producers, or farm vendors who produce and sell their own products through a common distribution channel directly to consumers.

Examples of eligible projects include:

  • market startup, operation, infrastructure;
  • farmer/rancher/manager training and education;
  • advertising/outreach;
  • market analysis and planning;
  • customer and producer surveys;
  • vendor and customer recruitment; and
  • new venue establishment.

Although eligible entities can submit more than one application for review, FMPP will award only one grant per eligible entity and project in a grant funding year.

Matching funds are not required.

Direct Marketing – Minimum and Maximum Award Amounts and Project Length

The minimum award is $15,000 and the maximum is $100,000.

The maximum duration for projects is 24 months and must begin no later than September 30, 2014 and end no later than September 29, 2016.

Direct Marketing – Staff Contacts at USDA

For questions about FMPP, please contact one of the following staff at USDA:

Mrs. Carmen Humphrey, FMPP Branch Chief; or

one of the FMPP Grants Management Specialists

  • Mrs. Lee Cliburn
  • Mr. Karl Hacker
  • Mr. Ricardo Krajewski
  • Mrs. Camia Lane
  • Mrs. Earlene Henderson-Samuels.

By email: USDAFMPPQuestions@ams.usda.gov or by phone: 202-720-0933.

Local Food Specific Project Information

Local Food – Eligibility and Match Requirements

Projects funded must be designed to assist in the development, improvement, and/or expansion of local and regional food business enterprises.  Local or regional food business enterprise are organizations or business entities that function as an intermediary between producers (farmers or growers) and buyers by carrying out one or more local or regional food supply chain activities such as aggregating, storing, processing, and/or distributing locally or regionally produced food products to meet local and regional market demand.

Local or regional food is defined as a food product that is raised, produced, aggregated, stored, processed, and distributed in the locality or region where the final product is marketed to consumers.  The total distance the product is transported must be within 400 miles from the origin of the product or, both the final market and the origin of the product must be within the same State, territory, or tribal land.

Examples of eligible projects include:

  • mid-tier value chains;
  • food hubs;
  • other food aggregators, processors, wholesalers, and distributors; and
  • other value-added production enterprises, such as shared-use kitchen or kitchen incubator operations.

Eligible entities are the same as for direct marketing projects (see above).

Although eligible applicants can submit more than one application for review, applicants are limited to only one grant in a grant-funding year.

A cash or in-kind match, in an amount equal to 25 percent of the total cost of the project, is required.

Local Food – Two Types of Grants

Two types of project applications: planning grants and implementation grants:

  • Planning grants are used in the planning stages of establishing or expanding a local and regional food business enterprise.  Activities can include market research, feasibility studies, and business planning.
  • Implementation grants are used to establish a new local and regional food business enterprise or to improve or expand an existing local or regional food business enterprise.  Activities can include training and technical assistance for the business enterprise and/or for producers working with the business enterprise, outreach and marketing to buyer and consumers; working capital, and non-construction infrastructure improvements to business enterprise facilities or information technology systems.

Local Food – Minimum and Maximum Award Amounts and Project Length

For planning grants the minimum award is $5,000 and maximum is $25,000.  The maximum duration for projects is 12 months and extensions may not exceed an additional 6 months.  Projects must begin no later than September 30, 2014 and end no later than September 29, 2015.  Planning grant recipients are eligible and encouraged to apply for implementation grants, after their planning grants are closed out and planning projects are completed.

For implementation grants the minimum award is $25,000 and maximum is $100,000.  The maximum duration for projects is 24 months and extensions may not exceed an additional 6 months.  Projects must begin no later than September 30, 2014 and end no later than September 29, 2016.

Local Food Staff Contacts at USDA

For questions about FMPP, please contact one of the following staff at USDA:

Nicole Nelson Miller, LFPP Program Manager; or

LFPP Grant Specialists — Velma Lakins, Samantha Schaffstall

By email: USDALFPPQuestions@ams.usda.gov or by phone: 202-720-2731.

Webinars for More Information

AMS will hold a webinar on the application process and eligibility for FMPP applicants on May 13, 2014 from 10:30 am-11:30 am EST.  The webinar will also be recorded and available for future use.   To join the FMPP webinar please register at this link: https://cc.readytalk.com/r/8vug7o4joctv&eom

AMS will hold a webinar on LFPP’s regulation, the application process, and eligibility on May 14, 2014 from 2pm-3:30pm EST.  The webinar will also be recorded and available for future use.  To join the LFPP webinar, please register at this link: https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/s/registrations/new?cid=cablorpc4umq

Farm to school in the news

SimpleFlame.com Admin Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Preschool teacher honored in Virginia 

Today is Farming in the City Day in Harrisonburg, Virginia, an annual celebration started by preschool teacher Lauren Arbogast (pictured above), who also has the honor of being this year's Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year in Virginia.

