City Limits: Congress Should Act Now to Extend School Food Waivers

NFSN Staff
May 5, 2022

By Nausher Khan, National Farm to School Network Board Member

Nausher Khan is an advisory board member of the National Farm to School Network and director of strategic business partnerships at Red Rabbit, LLC, USA’s largest Black-owned school food management company celebrating food from all cultures in the cafeteria.

“Millions of American children could go hungry this summer unless Congress acts soon. That’s because an end looms on June 30 for a series of special COVID-era waivers. Among other things, they allow schools to serve free meals to all students. But eliminating the waivers risks more than hunger, it also jeopardizes other gains made in child nutrition programs under the waivers. 

There are more than two dozen waivers, tackling everything from easing the congregate-feeding requirement, which requires children to travel to a central location and eat their meals together at the site, to eliminating the need for household income verification. New York and Illinois are two states which have announced they are extending the emergency contract option for food service into next year, and other states can follow their lead.

The overall intent of the waivers is reasonably simple: Allow school systems to have more flexible conversations with food service management companies and feed more children without administrative red tape. When it comes to feeding kids, these conversations are not only focused on price. They also focus on the values schools are communicating when they make food choices. They allow decision-makers to broaden relationships with suppliers in the communities they serve and use food service to signal the importance of culture and community to their children.

Many food management companies and producers of color are small to mid-sized, and we have benefited from the added flexibility in the way schools negotiate. The waivers have allowed us to retain staff and pay an honest living wage and continue buying fresh produce while serving scratch-made meals to a larger student body. The end of the waivers jeopardizes our success, and the success of others like us around the country and here in New York.”

Read the entire op-ed here. 

Applications Now Open for Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program

NFSN Staff
April 5, 2022

On March 17, USDA opened applications for the Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program (LFS). The program will make $200 million available to state governments to purchase local food for school meal programs. The program has three overarching goals:

  • Provide opportunities for states to strengthen their local and regional food system,
  • Support socially disadvantaged farmers/producers and small businesses, and  
  • Establish and broaden relationships between schools and fresh, nutritious food. 

Program details: 

With LFS funding, state agencies will procure domestic, local, unprocessed or minimally processed foods from local farmers and ranchers. Purchases should target socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as small businesses. State agencies will then distribute food to schools in their state that participate in the National School Lunch Program and/or the School Breakfast program. In addition to purchasing food, funds may also be used to cover storage and transportation costs. 

Eligible applicants for LFS are state agencies or departments responsible for agriculture, procurement, food distribution, emergency response, administration of the National School Lunch Program, or similar activities within the state. Only one award per state/territory is available, so agencies within the same state wanting to implement this program should coordinate with one another. The applicant may partner or collaborate with non-profit, for-profit, public, and/or private entities. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis but the final deadline is June 17, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. 

Funding background and complementary opportunities:

The Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement is part of a larger package of money from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation intended to help school food authorities cope with increased food costs and supply chain issues. Other recent funding from USDA through the Local Agriculture Markets Program (LAMP) Farm to Institution tracks offers complementary opportunities for increasing infrastructure, coordination, and technical assistance to facilitate farm to institution purchasing (see our recent blog post here for more details). Additionally, the Local Food Purchase Cooperative Agreement (LFPA) infuses an additional $400 million in funding for state agencies to purchase and distribute food from small and “socially disadvantaged producers” to increase equity in market opportunities. While these models each have their own constraints, it is gratifying for federal support to recognize the crucial role of building more resilient food systems that begin to shift opportunities for producers and communities. Pursuing and learning from these first-of-a-kind opportunities will offer important lessons to build on as we advance our call to action to shift power toward a racially just food system.

Next steps: 

To read the LFS Request for Application and learn more about the program, visit the USDA’s website: https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/lfs 

Share this announcement with relevant state agencies in your area. Review the RFA to determine if your organization would like to be a partner or collaborator on this cooperative agreement. 

Advocate to your state agency for the involvement of socially disadvantaged farmers/producers and small businesses in the creation of the application.

See other open federal funding opportunities relevant to NFSN partners by following this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/145zNQ4W-ZfI2HQpZo-g87uzmIU1xJqKc62kTtFvUZdw/edit?usp=sharing 

Happy National Farmworker Awareness Week!

