Opinion: Student Leader Applauds California's Free School Meals for All

NFSN Staff
December 6, 2022

By Kristie To

Kristie To is a high school student in Orange County. She serves in Student Government, her local Youth Advisory Council, and is on the Board of Directors and Executive Branch of the California Association of Student Councils.

"This school year, California’s new “School Meals for All” program began. As a student leader serving my school, the city of Irvine, and the California Association of Student Councils, I applaud California for being the first state to provide every K–12 student in our public schools with free breakfast and lunch.

My peers and I rely on school breakfast and lunch every day. Many of my closest friends do not have the time and are not in the financial situation to provide themselves with meals to fuel their school day and concentrate in class. My parents and older sister have full-time jobs, and I struggle to prepare meals for myself with my busy schedule. This new program has alleviated the stress of buying and preparing meals that previously strained students and families.

Additionally, the free school meal program brings together the student body as a community. My friends and I often join the lunch line together, and I enjoy making conversation with my peers as we wait to be served our meals. When everyone receives meals for free, students are more likely to eat at school.

Our state grows the most fruits and vegetables in our country. I’d like to see more fresh California produce in our school meals. My school has a neighboring orchard, yet I receive packaged pineapple at school. It’s not local or sustainable. I urge my school to source more local foods, serve a variety of fruits and vegetables, and reduce packaging waste.

California’s free school meal program has changed my life and transformed the school day for six million students in our state. Without the burden of being responsible for buying and creating nutritional meals for myself, I can better focus on my education and positions as a student leader. Therefore, I believe all states should follow in the footsteps of California."

View the full op-ed here.

“Who’s At the Table” Campaign will Bring More Awareness to Values-Aligned Universal Meals

NFSN Staff
November 14, 2022

Media contact:

David Hutabarat, Communications Director, NFSN

david@farmtoschool.org

(Washington, D.C., November 14, 2022)—The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and allied and partner organizations across the United States are launching a “Who’s at The Table” campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of values-aligned universal meals.

The campaign follows important, innovative bills on the issue in states like California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Colorado, to ensure all students benefit from free school meals over the coming years.

NFSN was invited to attend the White House’s recent Hunger, Nutrition and Health Conference, the first of its kind in 50 years. In the wake of this historic event, the campaign aims to encourage broader engagement in such policies from policy makers, school principals, cafeteria managers, students, parents, produce suppliers, farmers, and farm workers.

“We must continue to build on the momentum to make free school meals for all a permanent reality so that millions of children across the country have access to the healthy food they need to keep hunger at bay and to thrive in and out of the classroom,” said Luis Guardia, President of Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), an advisor in the development of the campaign.

A new website and social media influencing campaign will offer tools to understand and communicate the benefits of healthy, equitably produced school meals. Parents, farmers, educators can all ensure this issue is at the top of the policy agenda. NFSN also held listening sessions in the runup to the White House summit to communicate this perspective.

Experts agree that with universal school meals, kids learn better, stay in school longer, and pay closer attention in class. Fresh, farm-to-school meals for all help level the playing field on child hunger. Many child nutrition providers, parents and students agree. Now it’s time to act.

Karen Spangler, Policy Director at NFSN said: “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, school nutrition professionals have worked tirelessly to feed kids under emergency conditions with limited resources and breakdowns in the supply chain. Policies that allow school nutrition professionals to feed all kids are a necessity, one that lets them focus on nourishing kids instead of checking paperwork for each and every student for free or reduced-price meals. At the same time, shortages in key ingredients highlighted the weaknesses in a consolidated, inequitably produced food supply. We can address this and improve our food system for everyone through strategic investments like values-aligned healthy school meals for all kids.”

Maleeka Manurasada, National Organizer at the HEAL Food Alliance, an advisor in the development of the campaign, said: "Over 42 million people nationwide struggle every day to get a meal, let alone one that will truly nourish them. Values-Aligned Universal Meals is a powerful and critical program that will not only truly nourish our children, but also nourish our communities and our environment. Our food and farm system needs radical transformation to one that values health, workers, animals, and the planet, and school meals are a critical place to begin that shift."

About NFSN

National Farm to School Network has a vision of a strong and just food system for all, and we seek deep transformation toward this vision through farm to school – the way kids eat, grow, and learn about food in schools and early care and education settings.

