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National Farm to School Network

News

New report highlights success of USDA Farm to School Grant Program

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 15, 2015

“Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them.”               –Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Photo credit: USDA Farm to School Program

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new report that provides an in-depth look at the first three years of the USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program. The report shows the program has helped 12,300 schools improve healthful meal options with local ingredients, and that this increase in local food procurement has expanded market opportunities for food producers around the country.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 tasked USDA with supporting farm to school efforts through grants, training, technical assistance and research. To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has funded 221 farm to school projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here are a few exciting highlights about these awards:

  • Millions of students benefit: 12,3000 schools and 6.9 million students are estimated to have been reached through activities funded by USDA Farm to School grants.

  • Healthier food in cafeterias: 50 percent of funded projects included expanding healthy meal options offered in the cafeteria.

  • More agriculture and nutrition-based education: A majority of grantee proposals (65 percent) included activities related to teaching kids about nutrition, agriculture and where their food comes from. 

  • Rural and urban impact: 40 percent of schools or districts impacted by a USDA Farm to School Grant were considered rural, and 56 percent were considered urban. 38 percent of grants were distributed in StrikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty. 

  • Focus on children eligible for free or reduced-price meals: 78 percent of awards went to support schools or districts with free or reduced-price meal eligibility rated great than 50 percent.

  • Demand is 5x higher than available funding: To date, a total of 1,067 applicants have requested $78.4 million in grant funds. 221 applicants have received $15.1 million – an overall award rate of 21 percent. 

“These numbers underscore why it is important that Congress increase access to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization this fall,” says Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network’s Executive Director and Co-Founder. “As demonstrated by this report, farm to school strategies enable school districts to comply with the new nutrition standards and help engage students in learning healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.”  

Together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and our network of supporters across the country, we are calling on Congress to continue its support for the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package. The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 would strengthen the grant program by fully including 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.

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school by adding your name to our citizen and organizational sign-on letters. Already signed on? Consider writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper, inviting your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or calling your federal legislators to let them know how farm to school is positively impacting your community. 

Communities know that farm to school is growing healthier kids, supporting farmers and building vibrant communities. Now is the time to make sure our legislators know that farm to school works, too.

Ramping up local in upstate New York

NFSN Staff Monday, July 20, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

Saranac Lake High School students harvest celeriac at Fledging Crow Vegetables Farm.       (Photo courtesy of SLHS Green Storm) 

Before Saranac Lake Central School District (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) was awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant, local produce in the cafeteria was rare. But serving local foods on special occasions like Farm to School Month had been successful at getting students excited to try new vegetables, so Food Service Director Ruth Pino was eager to do more. 

“I realized I could help young people learn about good food and healthy eating by serving them real, fresh food,” Pino says. “At our school, 36 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch. But the real challenge is that the district is very rural and spread out, so when students are hungry, there are not many options for accessing good, local food, aside from school.” Plus, she notes, “Farm to school is also about supporting local farmers, and there are many in our area.” 

Beginning this fall, three local farmers will supply the district’s five school with fresh, local produce including carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, onions and potatoes. Fresh fruit will be brought in from a nearby orchard. Other relationships are thriving as well, such as with Paul Smith’s College, whose culinary students teamed up with Pino this spring to prepare and serve locally raised chicken to the district’s students. “It’s helping support our community,” Pino says, “and students are getting excited when they see that we have new foods for them to try.” 

Less than 150 miles west of Saranac Lake, a similar initiative is taking root in New York’s Watertown City School District. In partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Watertown was also awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant for FY 2015. With the grant, Watertown set goals of incorporating more locally grown foods into its meal programs to improve student health and link nutrition to lifelong learning.  

In addition to introducing new local foods in the cafeteria, the district’s five elementary schools launched a harvest of the month initiative, where students not only learn about and try new local foods, but also meet the farmers who produce them. “A local dairy farmer came in February with a demonstration cow, and there was a butter-making station,” district Farm to School Coordinator April Neujean said. “The state dairy princess came, too!”

Students at North Elementary School learn about cow from local farmer Ron Kuck during February’s Harvest of the Month activities. (Photo courtesy of WCSD Farm to School) 

The district’s middle and high school students are learning about local food systems as well, with guest lectures on hydroponics, beneficial and invasive bugs, and robotic tilling. Furthermore, the district has planted its first school garden, giving students the opportunity to engage in growing their own food. As Neujean explains, “This education has been a good way to help students become excited about the food changes in the cafeteria. When kids have a farm to school program, they have a positive attachment to food because they know where it comes from.”