NFSN Staff
March 28, 2022

by Hillary Alamene, Communications Intern

This year's National Farmworker Awareness Week takes place March 25-April 1. The Association of Farmworker Community Programs states National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW) is a week of action for communities and individuals to bring attention to farmworkers and honor them for the contributions they make to our daily lives. In the United States, the topic of farmworkers often focuses on the contributions of migrant or seasonal workers in states such as California or Texas, yet, NFAW also acknowledges the various challenges farmworkers face, such as immigration laws, child labor laws, public health issues, and the lack of gender parity within the industry.

This annual celebration began in 1998, initiated by a nonprofit organization called Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF). In championing this week, the intention was to “link campus groups nationally with speakers, films and resources.” Beyond student involvement and experiential learning, SAF also prioritized community engagement and education in their efforts to inform the general public about the status of farmworkers within the United States. 

Taken from SAF’s website, these facts shed light on the role of farmworkers in the United States:

Farmworkers feed the world—85% of our fresh fruits and vegetables are handpicked. There are an estimated 2.5-3 million men, women, and children who work in the fields in the United States. Farms are in every state, including yours, yet farmworkers remain largely invisible and continue to live and work in horrific conditions. We demand dignity for farmworkers!”

Although industrial agriculture relies on machinery for increased efficiency, farmworkers often work by hand to remove fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, turnips, and parsley, to ensure minimal bruising. When the pandemic first began in 2020, the LA Times shared the testimonials of farmworkers working in the San Joaquin Valley in California. While many Americans transitioned to conducting meetings over Zoom, farmworkers were designated as ‘essential workers', and continued to labor in the fields. These workers were no longer being paid an hourly rate, but rather a “piece rate” - a rate that is based on the number of fruits and vegetables picked within a given amount of time. In response, one farmworker shared, “you can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.” This put mounting pressure on farmworkers to pick at high speeds, despite increased safety concerns due to the pandemic. Often, farm work does not allow for adequate social distancing or frequent hand washing, which are both critical public health measures during a healthcare crisis. 

Farm work is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. The people who plant and harvest our fruits and vegetables suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any other workers in the nation and have higher incidences of heat stress, dermatitis, urinary tract infections, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis than other wage-earners. We demand safe working conditions for farmworkers!”

One area of concern associated with industrial agriculture is the use of pesticides and the lack of health services for farmworkers. In a study conducted by Stephanie Farquhar, PhD et. al, researchers assessed the occupational hazards experienced by Indigenous and Latino migrant workers in Oregon. They found that only about half of the farmworkers within their sample were aware that they had come into contact with pesticides, indicating that there is an even smaller percentage of workers who may be aware of its health implications. Workers within this sample reported “they had breathed pesticides in the air (61%), touched plants with visible residue (39%), and had been accidentally sprayed by a plane or tractor (34%). Yet only 57% of the farmworkers who reported working in treated areas said they received any type of pesticide safety training”. This same study found “that only 39% of Indigenous workers and 62% of Latino workers had reported ever having been to a health clinic in Oregon, and only 14% of all workers had the option of obtaining health insurance through their employer.” 

A report from Farmworker Justice details the health outcomes of those who suffer from pesticide exposure, noting that pesticide poisoning can often manifest in different forms, depending on the site of exposure. Symptoms may include a runny nose, muscle cramps in one’s arms and legs, headaches, nausea, and insomnia - among a host of others. But because these symptoms may mimic the flu, complaints are often ignored by healthcare professionals. “Farmworkers are the only group of workers not covered by a federal right-to-know regulation that requires employees to be informed of the health effects of specific chemicals they encounter at work," says Farmworker Justice. Unfortunately, this act of negligence has reportedly increased one’s risk of infertility, birth defects, endocrine disruption, neurological disorders, and cancer.

“Farmworkers are treated differently under the law. Overtime, unemployment insurance, and even protection when joining a union are not guaranteed under federal law. [Almost all major federal laws passed in the 1930s] excluded farmworkers. The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1978 to mandate minimum wage for farmworkers on large farms only and it still has not made provisions for overtime. We demand just living and working conditions for farmworkers and an end to unfair treatment under the law.”