Applications now open for USDA Farm to School Grants

NFSN Staff
November 1, 2022

Schools, farmers, state and tribal governments, and other organizations that help produce or serve meals to kids through USDA’s child nutrition programs can apply now for a USDA Farm to School Grant (deadline: 01/06/2023). Administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Community Food Systems Division (CFSD), 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 early care and education (ECE) programs. Since 2013, USDA's Farm to School grants have helped state, regional, and local organizations as they initiate, expand, and institutionalize their farm to school and farm to ECE efforts. This round will award $12 million in grants organized into Turnkey, Implementation, and State Agency tracks. USDA will again prioritize racial equity, providing bonus points to projects operated by and serving communities that are underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected by poverty and inequality. We applaud USDA’s continued support of racial equity, which aligns with our Call to Action and with the long-term changes that we would like to see through the Farm to School Act. See below for more information on the achievements of the grant since it began, the kinds of projects that Farm to School Grants can support, who is eligible, and resources to apply.

Farm to School Grant Achievements and Projects

  • In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition - along with our network of supporters from across the country - successfully advocated for the creation of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, as well as subsequent funding increases through the Farm to School Act.  
  • Nationally, the Farm to School Grant Program has awarded nearly $75 million in farm to school grants since 2013, funding more than 1,000 projects that have reached over 25 million students in nearly 60,000 schools. This program has grown over time, with more than $10 million to support 123 projects in 2022 alone
  • Policymakers on both sides of the aisle, including farm to school champion and retiring Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have sponsored multiple, bipartisan bills that promote farm to school, including the Farm to School Act to expand and improve the Farm to School Grant Program.
  • Farm to School grant projects include local procurement, agricultural education, edible gardening, and farm to school action planning objectives that improve access to local foods. Check out these links to learn more about the specific projects awarded to past grantees: 

2023 Grant Details

Release Date: October 6, 2022 

Application Due Date: 11:59 PM, Eastern Standard Time (EST), January 6, 2023 

Anticipated Award Date: July 2023 

Anticipated number of awards: 150 

Estimated Total Program Funding: $12,000,000

Award Ceiling: $100,000/$500,000* 

Award Floor: $10,000

*The USDA notes in the Request for Applications (RFA) that in anticipation of authority to provide grants of up to $500,000 in the FY 2023 agriculture appropriations, USDA will consider proposals of up to $500,000 from State agencies or other eligible organizations proposing projects that are multi-state or national in scope. Other selected grantees are limited to $100,000.

Eligible Applicants:

  • Eligible schools, including nonprofit private and charter schools, which operate the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and/or School Breakfast Program; 
  • Eligible Child Care Institutions, including non-school based institutions that have an agreement with the State agency to operate the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP); 
  • Eligible Summer Institutions, including non-school based institutions that have an agreement with the State agency to operate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP); 
  • State agencies; 
  • Local agencies; 
  • Indian Tribal organizations (ITOs) 
  • Agricultural producer 

Resources and Next steps‍ 

To learn more about the USDA F2S grants, review the RFA, see Frequently Asked Questions, read about previous awardees, and more, please visit the below links. 

For more information on USDA’s many farm to school initiatives, or to access resources associated with farm to school, please visit USDA’s Farm to School Program webpage.

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

Press Release - Celebrating National Farm to School Month 2022

NFSN Staff
October 3, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRESS CONTACT:

David Hutabarat

National Farm to School Network

david@farmtoschool.org

This Year’s Theme is “Who’s at the Table?”

October 3, 2022 – Schools and early care and education (ECE) sites across the country are celebrating the twelfth annual National Farm to School Month this October, a 31-day campaign to recognize the benefits farm to school and farm to early care and education bring to youth, families, farmers and communities. National Farm to School Network advocated for the creation of National Farm to School Month in 2010, and it was officially recognized by Congress shortly after.

Farm to school is a movement for building just and equitable food systems through the ways kids eat, grow and learn about food in school and early care and education settings. Farm to school is a win for kids when they eat nourishing food in meals and snacks, participate in hands-on activities and learn about the importance of where our food comes from; a win for farmers when school market opportunities provide reliable and consistent sales and fair pay; and a win for communities when food is grown, distributed, prepared and consumed for the benefit of every community member. To ensure all communities see the benefit of these wins, farm to school activities must be firmly centered in equity.

