Creative Opportunities for Funding Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE): USDA Farm to School Grant

NFSN Staff
November 16, 2021
Garden beds, part of the Snohomish Conservation District's Lawns to Lettuce program.


The USDA Farm to School Grant is an annual, competitive grant that supports the planning, development, and implementation of farm to school and farm to ECE programs. USDA's Farm to School grants are an important way to help state, regional, and local organizations as they initiate, expand, and institutionalize their farm to school and farm to ECE efforts. As Farm to ECE has gained popularity, there has been a notable increase in USDA Farm to School grantees working on farm to ECE efforts. Since 2018, the number of grantees focusing on farm to ECE has increased, with three grantees in 2019, five in 2020, and 19 in 2021. The Snohomish Conservation District and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants/Erie Field Office are two 2021 grantees dedicating their efforts to farm to ECE. This month, we will explore the inspiring work these grantees have envisioned for their communities. 

Snohomish Conservation District - Lake Stevens, Washington Grant Type: Implementation
The Snohomish Conservation District is planning to use their grant funding to build comprehensive farm to ECE programs at five Snohomish County Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) sites. ECEAP a program funded by Washington State for children 3 and 4 years old. Partnering with Snohomish County Cooperative Extension SNAP-Ed, The Snohomish Conservation District plans to expand the growing capacity of on-site gardens, instruct educators on how to implement a garden curriculum, and provide experiential education by conducting field trips to nearby farms, implementing cooking demonstrations and tastings with local produce, and providing classroom educational resources.To enhance family engagement, they also plan on providing a cookbook at the end of the grant to the families involved, using both recipes submitted by families and recipes that use produce growing in the on-site gardens that families may be less familiar with. 

Joe Crumbley, Snohomish Conservation District’s Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator, explained how the USDA Farm to School Grant will help them expand the growing capacity of the on-site gardens. “Through the grant, we are able to fund raised garden beds, composting systems, drip irrigation attached to rain barrels, and sheet mulching to reduce weeding labor. We’re also developing perennial gardens and are planning to plant native fruiting edible plants. All these strategies will reduce the amount of labor and upkeep involved while increasing the amount we can grow and harvest. All this extra growing capacity will make it possible for us to use our harvest in meals and snacks at the sites,” he explained. 

Though Snohomish Conservation District has previously worked with schools through their youth education program, this is their first time stepping into farm to ECE. Joe was connected to their ECEAP partner sites through the Conservation District’s Lawns to Lettuce program, a program that offers cost-share opportunities up to $500 to help applicants working on urban agriculture projects. ECEAP programs applied for funding, and Joe saw an opportunity for crossover with the Conservation District’s youth education program. As they began establishing the opportunity, it spread through word of mouth and other ECEAP programs jumped at the chance to get involved. Integrating early learning sites into their youth education work seemed like a natural conclusion due to the benefits farm to ECE provides. “We pivoted to ECEAP centers because long term garden maintenance is easier. There’s less pushback, staff are on-site year round to help with maintenance, and there’s less red tape to serve our harvest on-site and to families,” Joe explained. This opportunity for sustainable gardens is what sold farm to ECE to the rest of his team. 

When choosing which sites to prioritize for the grant project, Joe used website tools like the Washington State Department of Health’s Environmental Health Disparities Map, USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas, and CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index map to ensure they targeted communities who are underserved and are experiencing food and local food access issues, as these communities can especially benefit from farm to ECE. He also made sure to review the pollution of local waterways. This is because replacing lawns with more permeable surfaces, such as gardens, can be beneficial. He believes this systematic approach to partnerships that maximizes benefits to children and communities both physically and environmentally can be used by others working in farm to ECE and considering applying for USDA Farm to School funding. 