At the time the study by Farquar et al. was published, farm workers were required to receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25. For youth, this minimum wage was $4.25. Today, there is much more variability in the number of states where workers are covered by state minimum wage laws; however, little progress has been made to ensure overtime compensation. The National Agricultural Law Center notes that only six states provide overtime compensation: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, and more recently, Washington. Oregon is the seventh state to work towards ensuring overtime compensation for this particular group; however, this will not take place immediately. As was the case in Washington, California, and New York, overtime compensation in Oregon will be phased-in incrementally over the course of five years. From 2023 to 2024, farm workers must first work 55 hours per week before receiving additional compensation, then 48 hours a week from 2025-2026; and 40 hours a week by 2027.

In light of this information, it is evident that we must advocate for a collective overhaul of the agribusiness industry. In doing so, we will create a more sustainable food system. If you want to learn more about how to improve the working conditions of farm workers, consult the following resources for more information:

  1. Farmworker Justice Resource Library
  2. Student Action with Farmworkers Resource Library
  3. Farmworker Awareness Week Toolkit from the Equitable Food Initiative
  4. Rural Agricultural Health and Safety information from the Rural Health Information Hub
  5. Pesticides Action Network: Farmworkers
  6. Essential and in Crisis: A Review of the Public Health Threats Facing Farmworkers in the US

Despite Lack of Funding for USDA School Meal Waivers Extension, Wins Present for Children, Farmers, and Communities in Congress’s Latest Spending Bill

NFSN Staff
March 24, 2022

Congress recently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package. While the demand for nutritious, equitably procured school meals far exceeds the scope of funding provided, this bill nevertheless contains a handful of wins for farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) and much-needed funds for our farmers and communities.

School Meal Funding

This bill provides $26.9 billion for child nutrition programs. This is an increase of $1.77 billion above the FY21 enacted level to meet forecasted participation needs in the programs. As kids return to the classroom, this funding will support more than 5.2 billion school lunches and snacks. Unfortunately, this bill did not include an extension of USDA waiver authority, a temporary pandemic program that has provided millions of schools, children, and families with crucial support amid ongoing economic, supply chain, and labor challenges. As the June 30, 2022, expiration date quickly approaches, NFSN urges Congress to extend USDA waiver authority. NFSN will continue to advocate for this as schools, youth-serving and community-based organizations, and child care providers face the challenge of effectively providing meals to millions of hungry children. 

  • School Lunch Program - $14.67 billion
  • School Breakfast Program - $5.19 billion
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) - $4.31 billion
  • Summer Food Service Program - $5.81 million

Farm to School and Scratch Cooking

  • Farm to School Grants - $12 million; language to increase grant size max to $500,000, and includes funding for a national Farm to School Institute to build capacity among farm to school and farm to ECE practitioners. (See our series on the success of the Farm to School Institute model here).
  • School Meals Equipment grants - $30 million 

Farm to ECE and Child Care - Grant programs through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize the vital and interconnected role of nutrition, physical activity, and racial equity in addressing public health. Dedicated funding for Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) supports the unique needs of ECE providers with comprehensive, state-based initiatives to increase the number of successful Farm to ECE initiatives. CDC REACH (Racial and Ethnic Aspects of Community Health) Grants provide another source of funding for locally targeted, culturally relevant programs to improve nutrition in child care settings and the community. The Committee includes over $20 billion for early childhood education programs through the Child Care Development Block grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Preschool Development Grants - an increase of $3.08 billion over the FY21 enacted level. 

  • Farm to ECE - The committee includes $2 million within Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity to continue research and education related to farm-to-school programs that result in promoting healthy eating habits for students. 
  • CDC REACH Grants -  $65.95 million & SDOH funding - $8 million
  • CCDBG - $7.37 billion (FY21 level was $5.9B) 
  • Head Start - $12.18 billion
  • Preschool Development Grants - $450 million
  • Early Child Care Collaborative - $4 million

Local Markets Access

Farm to school and farm to ECE couldn’t exist without work to build vibrant and equitable local food networks. Kids, producers, and communities benefit from investments in local and regional food infrastructure, marketing, and technical assistance. The Local Agriculture Markets Program (LAMP) provides support for overall local and regional food systems projects, increasing the viability of local producers and organizations that make farm to school activities possible. Small and very small meat processors are an essential part of local and regional food systems. Fighting the consolidation of poultry and livestock infrastructure is essential to shifting power to producers and to creating a more crisis-resilient food system. Relief of overtime fees for food safety inspectors are one way to support increased capacity. 