This year’s National Farm to School Month theme is “Who’s at the Table?” Imagine an ideal school meal—nourishing, cooked from scratch, culturally relevant, purchased from local farmers. How did that meal get to the table? There are so many people who took part in bringing that food to the table—from the farmers and farmworkers who grew the food, to the people who processed and delivered the food, to the school food service staff who purchased and prepared the food.

As National Farm to School Network continues its work of shifting power to cultivate a racially just food system, we envision a food system in which no one is left out, in which everyone can access nourishing food. If we want to build this vision, we must lift up the perspectives of the people at each step of the food value chain, especially being intentional to center those who are not always recognized, despite their vital role in this ecosystem. This year's National Farm to School Month will highlight the valuable contributors across the different parts of the food system. Who are they? What would our food system look like if we valued their contributions, leadership and expertise? And how can the different players within farm to school work together so that individuals and communities can all win?

Throughout the month, National Farm to School Network will be spotlighting leaders from across the country through story sharing activities. This includes its annual Movement Meeting on October 27 from 3-5:00pm ET, Who’s at the Table?, featuring a panel of leaders of color who are working to transform their community by working to build power in their local food system. Additional story sharing will occur on National Farm to School Network’s blog and social media channels.

National Farm to School Network offers dozens of resources for celebrating National Farm to School Month on its website, http://www.farmtoschool.org/month. People can find resources such as a Celebration Toolkit, posters, bookmarks, suggested activities and more. Participants are encouraged to share their excitement through social media with the hashtags #F2SMonth and #farmtoschool. National Farm to School Network thanks its sponsors of this year’s National Farm to School Month campaign: CoBank, Farm Credit, National Co+Op Grocers, Vitamix and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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About National Farm to School Network

National Farm to School Network is the leading voice for the U.S. farm to school and farm to early care and education movement, working as an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities to bring local food sourcing, gardens, and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. Learn more at: http://farmtoschool.org.

Investing in Community-Driven Solutions

NFSN Staff
October 31, 2022

Written by CoBank

This National Farm to School Month, CoBank celebrates the frontline food industry workers—from farm fields to school cafeterias—and the tremendous hard work, collaboration and innovation that has been especially prominent throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to increase and sustain access to healthy foods in schools.

CoBank is proud to partner with the National Farm to School Network and its mission of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. While the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the inequities in our food system, CoBank remains committed to helping communities access the tools to address their unique needs for building and sustaining a healthy and prosperous community. 

In 2021, CoBank—in partnership with Farm Credit Services of America—was pleased to provide a grant to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to reach young people in the Lakota Nation’s efforts to build a stronger local food system. Currently, life expectancy on the reservation is 20 years lower than the national average and the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates unemployment rates at greater than 80 percent. 

Leaders from the South Dakota State University Extension and Lakota Nation identified that building a local food system and investing in micro-farming opportunities could help improve quality of life on the reservation. The project began by investing in community gardens to address nutritional needs and soon began small-scale farming to unlock economic opportunities. While the pandemic delayed the program’s extension to youth, the tribe would not be deterred. 

The youth program has grown to a team of seven—six of whom are Lakota natives—and created part-time jobs for young people who are building hoop houses and raised garden beds, featuring disability ramps to ensure accessibility for all Tribal members. 

Team members Jason Schoch, Ted Pourier and Patricia Hammond are creating accessible garden beds for disabled Army veteran Melanie Janis.

The program recently took its next step by introducing a farm to school program at Little Wound School, which serves 900 K-12 Lakota students. Together with Glorianna Under-Baggage, administrator of the school’s extension program, the team is establishing a pilot program with 18 students. A new hoop house is nearing completion and students will plant and maintain the garden. Eventually, additional gardens will feature traditional and medicinal plants.

Chris and Bryce Valandra and Elizabeth Charging Crow are building raised garden beds to support the new farm to school program at Little Wound School.

CoBank is excited to see the ways the Pine Ridge community has invested in agriculture. This investment will increase access to healthy foods, create jobs and economic opportunities and teach the next generation of farmers, while still enabling the Tribal youth to connect with the land and tradition.  