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants/Erie Field Office- Erie, Pennsylvania Grant Type: Turnkey
In Erie, Pennsylvania, the field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI Erie) is working to create an edible garden in partnership with its childcare center who works with families who arrived as refugees or immigrants. Produce from the garden will be used in farm to ECE activities, meals and snacks and sent home with families. The garden is an extension of USCRI Erie’s Flagship Farms venture. Dylanna Grasinger, Director of the Erie field office, explained Flagship Farms as a program that “takes individuals who want to farm or want to grow food for their families and trains them with hands-on activities. We also use the produce from the garden at our childcare center.” According to Grasinger, creating a garden that the children can learn and play in seemed like a natural extension of what they were already doing. 

USCRI Erie is committed to engaging with community members to make sure their program is strong, sustainable, and reflective of the community's wants and needs. To achieve this goal, they’ve reached out to community members and are developing a farm to table committee. Members include the local school district, local markets and restaurants, the local health department, and other organizations. They also plan to have separate conversations with families once the committee has begun their work. Considering USCRI Erie’s community-based approach, it’s no surprise that Dylanna recommends working with communities to build sustainable and effective programs. “It’s so important to take a holistic approach to this work and get community buy-in,” she explained. 

Action Alert: Protect Child Nutrition by Passing Build Back Better

NFSN Staff
November 1, 2021

Thanks to your advocacy, this week the White House announced an agreement for the Build Back Better Act through budget reconciliation with landmark investments in child nutrition, investments and technical assistance to rural communities and Native sovereign nations, and a transformative investment in early childhood care and education. Details on this plan are still emerging, but we need your continued support to get this legislation across the finish line in Congress.

With $10 billion in funds for child nutrition, Build Back Better would:

  • Expand the number of schools that would be able to offer free meals to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision.*
  • Give states the option to implement the Community Eligibility Provision statewide, allowing all students in the state to receive school breakfast and lunch at no charge.*
  • Extend Summer EBT nationwide for students who receive free or reduced-price school meals (including those who attend Community Eligibility Provision, Provision 2, or Provision 3 schools).  The Act would allow states as well as Indian Tribal Organizations that participate in WIC to provide Summer EBT.
  • Provide $30 million for school kitchen equipment grants.*
    *Length of funding for these programs is still being determined

Additionally, the plan would provide universal free preschool education for all 3- and 4-year olds, and subsidize and expand quality child care to 20 million children per year. Finally, the new Rural Partnership Project would offer flexible funding for community-driven rural development, and higher education funding would invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and minority-serving institutions* (MSIs).
*This is a term in U.S. federal policy to denote colleges and universities serving Black, Hispanic, Native, and Asian American or Pacific Islander communities.

Now is the time for your Members of Congress and Senators to hear from you that they need to fight for bold measures to advance equity for our kids, their families, and their communities.

TAKE ACTION

Your voice is needed! Call your Senators and Representatives TODAY and tell them you want to see their support for children, families, educators and food systems workers by passing the Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill. Here’s how:

Step 1: Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Step 2: Ask to be connected with the office of your Member of Congress. Give the Switchboard your zip code and they can connect you to your 1 Representative and 2 Senators.

Step 3: Leave a message for your Senators and Representatives like this:

Hi, my name is ___, and I am a constituent and a [parent, educator, farmer, etc.]. I’d like to ask [your Congressperson/Senator’s name] to pass Build Back Better because of its crucial investment in ensuring all kids have access to nourishing food every day, its expansion of quality early childhood education, and its investment in rural communities and communities of color.

I urge [your legislator] to pass the critical investments that will  improve the nutrition of our nation’s children at a critical time, while investing in the resilience of our communities and food system as a whole. These issues matter to me because ____ [tell your story!]. Thank you!

Step 4: Take two more minutes to your story on social media so your networks know about this critical moment!

If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Instead of calling your legislators to discuss these specific policy asks, share general information about farm to school experiences and needs in your community. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which we can all do!

Taking action right now, while this reconciliation bill is in discussion, is especially crucial. Make your calls and forward this message to a friend. THANK YOU for taking a few minutes out of your day to make your voice heard.

