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. 

 


USDA Funding Opportunities Recognize Crucial Role of Local Food Systems

NFSN Staff
December 22, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, the Policy team at NFSN want to take a moment to unpack recent major announcements and funding opportunities from the US Department of Agriculture that should cheer the farm to school and farm to ECE community. 

2021 has brought a flurry of activity and announcements from USDA, as the new presidential administration worked to create new programs for local food infrastructure, to improve the Department’s commitment to racial and social equity, to award record levels of funding for Farm to School grants, and to distribute American Rescue Plan Act funds to communities – in addition to the currently open Farm to School Grant opportunity (closing January 10!). 

See this summary of just a few of the recent announcements from USDA that NFSN Partners should know about. 

In December, USDA also announced more details of $1.5 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation funding to help school nutrition programs cope with supply chain challenges. This funding will be broken down as:

  • Supply Chain Assistance Funds: $1 billion in cash payments for schools to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed foods. States and Territories have the option of using up to 10% of the Supply Chain Assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distributing these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.
  • Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement: $200 million awarded by the Agricultural Marketing Service in cooperative agreements to states and U.S. Territories for purchase of local foods for distribution to schools.
  • USDA Foods Purchases: $300 million in USDA Foods purchases for states to distribute to schools. 

We are very pleased that the bulk of this funding will offer flexibility in purchasing for our school nutrition partners, and that the local and regional producers will have the opportunity to serve the school food market through state purchases.

See the allocation of this funding here. Please click here to read the USDA press release.

Additionally, USDA is launching a new Local and Regional Food System Recovery and Resilience Project. Building on the findings of its Local and Regional Food Systems Response (LRFS) to COVID-19 initiative, this program will facilitate networking, data gathering, and technical assistance. Join their next webinar on January 14 (register here), and review their call for partners in a new Network of Networks, a cross-sector convening to allow local food system stakeholders to make valuable connections. If interested, please fill out this form and join their first meeting on January 26 at 1:00pm ET. 

These actions should be a source of pride for farm to school and farm to ECE partners who have worked over the last 20 months to highlight how local, equitable, and flexible food system connections can support and nourish our communities in times of emergency. Together, our advocacy for targeted, flexible funding to food systems infrastructure, and for leveraging federally-reimbursed Child Nutrition Programs to do so, has made an impact. We look forward to supporting partners as these funds are implemented.

Reflecting on Native American Heritage Month

NFSN Staff
December 10, 2021
Pictured: Top: Janie Hipp, Deb Halaand, Zach Ducheneaux. Bottom: Fawn Sharp, Cindy Farlee, Mariah Gladstone

Throughout November, for Native American Heritage Month, National Farm to School Network highlighted contemporary Native foodway leaders. As we enter into the last month of the year, we want to continue to support and uplift Native efforts to reclaim food sovereignty,  revitalize traditional diets, and nourish their communities with culturally-appropriate food. Here’s a recap of the rich conversations and stories we shared this past month.

November’s Coffee Chat Conversation: Celebrating Indigenous Foodways and Futures featured Cindy Farlee (Itázipčho Lakȟóta), Program Officer for the Native American Agriculture Fund and Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet/Cherokee), Founder of Indigikitchen  sharing about their personal relationships with traditional foodways, passions for food sovereignty, and visions for the future of Indian Country.

On Facebook and Instagram, we spotlighted Janie Hipp, Deb Halaand, Zach Ducheneaux, and Fawn Sharp.

Janie Hipp of the Chickasaw Nation is the first Native American to serve as General Counsel at USDA, and she is the most senior Native person to serve USDA in its 159-year history. As a former National Farm to School Network advisory board member, Janie is a champion for Native youth in agriculture programming. She formerly served as the CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund. 

In her interview with Food Tank, Janie shared, “I come from a very rural area of the country; I’m Chickasaw and I grew up deep in Choctaw areas of Oklahoma. We had lots of challenges in our area the entire time I was growing up: high unemployment, remoteness, and poverty. But we were surrounded by beautiful forests, lands, waters and people. Working with farming and ranching and “food people” has always been what I loved to do, even when I was young.  I was put on this earth to do this work. I found it, or should I say it found me, early in my career and I’ve never strayed too far from doing agricultural law.” 

Deb Haaland of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo is the first Native American in U.S. history to serve as a Cabinet secretary. Sworn in as the United States Secretary of the Interior in 2021, she advocates for environmental justice, the priorities of Indian Country, and diverse representation at decision-making tables.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, she shared, “November is Native American Heritage Month, and a good time to honor the legacy of our ancestors, but every day we should stop to think about our country's beginning and that the United States would not exist if not for a great deal of sacrifice, blood, and tears by Indian Tribes across the country.”

Zach Ducheneaux, member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, was appointed Administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency this year. As an avid supporter of Native youth in agriculture programming, he believes young people will continue to inspire others in traditional foodways.

He shares his dreams for Indian Country and the influence of youth leaders in saying, “I’m excited about a future where the person across the desk from a farmer in Indian Country, the person who’s helping the farmer with financial planning, underwriting their insurance, or appraising their land, is also from Indian Country. The youth have been returning home from our leadership programs and reminding their leaders that we are agricultural people, and that’s a big reason why agriculture is no longer an afterthought for lots of tribal leaders.”

Fawn Sharp of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah serves as the 23rd President of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the U.S.

Reflecting on the power that Indigenous peoples have to address climate change and other issues, she offers, “We stand on the shoulders of so many of our ancestors and generations that have gone before us. And while we have multi-generational trauma, multi-generational poverty, multi-generational political, economic, and social marginalization, we also have multi-generational strength and resilience, and wisdom, and teachings.” 

We look forward to continuing our commitment to Native communities and foodway leaders as we work collectively to cultivate a racially just food system by 2025.

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
June 27, 2018

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 10, 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 18, 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 21, 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