As communities learn from the hardships of the pandemic and innovate for a more resilient future, a strong farm to school ecosystem can be an important tool for building economic strength. That’s why, in 2017, CoBank was one of the sponsors to the National Farm to School Network’s report, “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case studies and assessment tools.” Through surveys and case studies, this report evaluated the economic impacts of farm to school and the benefits of local procurement, including returning more dollars to the local economy.

CoBank looks forward to continuing these efforts of research and demonstration programs to increase access to local, healthy foods in schools, create new market opportunities for producers, and inform community and elected leaders on the economic and social benefits of a thriving local foods system for generations to come. 

National Farm to School Network’s Interim Co-Executive Director Jessica Gudmundson says, “Investing in community-driven solutions that value and benefit all members of a community is an essential component of building racially just food systems. We are grateful for CoBank's continued support of NFSN, which helps us elevate stories like Pine Ridge community and support farm to school programs across the county.”

CoBank is a cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. The bank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. The bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving more than 76,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country. CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture, rural infrastructure and rural communities.  Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S.

For more information about CoBank, visit the bank's web site at www.cobank.com

Photo Credits: Marc Piscotty

Want to Change Your School Food? Here’s One Key Step

NFSN Staff
October 29, 2022

In a recent interview with Chef Jessica Wright, Director of Healthy Food in Institutions at Nourish Colorado, she shares a crucial step to be an advocate and foster others to become advocates with you.

“Anyone can be an advocate,” shares Chef Jessica Wright. That’s right—farmers, farmworkers, food processors and distributors, school food service staff, school administrators, parents and students all have power to make change. “To make farm to school the norm, it’s a big puzzle. We each have a part of this puzzle, a role, and an impact in this bigger picture,” says Wright.

NFSN’s Call to Action reflects this, shifting away from “I’m doing the work for you” or vice-versa to “we each have a part to play.” Even though this sounds simple, we can often feel frustrated seeing inaction. It feels like people aren’t doing their part, and nothing changes. It feels like we’re alone against the world.

Now consider the reverse perspective. Many of us who have worked in the food system, whether on a farm or in a school, know that it can be a thankless job. Wright empathizes with this sentiment, reflecting on  her experience working with food service staff: “I’ve worked with teams who’ve been consistently brushed aside or made to feel undervalued, and their mindset can go to ‘everything we’re doing is not good enough.’ It’s easy to feel defeated and feel like their work is not valued or appreciated as it should be.”

Approaching with Curiosity

Have you ever had someone come to you and tell you you’re doing things wrong? That you should do this or do that? It probably didn’t feel great, and even if you changed something in that moment, you probably went back to your normal routine after. Many who have worked in the food system know this well.

Regarding food service staff, Wright says, “It can feel so defeating when people criticize the quality of school meals when they haven’t worked a month in a school kitchen and don’t understand regulatory challenges, budgetary challenges, or staffing shortages.” It’s not a good starting point in any partnership.

How do we make sure we don’t do this ourselves? Wright suggests, “start by educating yourself.” Although she acknowledges that it may not be feasible to work in a school kitchen for a month, she says that you can approach the conversation differently. “Start with listening and learning about the other person. Look at the assets. Understand the realities of their role. Build these relationships. Build people up.”

Wright shares a few questions you can ask:

  • What are you doing that you’re proud of?
  • What are some barriers and challenges you’re facing?
  • What do you wish people in other roles understood about the challenges and realities of your role?

When Wright has asked these questions, she has uncovered many things that may have gone unnoticed before. “I love how you know every student’s name.” “This is an impeccably clean and organized kitchen.” “It’s awesome that this school district bakes their own bread.” “This school buys lettuce from across the street and mixes it in with their salad.”

For people who are unsure of their impact, Wright shares an example that food service staff can consider: “I feed 200 kids every single day. When you add that up to the course of 168 days, that’s over 33,000 meals that I have served to my community.”

Why Does This Matter?

A common saying in community organizing is, “change happens at the speed of trust.” If we want to build a food system where 100% of communities hold power in a racially just food system, trust is required. In order to do this, a crucial first step is listening.

Noticing and celebrating the good that’s already happening can take people out of the day-to-day grind. Rather than shifting blame towards certain people, this acknowledges the inequities of the systems that we all work within and that action and leadership already exist and can be built upon.