  • Local Agriculture Market Program - $20.4 million
  • FSIS Small Plant Overtime Fee Relief - $5 million

Producer Support and Equity

Issues of racial inequity pervade the foundations of our food system and of the government programs meant to support producers. Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program coordinates outreach to beginning farmers and to farmers who have been excluded by USDA programs because of race. The Office of Urban Agriculture, created by the 2018 Farm Bill, serves to connect urban producers to USDA programs and meet their unique needs. This program is not guaranteed mandatory funding, so an increase in discretionary funding is a hopeful victory for serving urban producers.

  • USDA Farmer Outreach Training and Opportunity (FOTO) (2501) - $24 million
  • Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production - $8.5 million

Health and Economic Gains of School Meals at Risk as Child Nutrition Program Waivers Expire

NFSN Staff
March 18, 2022

National Farm to School Network’s Statement 

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress granted the USDA the authority to issue child nutrition waivers, which have given schools the funding and resources necessary to keep school meals programs afloat while providing free meals to an additional 10 million students each day. This past week, we were deeply disappointed to hear that Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that did not include funding to extend these waivers. Without an extension, the waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022, even though the challenges school meals programs are facing won’t be over by then. This will push millions of kids and families into food insecurity while greatly disrupting school meals programs and the many stakeholders involved. 

The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the supply chain, caused labor shortages, and pushed the cost of food higher and higher. According to a recent USDA survey of school nutrition departments, 92% of schools reported experiencing challenges due to supply chain disruptions, 73% reported experiencing staffing challenges, and 67% of schools struggled to procure food due to higher average food prices. These challenges will persist into the 2022-2023 school year. Therefore, continued investment into our school nutrition programs is crucial to help schools navigate these disruptions while transitioning back to in-person learning. 

The waivers not only allowed schools to maintain their school meals programs, but also allowed many schools to make notable strides in their meals services, such as more local procurement and scratch cooking. With the end of the waivers, schools will now face financial pressure to cut back on these improvements, including local and healthy food procurement, investment into staff, and resources for scratch cooking such as equipment. 

As farm to school advocates, we know that successful farm to school initiatives must be built on a foundation of a thriving school meals program that is valued and invested in. In the years since the implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which updated school nutrition standards for the first time in decades and increased access for low-income districts with the Community Eligibility Provision, child nutrition program providers made tremendous strides toward meeting these more stringent standards. This has included increasing kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables and investing in scratch cooking and local ingredients. Now more than ever, students and their communities will need consistent access to nutrition programs that make the most of opportunities to invest in workers and the local economy. 

National Farm to School Network will continue to press Congress to ensure that child nutrition providers have the flexibility and funding to meet kids’ needs in the coming summer and school year.

Grants available for Farm-to-Institution Projects under Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP)

NFSN Staff
March 11, 2022

By Donovan Glasgow, Policy Intern

On March 1st, USDA opened grant applications under the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), and with this opening came an exciting announcement; in addition to the standard focus areas of these grants, USDA is seeking to fund Farm to Institution (FTI) projects. Organizations interested in establishing or expanding connections between local food producers and institutions—such as schools, hospitals, elder care facilities, higher education, early childhood education centers, and state agencies—are encouraged to apply. 

Grant Details

There are two grants with funding available for FTI projects. 

  • Under the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), grants aim to develop food businesses which connect local food to institutions. Awards range from $100,000 to $500,000. Eligible applicants include agricultural businesses or cooperatives, CSA networks or associations, food councils, local governments, nonprofits, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities, and tribal governments.
  • Under the Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP), grants aim to facilitate partnerships between the public and private sector. Awards range from $500,000 to $1,000,000. Applicants must be partnerships between one eligible entity and one eligible partner, which are defined below. 
  • Eligible entities: producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, producer networks or associations, majority-controlled producer-based business ventures, food councils, CSA networks or associations, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities, and tribal governments.
  • Eligible partners: state agencies or regional authorities, philanthropic corporations, private corporations, institutions of higher education, and commercial, federal, or farm credit system lending institutions.