The Next Generation: October Coffee Chat

NFSN Staff
October 28, 2021

We had a coffee chat conversation with Krystal Oriadha, our Senior Director of Programs & Policy, Derriontae Trent, Market Coordinator of the Sweet Sol Hot Sauce Cooperative, and Taurean Dixon, Administration of the Sweet Sol Hot Sauce Cooperative, that shed light on the next generation of Black farmers and current issues with land ownership. Derriontae and Taurean are members of The Come Up Project’s Gangstas to Growers program in Atlanta, GA, which provides paid entrepreneurial internships for at-promise youth and formerly incarcerated individuals, to offer them a chance to participate in the legitimate economy.

In this energizing session, Derriontae introduces the value of maintaining equity in the workplace when striving to make change in one’s community. Highlighting how Gangstas to Growers was created by their community for their community, he stresses the need for opportunities for young people to achieve their dreams and to have agency in their futures - especially in urban spaces threatened by gentrification. Speaking to their experiences of being young, Black entrepreneurs, Taurean touches on how every day is a learning process. He encourages finding value in hard work, researching opportunities, and connecting with others. 

Working with over 100 Black-owned farms, Derriontae and Taurean find pride in their work, in their city, and in their stories of success. To hear more about the power of dedicated community members working together to change lives and make food, watch here


Special thanks to National Co+Op Grocers (https://www.ncg.coop/) and Farm Credit (https://farmcredit.com/) for their support of National Farm to School Network, which helps make this Coffee Chat series possible.

Our Food, Our Future: Interns and Innovators

NFSN Staff
October 28, 2021

For National Farm to School Month this year, we are amplifying the visions, voices and leadership of young people who are forging the way forward for a more just future - in our food system and wider communities. 

Tylon Jones of Teens Grow Greens, a Milwaukee-based youth development organization, is a leader, innovator, and advocate and was interviewed by Sophia Rodriguez, National Farm to School Network's Communications Intern, in Our Food, Our Future: Interns and Innovators. As a natural orator and inspiring presence, Tylon serves as a shining example of the power of youth leadership, and he shares his experience as an entrepreneur and intern in his community and in our food system.

Entering into the interview, he offers a call to action and imparts this wisdom:

“Our environmental reality is being heavily affected by our choices and these issues will only increase with time. It’s time we connect with our environment and make a difference.“

In our interview, Tylon shares tangible ways we can make a difference. He offers how he and other young people stay positive by finding inspiration everywhere - even in the most unconventional people and places. Sharing that young people need a platform to elevate their voices and the listening ears of those in power, he urges the importance of increasing representation of youth and BIPOC leaders, expanding opportunities for youth influence, and acknowledging the efforts of grassroots movements.


Watch this powerful interview here, and learn more about Teens Grow Greens (TGG) and our Q&A with a TGG mentor, Mikaela Dupont.

2021 Movement Meeting

NFSN Staff
October 20, 2021

Last October, National Farm to School Network launched Our Call to Action: By 2021, 100% of Communities Will Hold Power in a Racially Just Food System. We know this goal cannot be accomplished without intersectional and interdisciplinary collaboration, and as we seek to  highlight our organization's values in the work we do, we must center other movements that are contributing to increasing racial equity.

Since young people are impacted stakeholders of the work we do in farm to school, we are responsible for uplifting their voices and listening closely to their thoughts and ideas. During our Shifting Towards the Next Generation: NFSN Movement Meeting, we hosted a panel of young leaders of color to discuss their perspectives of and visions for progress in their communities, including: 

  • Adonis Adams, a 12th grader in Indian Trail, NC
  • Jaelyn Jackson, a 10th grader in Washington, D.C.
  • Ozioma Jatto, a 12th grader in Prince George's County, MD

In this incredible session, moderated by Krystal Oriadha, NFSN Senior Director of Programs & Policy, the panelists shared their unique perspectives as young, passionate change-makers. In the face of the global pandemic that impacted their lives and advocacy work, these young people also identified racial injustice, police brutality, underfunded schools and inaccessible youth development spaces as the issues most pressing to their communities. Young people, so close to and directly impacted by these issues, have strong ideas for how to shift power and foster equity. Challenging those in power to center youth voices, they proposed the importance of consistently offering young people the opportunity to have a seat at the table, build meaningful relationships and share their insights in decision making. 