Starting from a place of understanding can break down walls and shift the conversation from “us vs. them” to “us together vs. the problem.” This is a powerful first step that can empower each person to be an advocate with a role to play.

Taking the first step to listen and understand can help us figure out step two together. And interestingly, when we do this, we might notice we’re not so alone in the work.

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In celebration of Farm to School Month and this year’s theme, “Who’s at the Table?”, we are highlighting the valuable contributors across the food system. There are many different players. How can we better connect with each other? And what does it look like to value each other's contributions, expertise and leadership? Keep following along with us this month as we envision a food system in which no one is left out, in which everyone can access nourishing food.

Chef Jessica in a school kitchen preparing a salad.

About Chef Jessica Wright

Jessica brings a "chef mentality" to school food programs, where she implements workshops, trains and supports staff with their culinary skills, assesses their kitchen operations and helps with community engagement. She also supports the other departments of Nourish Colorado as they work to create sustainable and equitable food systems throughout Colorado and the US. Over the last couple of years, Jessica's work focused on the development, implementation and fine-tuning of the Local Procurement Colorado, Culinary Trainings, and School Food Initiative along with supporting school districts and institutions as they introduce more from-scratch meals and fresh produce into their programs. Her passion lies in supporting school districts as they provide access to healthy meals while playing a larger role in creating systemic changes to our food system.

Learn more about Chef Jessica and Nourish Colorado at https://nourishcolorado.org

Thank you to the following sponsors for supporting the work: CoBank, Farm Credit, and National Co+Op Grocers.

Policymakers at the Table: Honoring Senator Leahy’s Legacy in Farm to School

NFSN Staff
October 26, 2022

By Cassandra Bull, Policy Intern

For the fourth and final week of Farm to School Month, National Farm to School Network is uplifting policymakers as critical players who are "At the Table" championing this movement. We want to thank and highlight Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as a national leader in farm to school as he approaches the end of his final term in office. First elected in 1974, Sen. Leahy has served the state of Vermont for eight consecutive terms. He serves as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and as part of the Senate Rural Health Caucus. At nearly 48 years in congress, he is the current longest-serving senator and the third longest-serving senator in U.S. history. 

“Farm to School started in my home state of Vermont and has now spread across the country. I’m proud of that, proud of the work done by Vermont schools, farmers and organizations like Vermont FEED,” said Leahy. “What makes Farm to School such a success is that it does multiple things at once. It gets healthy, local, nutritious foods onto school lunch plates while also supporting local agriculture and local food systems. It’s a win-win for everyone concerned, but most especially the kids.”

“What makes Farm to School such a success is that it does multiple things at once. It gets healthy, local, nutritious foods onto school lunch plates while also supporting local agriculture and local food systems. It’s a win-win for everyone concerned, but most especially the kids.”
Senator Patrick Leahy speaks with students from the Harwood Union High School Farm to School Club about their efforts to promote sustainable healthy eating in the classroom, the cafeteria and the community.

Policy Highlights Throughout the Years

Lessons from Senator Leahy’s Legacy:

  • Work across the aisle: Sen. Leahy proved that farm to school is truly a bipartisan issue by co-sponsoring legislation with congressional representatives such as Susan Collins (R-ME), David Perdue (R-GA), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).
  • Uplift local successes: Earlier this month at an event at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, VT, Sen. Leahy stated in reference to his home state: “We may be the second-smallest state, but we’re number one in good ideas.” Leahy has expanded support for these programs in diverse contexts nationwide. For example, the Farm to Institute model has been successfully replicated in states such as Nebraska and Mississippi. 
  • Build capacity at the grassroots: Leahy used his position and political power to support grassroots initiatives through funding and educational experiences. Both farm to school institute and grant programs help connect producers, cafeteria staff, students, parents, and teachers with each other. They give local-level individuals the time and resources to identify their own shared goals and take action to achieve them.
Senator Patrick Leahy has lunch with students during a recent visit to Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, Vermont to celebrate Farm to School.

“Senator Leahy is a national Farm to School champion, having authored the Farm to School Act in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act and repeatedly increased funding to serve more schools nationwide, expanding the benefits of farm to school more equitably to students and communities from coast to coast,” explains Alec Webb, President of Shelburne Farms. “We are so grateful to Senator Leahy for having the vision to see the win-win of farm to school and to helping to secure this funding. Our children, our food systems, and the agricultural economy will be healthier as a result.”  