Applications for both programs are due 11:59 PM Eastern Time on May 16, 2022. In addition, the application deadline for the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program (LFPA) has been extended to May 6th! Through the LFPA, state agencies and tribal governments can apply for Cooperative Agreements to buy locally-produced food to supply communities facing food insecurity. See below for more details and assistance on LFPA, or in our Agency Announcements resource.

Shifting Power Through Farm to Institution 

Investments in FTI projects hold the potential to address agriculture’s racial and class disparities. Today, 98% of all farmland is owned by white proprietors. Furthermore, farmers who identify as People of Color are more likely to own less land and generate less farm-related wealth than their white counterparts (source). Our Call to Action is that by 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. Redirecting money back to small-scale farmers and their communities through FTI is one avenue towards this goal. 

Stable Revenue Increases Farmer Viability

FTI projects offer farmers a large, additional source of revenue which can complement direct-to-consumer streams such as farmers markets and CSAs (source). More money for local farmers means more money for communities; according to one study, every dollar spent on local food procurement by institutions results in up to $2.16 in local economic activity (source). 

Program Focus on Producer Diversity

Both the LFPP and RFSP grants encourage applications that benefit “smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, underserved producers, veteran producers, and/or underserved communities,” and both give priority consideration to projects that “benefit communities located in areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to supermarkets or locally or regionally grown food.” 

Resilience for Institutions and Communities

FTI projects allow institutions, such the Livingston School District in Montana, to reduce their dependence on remote supply chains and avoid chronic shortages. When local food is incorporated into cafeteria menus, patrons at these institutions consume more fruits and vegetables (source). And from an environmental standpoint, FTI programs reduce food waste, cut down on food miles (the distance food is transported from harvest to plate), and fund sustainable agricultural practices (source). 

Next steps

To learn more about the LFPP and RFSP grants, review the RFAs, see Frequently Asked Questions, read about previous awardees, and apply for technical assistance available to applicants, visit the below links. 

Additionally, check out these helpful resources from the Wallace Center:

Be sure to share these opportunities and resources with producers, enterprises, and institutions in your network!

Farm to ECE 2021: A Year in Review

NFSN Staff
January 31, 2022

We’ve gathered the standout resources developed this past year by National Farm to School Network and farm to ECE partners across the country to celebrate all of the fantastic work the farm to ECE community has accomplished. Explore the National Farm to School Network website’s resource database for more farm to ECE resources. If you've developed great farm to ECE resources this year and would like to share them with the farm to ECE community, send them to Sophia (Sophia@farmtoschool.org). 

National Farm to School Network Blog Posts 

Assessments

Farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) is a set of activities that include purchasing and serving local foods, gardening (indoors or outdoors), and food and agriculture education activities. This Farm to ECE Self-Assessment is designed to help ECE providers and those who work with ECE providers assess their current farm to ECE practices and develop goals and action plans to grow farm to ECE at their site. Available in both English and Spanish. 

Reports

This new report examines how HTA and the Local5 component influence ECE site local food purchasing practices and impact local food intermediaries and local producers, with a focus on HTA impacts on low-income children and children of color as well as Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) producers. Based on the successes and challenges of HTA implementation identified through key stakeholder interviews, ECE provider surveys, and participation data analysis, the authors outline key recommendations for developing more impactful and equitable local food incentive policies for ECE settings. 

This brief captures how farm to early care and education (ECE) efforts at the state and community levels were initially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Informed by the experiences of food and early childhood partner organizations in five states – Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – the brief documents the systemic impacts of COVID-19 and the federal response from a farm to ECE perspective; describes how farm to ECE partner organizations adapted to the new context during the initial months of the pandemic; and provides recommendations for how states and communities can sustain the successful strategies implemented during the pandemic.

Infographic report on local food sourcing best practices, challenges, and successes from a 2019-2021 research project tracking the activities of four Georgia ECE purchasers. 

Guides

This series has 8 publications all related to building the best garden for your childcare center. The publications include details on creating a childcare garden, growing and preparing fruits and vegetables in both warm and cool seasons, snacking and cooking techniques and composting techniques

This guide and decision tree can be used to support and advance local food purchasing in ECE sites. This NC Cooperative Extension publication will be useful for child care centers and technical assistance providers who are trying to figure out the best way to purchase local food for meals and snacks for their centers.

Curricula

Pint Size Produce features produce and products grown in the midwest. Each activity suite includes an activity plan, a parent handout, and a half page flier highlighting key information. They are available in PDF as well as PowerPoint formats so providers and others can modify to meet their needs. 