Highlighting the notion that young people find it easy to prioritize intersectionality in the work they do, young leaders and older listeners alike will hear and be inspired by the insights of Adonis, Jaelyn and Ozioma. Watch here.

Special thanks to Mushrooms in Schools, Farm Aid, Farm Credit, National Co+Op Grocers and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their support of National Farm to School Network’s Movement Meeting

Making Moves on our Call to Action: First Year Update

NFSN Staff
October 20, 2021

Last October at our virtual Movement Meeting, Helen Dombalis (our Executive Director) shared big news about the next chapter in National Farm to School Network’s story. For the next five years, we’re orienting all of our work towards a bold, new Call to Action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. 

Since our founding in 2007, National Farm to School Network has collaborated with thousands of partner organizations and tens of thousands of people across the country to grow the farm to school and early care and education movement to include more than 65% of K-12 schools and thousands of early care and education sites. And yet, racial disparities continue to grow within the areas of our society that farm to school touches, impacting every community's ability to thrive. So 13 years into our story, we knew it was essential to reexamine our approaches and to be bold in our path forward. Setting our intentions towards shifting power for a racially just food system through all of our farm to school work is what we know is needed most in this moment. (Read more about our journey to this Call to Action here.)

The launch of our Call to Action set in motion changes big and small for us at National Farm to School Network. A few of of these have included: 

  • Relaunching our structure of Partner organizations in order to diversify and strengthen our network, prioritizing building a multiracial and multicultural movement that defers to the voices of those in the most impacted communities. Learn more about becoming a Partner organization here. Any organization that aligns with our community values is welcome!
  • Honing in on six shared community values – economic and environmental justice, health, racial equity, workers’ rights, and animal welfare – to guide our policy advocacy priorities for the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization and other important federal policies. These values are also guiding our programmatic work, like our new State Values-Aligned Working Groups
  • Creating space for conversations about racial equity in farm to school and the wider food system through our monthly Coffee Chat conversation series on Facebook Live. You can watch recordings of these conversations here
  • We hosted a virtual Community Gathering in June to focus on shifting power to cultivate justice in our food system. Over 1,000 people registered to join us across four sessions, including a workshop on shifting power within food systems organizations and panel discussions on building community power through farm to school strategies. Watch recordings of the sessions here
  • And this month, we had our second annual Movement Meeting, focusing on how young leaders of color are intersecting the food justice movement with other justice-centered movements, and how those of us working in food systems can best champion, defer to, and center their leadership. You can watch a recording here

We cannot achieve the Call to Action on our own, and we are proud to have countless partners, members, supporters, and stakeholders across the wider food systems movement who share with us this vision for a racially just food system and a commitment to achieving the change we each seek. This includes support from partners like the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation, which we’re proud to share is investing in National Farm to School Network’s work towards this Call to Action over the next year. National Farm to School Network is grateful to Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation for their partnership and support in our collective work towards a racially just food system. Thank you!

Be sure you’re signed up for our e-newlsetters to stay in the loop on the next steps forward towards our Call to Action and ways you can get involved in the coming months.

Our Food, Our Future: Q&A with Mikaela Dupont, Southside Educator at Teens Grow Greens

NFSN Staff
October 19, 2021
Photos courtesy of Teens Grow Greens, Milwaukee, WI

Inline with this year's theme for National Farm to School Month, Our Food, Our Future: Youth Leadership for a Racially Just Food System, we are highlighting the innovative work of Teens Grow Greens in Milwaukee, WI. Mikaela DuPont is a science teacher and the Southside Educator of Teens Grow Greens. As a member of the Teens Grow Greens organization, she strives to provide a safe learning environment and sound mentorship for teens as they become healthy leaders in their community. We asked her to share with us what makes their program unique and effective.


What is Teens Grow Greens?