Getting kids excited about healthy eating isn’t the only benefit of these farm to school programs. What makes farm to school at Watertown and Saranac Lake school districts impressive is their drive for collaboration and growing the movement throughout upstate New York. “The community support and excitement has been remarkable,” Neujean said. The two districts have worked together to share ideas and build capacity for making more local procurement possible. And, Saranac Lake is actively encouraging nearby school districts to join them in farm to school activities. By encouraging more schools to buy local, the districts are helping open the doors to new institutional markets for local family farmers. 

Thanks to these two USDA Farm to School grantees, an entire region is poised for local food transformation. Their initiatives are helping kids develop healthy eating habits, providing new markets for farmers and building up strong partnerships that foster vibrant communities. These programs are not only ramping up local procurement in their cafeterias, but also laying the groundwork for schools across upstate New York to go local.  That’s a delicious win for students, an economic win for farmers, and an energizing win for all of upstate New York. 

Transforming lunch, building community with a USDA Planning Grant

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 01, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

“I've seen the effect of farm to school activities in our school and in our community at large. Kids are eating better because the food is better, but the way the community has come together to support it and the various partnerships we've created since receiving the USDA Farm to School Planning Grant have been amazing." 
- Susi Jones, Executive Director for Julian Pathways, Julian, Calif.

Chef Jeremy Manely (left) and Julian Pathways students tour “Down the Road” Farm, where local produce is grown for school lunches. (Photos courtesy of Tricia Elisara

Farm to school at Julian Pathways started with an unused plot of asphalt. Parents were the first to suggest the asphalt be cleared and a school garden planted, and it didn’t take long for students and teachers to follow. The new garden at Julian Pathways became a living laboratory for students, and it sparked efforts to extend nutrition and agriculture education to the lunchroom. Six years later, farm to school at Julian Pathways has become a whole community affair. 

As Julian Pathways Executive Director Susi Jones explains, expanding farm to school beyond the garden and into the lunchroom was not an easy task. Without facilities to cook meals or room to build a kitchen, Julian Pathways had served frozen, pre-packaged lunches. “At the time, we felt it was the best option,” she said. “But we also felt our students were getting the bad end of the deal. It was not good food, and we were not nurturing our students.” 

Although students were learning about local, fresh food in the garden, they weren’t connecting with healthy eating in the cafeteria. So in 2012, the Julian Union Elementary School District applied for a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to identify ways to secure local, fresh and delicious meals for their students. Julian Pathways, the student and family support program for the district, coordinates the farm to school program. Alumnus and local chef Jeremy Manley jumped at the opportunity to cater lunches at his alma mater. Jeremy’s on the Campus – a play on his restaurant Jeremy’s on the Hill – pays particular attention to sourcing its food locally and students are gobbling up the fresh fruit and vegetables options. 


 “January was broccoli month, and I over heard two four-year-old girls say, ‘There’s broccoli in the salad! I love my broccoli raw!’ What kind of four-year-olds talk like this without exposure in the garden?” –Susi Jones, Julian Pathways Executive Director
Students in Club Jaguar's afterschool garden class eat the Harvest of the Month – broccoli – that they planted and tended. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Elisara)
The USDA Farm to School Planning Grant enabled Julian Pathways to explore what farm to school activities best fit their community, and it helped build a creative partnership with a local chef that grew to include local farmers, small businesses and a vibrant sense of community. Their next goal is to plant a large heritage apple orchard that will provide local fruit for students, as well as serve the entire community with jobs, re-invigorating the town’s historic apple industry.  

Julian Pathways has done an incredible job supporting these innovative and burgeoning new partnerships, but more must be done to realize their full potential.  “We are such a small district, and there’s not a lot of money,” Jones explained. “Our reimbursements are small, and we really are reaching and scrounging for funding.” To grow the program’s infrastructure, Julian Pathways applied for a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant. But because of such high demand across the country, Julian Pathways was not awarded these funds. Nationally, demand for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is five times higher than available federal funding. 

Julian Pathways’ story exemplifies the power of farm to school to support child nutrition, strengthen local economies and build vibrant communities. All across the country, people like Susi Jones and Jeremy Manley want the opportunity to experience the positive impacts of farm to school in their own communities. That’s why we are 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

Will you join us? Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and let’s keep farm to school programs like Julian Pathways’ growing strong! 

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.


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. 

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! 