Creative Opportunities in Farm to ECE: Cooperative Purchasing 

NFSN Staff
January 10, 2022

Many early care and education (ECE) sites struggle with local procurement. One of the reasons local procurement can be difficult is due to the often small volume needs, which can be lower than the smallest unit a farmer is willing to sell. Sites also can lack the equipment and staff time to plan menus, cook from scratch, and make multiple grocery trips per week. One approach to overcoming these barriers is through cooperative purchasing. Cooperative purchasing means sharing a purchase order, either with another early learning site, with families, or with a school district. 

Northeast Iowa Head Start Classrooms purchase cooperatively with their partner school districts, streamlining and simplifying local procurement. This approach makes for a consistently healthy environment for children from preschool through school age years, resulting in a higher probability of lasting healthy habits. In addition, by partnering with a school district, local procurement logistical and capacity issues that may make local procurement unrealistic otherwise are easily solved, freeing up ECEs to focus on other aspects of farm to ECE such as promoting the local foods offered and implementing farm to ECE activities in tandem with local foods. 

According to Haleisa Johnson, Early Childhood Program Coordinator for Northeast Iowa’s Food & Fitness Program (NIFFP), these partnerships are in effect in seven counties. NIFFP’s farm to school work began in 2007 through a WK Kellogg Foundation grant, with farm to ECE following close behind in 2012. “In 2004, we were seeing young children in our clinics with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, so we decided to see how many children in the schools had these diseases. Of those with parent permission for tests, 14% of the children in our schools were prediabetic or had type 2 diabetes.” According to Haleisa, before their farm to school and ECE work, many schools and Head Start sites primarily used heat and go meals instead of cooking on-site. Now, Head Starts who have decided to contract with their local school districts receive prepared meals in compliance with CACFP, along with the recipes, serving sizes, and component contributions for mixed dishes. These Head Starts saw the benefits of farm to school as soon as their partner schools began procuring locally and delivering fresh, wholesome meals.


School districts in Iowa have simplified their local procurement by purchasing from food hubs. “Over half of the farm to school purchases in Iowa come from food hubs”, explained Teresa Wiemerslage, field specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach and founder of the Iowa Food Hub. “Iowa’s food hubs work with hundreds of farmers to get products to institutions each week.” Food hubs are especially important to Iowa’s farm to institution work, as most of the farmers markets in Northeast Iowa are very small with few produce vendors. Chad Elliot, Culinary Specialist and Nutrition Director for Decorah Community School District, explained how the Food Hub has been integral to their local food purchasing. “The Iowa Food Hub makes it easy for us to get the quality and quantity of food we need at a price we can afford.” 


Contracting with schools makes it relatively effortless to get local foods on plates, but it’s not without its own challenges. “Since the Head Starts contract with the school for meals, I am not sure that they always realize when local food is featured in meals. The food service directors do a good job of working in produce from school gardens and ordering through the food hub, but you can’t always identify the local food by looking at the menu”, Teresa explained. Haleisa has employed strategies to get providers invested in farm to ECE and highlight the local food served. Using grant funds, Haleisa has provided all Head Start classrooms with a monthly teacher box containing local foods from the Iowa Food Hub to go along with a farm to ECE curriculum. “The boxes get dropped off at the dietary department, so these boxes really open the door for dietary to appreciate the local foods being used in classrooms and served in meals.” Other Head Starts purchase from the food hub independently using mini-grant funds. However, as Teresa explained, without the School District partnerships, the childcare customers are very small accounts and the food hub is set up for large wholesale purchases, making it difficult to justify serving childcare accounts. The food hub’s transition to online market operations and included delivery has been a solution to this challenge and a great way to serve smaller accounts like childcare centers. According to Haleisa, the childcare centers that have promoted and supplemented their local foods through activities and Harvest of the Month have reaped the rewards of their efforts. “It makes a huge difference in the classroom environment...it’s easy to see that the kids that eat better are better behaved.” Trusting relationships with both the school food service staff and the ECE staff is the key to cooperative purchasing, according to Haleisa. “Coach them of the benefits, the logistics and the sources for purchasing local food. Most of all be patient and supportive, it takes time to work cooperatively,” she advised.