Teens Grow Greens (TGG) is a 501c3 non-profit organization serving Milwaukee youth. TGG employs teenagers through three leadership internships and four pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. All programming is designed to develop teens through transformative experiences that cultivate belonging, life and career skill building, and connections to opportunities that grow leadership. In providing these opportunities, TGG hopes to accomplish its vision of healed and healthy teens, leading change in their communities.

In the first internship, teens learn to lead themselves by developing a foundation of healthy lifestyle habits, such as cooking and money management.

In the second internship, teenagers focus on leadership in the community. Teens learn about the history of food apartheid and the lack of food access occurring in many Milwaukee communities, while receiving agricultural and outdoor culinary training. The third and final internship focuses on preparing teens to lead in future innovation and act as change makers. In this internship, teens receive mentorship from local entrepreneurs to develop a product, lean business model, and a pitch that meets the triple bottom line: a product that is good for the planet, profit, and people. Teens with the best products win cash prizes, and all teens leave with a developed resume, personal branding skills, and interview preparedness training. 

Teens who graduate from all three internships are able to participate in one of five pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, which provide paid, on-the-job training in education, greenhouses, gardens, entrepreneurial, or food and beverage/hospitality settings. 


What are the biggest takeaway lessons from the internship model that other orgs might learn from?

An important lesson other organizations can learn from TGG’S internship model is providing incentives to encourage program participation. All TGG interns and apprentices are compensated with hourly pay that is above minimum wage. Teens need money and money management skills, and TGG meets this need by partnering with funders and seeking grants that are in alignment with our values. TGG believes that career readiness skills and leadership training should be provided to all teens, but we also feel strongly that teens should be paid to receive this training. Paying our participants teaches them that their time is valuable, and that TGG is an organization invested in the growth and development of strong youth leaders.  

In addition, other organizations can look at TGG’s model and learn that adaptation and flexibility are important. Based on teen input and participation trends, the internship model we utilize has shifted from a single nine-month internship, to three separate internships that align with the general start and end times of local Milwaukee schools. Structuring the internships this way allows TGG to set clear expectations regarding internship participation and attendance; teens should plan to avoid any extracurricular activities that could interfere with TGG during their three month internship. 

This strategy also helps us to serve more teens. TGG strives to serve 25-30 interns in each of our two cohorts, so if an intern decides to end their internship experience, we are able to rehire more teens as we enter the next internship period. Teens also appreciate this flexibility because it gives them freedom to end or continue their internships with TGG at transition times that blend smoothly with their academic calendars. Organizations serving students with year-round programming need to adapt and be flexible around school schedules and typical teen commitments (sports, clubs, part-time jobs, etc) in order to retain and serve the desired number of youth for their organization.


 Guidance to other organizations seeking to work more intentionally with young people. 

Serving youth with intentionality is a complex task, requiring many different moving parts coming together to create impactful experiences with long lasting success. A few concepts that have become indispensable to TGG’s intentionality are a clear value system, a vision statement, and a method to measure the success of youth programming. 

Beginning with a list of hundreds of different “values,” TGG staff came together to determine the values we each found essential to our work: love, learning, and integrity. Defining and agreeing on the meaning of each term allowed us to develop a vision statement for the organization that aligns with our values and shapes our programming, while also communicating TGG’s goals to the community. The vision of TGG is “Healed and Healthy Teens, Leading Change in Their Community.” This vision statement guides all that we do, and we are constantly examining the ways that we can support teens on their path to healing, health, and leadership. 

Additionally, after programming is developed and provided for your youth participants, it is important to measure the success of the program. Measuring the success of the program can be a simple evaluation form youth complete right after the program. At TGG, we follow up with all of our program graduates at six-month intervals for years to come, examining the ways they are healed, healthy, and leading in their communities long after receiving our programming. Based on the trends we receive in participant feedback, the organization engages in reflection, reinforcement, revision, and/or elimination to refine the program for success. 

 

What advice would you give for supporting young people into becoming leaders in their communities? 

In general, teens need a “why” that motivates them to act. In our leadership internships, the motivating forces behind participation vary from teen to teen. The greatest motivator for some TGG interns might be the paycheck every two weeks. On the other hand, we can try to create a sense of belonging among the teens, and amongst the community, that can hopefully become the “why” behind their leadership, long after they stop receiving TGG paychecks. 