Healthy Habits Take Root

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest post by Deborah Kane, National Director, USDA Farm to School Program


Everyone’s a star during National Farm to School Month. In fact, the spotlight shines brightly on the National Farm to School Network itself. Without the Network and its role in building a coalition in support of healthy kids and local food, there wouldn’t be a USDA Farm to School Program. But because there is, today USDA is charged with providing training and technical assistance to school districts all across the country to help them transform school food and create a healthier next generation.

Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics --  how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our Fact Sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planningmarketing and more.


USDA also supports farm to school programs by distributing up to $5 million annually in grants, and there we get to shine the spotlight on some fantastic projects. New this year USDA is offering grants that support farm to school events and trainings. In Alaska, the Southeast Conference will use funds to host a statewide gathering connecting school food buyers with local producers with an emphasis on culturally appropriate local foods, including seafood and traditional Native foods; while in New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension will host five regional trainings on agriculture-based curriculum for educators across the state. In the Mid-Atlantic, the Virginia Department of Agriculture will host a statewide farm to school conference and use it as a forum to establish a peer-to-peer mentoring program for school food service directors.


Beyond grants for events, other USDA Farm to School grantees have been implementing all sorts of exciting projects to bring the farm to school. See for yourself; in celebration of National Farm to School Month, we’re excited to announce a five-part video series featuring testimonials from more than 30 USDA Farm to School grantees.  

“We’re actually seeing our farmers have hope. The farm to school program allows them to see an opportunity for a sustainable living for themselves and their families,” says Daaiyah Salaam from the Southwest Georgia Project in a video on the impacts of farm to school programs.

According to USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census, 44 percent of school districts across the country were operating farm to school programs as of the 2012-2013 school year and another 13 percent had plans to start in the future. Farm to school programs exist in every state in the country.  In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased over $386 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. And an impressive 56 percent of school districts report that they will buy even more local foods in future school years. 

So hats off to the National Farm to School Network and its myriad members who sought to institutionalize farm to school at the Federal level. I’d say it was a job well done.

Editor’s Note: A new video will be released each week throughout the month of October. Access the complete series here. To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for our Farm to School E-letter


New pilot program for locally-grown produce accepting applications

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 23, 2014


By: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition staff

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a request for applications from states interested in participating in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Kevin Concannon, the USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, announced that under the pilot, up to eight states across five regions will be granted flexibility in using a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

The pilot project “offers states an additional opportunity to bolster local farm economies while providing the children who participate in our school meals programs with healthy food from within their own communities,” said Under Secretary Concannon.

USDA’s FNS and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be working closely together to implement the pilot project and anticipate having deliveries start in the middle of the 2014-2015 School Year.

Applications

Applications must be submitted via email using the forms and instructions in the request for applications. Interested State Distributing Agencies (SDAs) must submit an application by September 30, 2014 to be considered for selection for the 2014-2015 school year. The pilot projects are anticipated to be multi-year and may involve additional requests for applications. 

In states selected to participate in the pilot project, school food authorities (SFAs) or SDAs (acting on behalf of participating SFAs), will be permitted to competitively solicit a USDA-approved vendor using USDA NSLP entitlement funds for unprocessed fruits and vegetables. SDAs or SFAs will be able to use their pre-existing commercial distribution channels and relationships with farmers, produce wholesalers and distributors, as well as apply geographic preference in procurement.

State and vendor selection process and pilot project details

The Farm Bill requires that at least one project be located in a state from each of the five regions of the U.S.: Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Western, Midwest, and  Southern. FNS plans to prioritize applications based on: the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the applicant states on a per capita basis; the demonstrated commitment of the States to farm to school efforts; and whether the states contain a sufficient quantity of SFAs, varying population sizes and geographic locations.

Once pilot project states are selected, AMS will work with those states to identify approved vendors, such as farmers, food hubs, wholesalers, distributors and processors. Vendors must submit documentation certifying compliance with AMS requirements regarding a comprehensive food safety program, 100 percent domestic origin and food defense. AMS will publish an approved vendor list on the AMS website. SFAs or SDAs from pilot project states can then procure unprocessed fruits and vegetables from these vendors, up to the amount of USDA entitlement that the states set aside for the pilot project. SDAs must submit monthly reports to FNS and AMS summarizing delivery and pricing information from all USDA-approved vendors, who are then paid by AMS in accordance with these reports.

USDA technical assistance and contact information for state applicants

FNS plans to conduct conference calls on August 7th and September 10th to answer questions and provide technical assistance with the application process to states that wish to apply. Details from USDA are forthcoming.

For questions regarding the pilot project and application, SDAs should contact:

Carolyn Smalkowski (703-305-2674) or Christina Conell (415-705-1353)

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