It is evident that Sen. Leahy's long-term and deep commitment to farm to school has paved the way for the growth of this movement throughout the U.S. over the last several decades. Policymakers from a local to a federal level have the power to reduce barriers to implementing farm to school programs and appropriate funds to support this impactful work. Now is a critical time for our partners to share the story of Sen. Leahy and urge their own representatives to continue supporting his political legacy. Sen. Leahy has immense shoes to fill and this dynamic movement can never have enough champions at the table.

Do you need resources to start a conversation with policymakers about this subject? 

Photos courtesy of Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy

Celebrating Farm to School Month: Uplifting Farmers & Farmworkers to Create a Radically Just Food System

NFSN Staff
October 25, 2022

By Jiyoon Chon, Communications Associate

Happy National Farm to School Month! As this year’s theme, we are reflecting on the valuable perspectives of the various contributors involved in the farm to school ecosystem. Needless to say, one of the most vital contributors, not only in farm to school but in our entire food system, are farmers and farmworkers.  

Small-scale farmers and farmworkers are stewards of our land, experts in caring for our soil and crops to deliver nourishing meals to our tables. But despite their essential roles in feeding the world, farmworkers are often the ones most affected by the disparities and injustices entrenched into our food system. 

The current food system in the United States is built on unsustainable foundations. Large-scale agriculture has been designed to prioritize profits over people, overproducing while keeping food inaccessible to many. These inequities in our current food system are as old as the history of settler colonialism, in which our American agricultural system was built on the backs of stolen land from Indigenous peoples and forced enslavement of African peoples. Even after abolition, the U.S imported Asian and Mexican immigrant laborers to hold up the growing agricultural sector. The social and environmental ills that we see in our food system today are not accidental byproducts—they are the intended consequences of a system that protects corporations over people.

These deeply-rooted injustices in the food system undermine the agriculture sector itself. The sector contributes about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, mainly due to large-scale animal agriculture and improper manure storage, over-application of nitrogen-based fertilizers, large-scale single crop agriculture, and other practices like irrigation and soil drainage. Such practices contribute to climate change and deplete soil health—this negatively affects crop yield, especially for fruits and vegetables, requiring even more fertilizer and pesticides that fuel this negative feedback loop. Mainstream agricultural practices are damaging our ability to nourish future generations for the sake of short-term profits.

The Consequences of Industrial Agriculture

Farmworkers are some of the lowest paid workers in the United States, even though they are doing some of the most important and essential work. Farmworkers also suffer a high rate of occupational injury, mainly from chemical exposure through pesticides. They also tend to work in tough conditions, with high heat, stress, and physical demand.

This is an equity issue—although white farmers own 98% of the land in America, many farmworkers tend to be low-income BIPOC populations, who are already most vulnerable to climate emergencies and air pollution. As the stewards of the land, farmers and farmworkers are acutely aware of the solutions needed to heal our land through regenerative agricultural practices and Indigenous knowledge. However, their freedom and agency to practice these sustainable models are undercut by a host of factors, including the lack of access to resources and funding, unjust policies, and corporate control over land and resources.  

How Can We Collectively Work Toward a Radically Just Food System? 

A just food system would equitably compensate, celebrate, and empower farmers and farmworkers as vital leaders of our food system. Society cannot survive without farmworkers, yet they are systematically excluded from decision making, access to financial resources, and worker safety protections. Working toward a just food system starts with redistributing power to allow farmers, farmworkers, and BIPOC communities to lead the change. 

At NFSN, we see farmworkers and small farmers as vital to the farm to school work we do and to the larger food system as a whole. For this year’s Farm to School Month campaign, we are asking the question, “Who’s at the table?” to highlight the cross-sector community benefits of equitably sourced and nourishing food. Schools have immense purchasing power for food, and we are advocating to channel those dollars toward local procurement, smaller-scale and BIPOC farms, and the redistribution of decision-making and power back to communities and workers. Join in on the movement and celebrate with us with our resources for Farm to School Month

Resources: 

Thank you to our 2022 Farm to School Month Sponsors, Farm Credit, CoBank, and National Co+op Grocers, for supporting this work.