By bringing teens into a community and creating that sense of belonging, the interns recognize the importance of investment in the wellbeing of their communities. Not only because they live or work there, but because they value that community’s inhabitants, infrastructure, and environmental features. If a teen feels invested in their community, they will want it to thrive and flourish, which requires courage to lead and, if necessary, create change. Intentionally creating motivation based on community belonging, along with lots of encouragement and guidance for young people, goes a long way towards ensuring they are genuinely and authentically pursuing leadership.

Gro More Good Hydroponics Project Launched with New K-2 Classroom Guide in 25 Schools

NFSN Staff
October 18, 2021


Students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Washington, D.C. with their AeroGarden. Amidon-Bowen participated in the first iteration of the Gro More Good Hydroponics Project in 2019-2020. 

National Farm to School Network, the Scotts-Miracle Gro Foundation, and Hawthorne Gardening Company are excited to launch the second iteration of the Gro More Good Hydroponic Garden Project! Discovering Through Hydroponics brings together kindergarten through second grade educators in 25 schools and organizations across Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon, and Washington to integrate hydroponics gardening into their classrooms and other educational settings. The project aims to spark a passion for gardening and increase hands-on science experiences for students who otherwise might not have had the opportunity.

Each participating school and organization will receive an AeroGarden hydroponic kit and supplies to grow fresh vegetables in educational settings, the STEM-aligned Discovering Through Hydroponics: K-2 Classroom Guide, networking and peer learning opportunities with other participating schools and organizations, and programmatic support from the National Farm to School Network and Gro More Good team. 

This project builds on the success of the first iteration of the Gro More Good Hydroponic Garden Project, which was launched in the Fall of 2019, and piloted the Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide in 15 schools in California, New York and Washington D.C. While the previous project focused primarily on third through fifth grade, this year’s activities will focus on classrooms serving kindergarten through second grade students, using the new Discovering Through Hydroponics: K-2 Classroom Guide as a roadmap and resource for engaging young students in exploring plants and STEM-aligned concepts. 

Participating schools include:

  • Osborn School District, Phoenix, AZ
  • Manuel "Lito" Pena Jr. School, Phoenix, AZ
  • Bret R. Tarver School, Phoenix, AZ
  • Peridot - Our Savior's Lutheran School, Peridot, AZ
  • Catalina Ventura School, Phoenix, AZ
  • Frank Borman School, Phoenix, AZ
  • Yavapai Accommodation School, Prescott, AZ
  • St. David Unified School District, Saint David, AZ
  • Joseph Zito Elementary, Phoenix, AZ
  • Bancroft Elementary School, Pleasant Hill, CA
  • Poinciana Elementary School, Naples, FL
  • Wimauma Community Academy, Wimauma, FL
  • Thunderbolt Elementary School, Fleming Island, FL
  • James Stephens International Academy, Fort Myers, FL
  • North Andrews Gardens Elementary, Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Immokalee Community School, Immokalee, FL
  • Fairfield Elementary School, Eugene, OR
  • Melrose Elementary School, Roseburg, OR
  • Pendleton Early Learning Center, Pendleton, OR
  • Prairie City School, Prairie City, OR 
  • Dilley Elementary School, Forest Grove, OR
  • Westside Village Magnet School, Bend, OR
  • Klamath County School District Talented and Gifted Program, Klamath Falls, OR
  • Nestucca Valley Elementary School, Neskowin, OR
  • Modest Family Solutions - Ummah Sustained, Everett, WA

This project is part of Scotts Miracle-Gro’s larger Gro More Good initiative, which aims to bring the life-enhancing benefits of gardens and greenspaces to 10 million children by 2023. As part of Gro More Good, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation is partnering with leading not-for-profit organizations, such as National Farm to School Network, to help overcome some of the pressing challenges facing today’s youth––including childhood obesity, poor nutrition and nature deficit––by improving children’s access to fresh food and increasing their time spent connected to nature.