Arbogast teaches preschool at W. H. Keister Elementary School in Harrisonburg and integrates agriculture into not only her own classroom but also the entire school. [….] She and her husband, Brian, and their two sons, Brandon and Jackson, live on a multi-generational farm where they produce beef, poultry and crops. She blogs about her life on the farm at paintthetownag.com.


USDA pilots new farm to school programs 

On Civil Eats, National Farm to School Network policy director Helen Dombalis weighed in on how the new Farm Bill supports farm to school through a new pilot program: 

Starting next school year, these programs would provide local fruit and vegetables for at least five, and up to eight, pilot schools across the country, with at least one state in each of the five main regions of the country (the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, the South, the West, and the Midwest). (The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the coming months.) 

Along with school gardens and food systems education, the National Farm to School Network’s (NFSN) Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director Helen Dombalis says “local procurement is the third key piece of farm-to-school.” NFSN advocated for the pilots along with National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and Dombalis sees them as an important start. 

Conference recap: Advocating for change

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 17, 2014

The National Farm to School Networks' Farm to Cafeteria Conference continued on Thursday with the local plenary session. The Sustainable Food Center, the local host for the conference, organized a great series of speakers including Texas State Representative and founder of the Texas House Farm to Table Caucus, Eddie Rodriguez; South West Workers Union representative Diana Lopez; former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Jim Hightower; and noted food and nutrition journalist, Toni Tippton-Martin.

If there was a theme that ran through the morning's presentations it was a call for advocacy. Whether to our elected representatives, to our neighbors or for often-overlooked parts of our communities, each of the speakers focused on the importance of speaking up.  Jim Hightower observed that "you don't make progress by standing guard" and he issued the following challenge:

  • Get your legislature to establish a farm to school caucus.
  • Speak from the values that inform our work: economic justice and opportunity for all. 
  • Go with your boldest agenda and negotiate from there.
  • Be respectful, but make sure all of your representatives know your name.
  • Establish a speakers bureau and go speak everywhere that will give you the floor.

As the day progressed, people began speaking up. First they spoke up about what they wanted to discuss in the open space session. A wide range of important topics were raised and attendees jumped into self-organized meetings to make plans for future efforts.

 

Next, the crowd voted with their dollars at an array of Austin food trucks -- small businesses with a reputation for disrupting entrenched food systems.

 

At the lighting talks and the poster and share fair, the group mixed and mingled with a wide range of partners and collaborators, all with something to contribute to our goal of food justice for all.

 

And finally, a version of the speaker's bureau that was called for in the morning came into being that night as a few of FoodCorp's service members took the stage for FoodTalks -- stories about food, food systems and the difference our movement is making.

Jim Hightower's closing thought from the morning session was about perseverance. He pointed out that the founders of the suffrage movement did not live to see their goal achieved. Like growing good food, change takes time, but we live in a very different world than did the suffragists. #PoweringUp has already reached an audience far beyond Austin. If we keep using our chorus of savvy, inspiring voices, the change we seek will come, and soon.

USDA accepting comments for local school wellness policies

NFSN Staff Friday, April 11, 2014

Once a bill is passed and signed into law, the next step in the policy process is implementation of the new law. There is an opportunity right now for you to shape the implementation of a policy that will impact the farm to school community! USDA is accepting comments through April 28, 2014 on its proposed rule for local school wellness policies

A few years ago, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (or HHFKA for short). Section 204 of HHFKA updates guidelines for local school wellness policies, which are required of schools receiving federal funds for school meal programs. The proposed rule simply means that USDA is proposing how it will implement the new law and is seeking public comments before the rule is finalized. Are you going to tell USDA what you think? If you’ve never submitted comments before, we are here to help! 

The first of many policy updates from the new NFSN blog

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Helen Dombalis, NFSN's policy and strategic partnerships director, offers a policy update at NFSN's 2013 annual meeting. Helen will be writing policy blog posts on a regular basis. 

With the launch of the National Farm to School’s Network new website comes an exciting new feature: our blog! Along with serving as a resource and networking hub for all aspects of farm to school, NFSN also serves as a policy advocate for the farm to school movement. Thus, our new blog will feature updates and information on what’s happening in Washington, DC and around the country. Check back regularly to learn about key opportunities to influence policies that impact you. If you’re involved in farm to school advocacy in your state or community, please share your farm to school story with us

In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and partner organizations advocated for federal funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program that now provides $5 million annually to support farm to school activities. This program is one of many examples of successful advocacy now benefitting the farm to school community. USDA is currently accepting applications for the program. The deadline to apply for a USDA Farm to School Grant is April 30, 2014. 

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