Blog Series | From Winter Reflections to Summer Deepening: NFSN's Racial Equity Learning Lab in New Orleans

NFSN Staff
November 30, 2023

Earlier this month, the NFSN Racial Equity Learning Lab team and the 2023 cohort members met in-person in New Orleans. The meeting was held in the historic New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and concluded the day at an Edible Schoolyard New Orleans school site, Arthur Ashe Charter School. This in-person session was carefully situated half way through the Lab sessions to further ground participants in the work and cultivate strong relationships with one another. 

The 2023 Racial Equity Learning Lab Cohort in New Orleans, along with NFSN staff members.

The Lab roadmap (curriculum) follows the pattern of seasons. The collective journey began with winter in mind, where cohort members reflected on the historical inequities in the food system and how it may intersect with farm to school activities through pre-work materials. Winter is a time of retreating back–this entails reflection that honors the spirit and mind as part of the collective work in advancing equity in the food system. This shows up in the Lab through the reflections from pre-work materials and collective analysis of how history and social constructs may show up in the current farm to school landscape. Cohort members and NFSN staff delved into the significance of having shared language when doing equity work in the food system through discussions. 

In the second session, they channeled the spring season, where they collectively re-imagined the food system through storytelling activities. For the Lab, spring is all about the headspace and development of foundations where a lot of the re-imagination takes place. Cohort members contemplated a time when their farm to school activity both positively and negatively impacted historically marginalized communities. The collective challenged themselves and participated in story circles (also referred to as sharing or talking circles) which can be traced back to Indigenous practices for sharing knowledge and narratives. 

In addition to the virtual meetings leading up to the in-person meeting, cohort members and the NFSN team also interact with each other through Howspace, which is a digital learning platform. Howspace has been a powerful tool that serves as a continuum between virtual sessions and space for cohort members to engage in various learning materials as well as discussion forums.

The Racial Equity Learning Lab is grounded in the concepts of emergence and non-linear collaboration through the lens of co-creation and co-learning. The in-person session allowed for these theoretical underpinnings to come to life. It was remarkable to see co-creation and co-learning at play in real-time as the collective engaged in individual and group reflections and activities. This in-person meeting focused on channeling the summer season—a time for deepening and strengthening the equity journey through individual and collective work.

One of the cohort members, Pantaleon Florez III, led a group discussion on protecting and uplifting dignity for Indigenous data and how this can be used to promote equitable data collection that is not extractive of communities and promote meaningful program implementation across diverse communities. At the core of this discussion was the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance, which stands for Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, and Ethics. Prior to meeting in-person, cohort members were invited to read the article, Applying the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance to Ecology and Biodiversity Research. The discussion was robust and the collective shared current practices they utilize that upholds data transparency and accountability as well as some of the existing challenges they may see out in the field. 

Moreover, cohort members used their minds and hands as they crafted a collage to express their dream food system then engaged in Appreciative Inquiry as part of action planning. Appreciative Inquiry encourages individuals to ground their thinking in assets and strengths instead of focusing on negative problem identification. The approach begs to ask for the “gifts” that exist and how the solution can be built upon it. The time and space together allowed for the NFSN team and cohort members to get to know each other, share what it means to be committed in the work of building resilient and equitable food systems through farm to school, and share delicious food in New Orleans together. 

The day ended with a brief site visit at Arthur Ashe Charter School where the collective met with the Edible Schoolyard NOLA team to learn about the ways in which they engage the school community through the garden. Zach, Lou, and Liliana talked about all the ways they make the school garden experience inclusive and community oriented, and they even shared the American Sign Language for “watermelon” with the group. 

A sense of community and belonging was cultivated in the in-person meeting. The “gratitude board” included little moments throughout the day that made individuals in the space feel welcome. An individual included their gratitude for one of the cohort members, Stormy Soza, for bringing delicious local treats from Hawaii. The cohort and NFSN team look forward to continuing the rest of the Lab sessions and are energized by the thought of having another meeting like this for the second cohort next fall.

Vote for National Farm to School Network in the Newman's Own $100K Community Giveaway!

NFSN Staff
November 9, 2023

We need your help—vote for National Farm to School Network to help us win funding from the Newman's Own $100K Community Giveaway! 

This November, the Newman’s Own Foundation is giving away more than $100,000 to organizations working to advance food justice and nutritious school food for kids, and National Farm to School Network is one of the shortlisted grantees.

It would mean a lot to us if you can take a moment to vote for National Farm to School Network to give us the opportunity to win up to $25,000 in additional funding through the Newman’s Own Foundation. Your vote will help us win funding that would go directly to our farm to school programming and food justice work. Each of your votes matter and can help us amplify our positive impact on kids, farmers, and communities!

It’s free to join and vote here today, with no obligation to make a donation. Voting ends November 28, 2023 at 11:45 PM EST. 

Here's a step-by-step walkthrough of how to cast your vote:

Click here to visit the Newman's Own Community Fund Page, then click "Join This Grapevine" 

Log in using Google, LinkedIn, or your email—it's completely free to sign up! 

Once you're logged in, head back to the main page and scroll down to find this post with details about the Newman's Own $100K Community Giveaway. Click on the link next to "Vote for your favorite Nutritious Food in Schools grantee partners"

Once you're on the voting page, scroll down again to find the list of grantees and cast your vote for the National Farm to School Network! 

Thank you so much for your support—your vote means a lot to us! 

Rooted in Community: A Way To Wrap Up Farm to School Month!

NFSN Staff
November 2, 2023

Last week, the National Farm to School Network hosted our annual Movement Meeting to mark the end of Farm to School Month! The event celebrated the collective growth seen in the farm to school movement by elevating local community stories and forging new connections nationwide. 

Over 150 farm to school practitioners and community members joined the live event and were asked to elevate the communities they would like to represent in the space. Their responses as shown below:

Recap of the Movement Meeting: 

As Keynote, Qiana Mickie, Executive Director of New York City Office of Urban Agriculture, exemplified the importance of farm to school efforts in fostering equitable work in local food systems, particularly through community and family engagement and support of local farmers and producers. 

We also heard NFSN’s Advisory Board members discuss values-based local food purchasing,  highlighting the essential role food service members play in our school food system. NFSN’s Policy Team offered school food policy wins and updates – including the recently introduced bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2023, which aims to expand funding for the Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grant program. We then moved into a few community highlights, featuring the Meskwaki Settlement School, Cultivate Charlottesville, The Food Trust, and FRESHFARM. The Movement Meeting illustrated the many unique facets and opportunities farm to school programming can provide when it comes to building vibrant food systems.

Farm to school truly is a space for cross-sectoral collaborations across multiple disciplines, including work around economic and environmental justice, public health, education, as well as racial and social equity. The gathering was designed to celebrate the champions involved in bringing fresh, local, and healthy nourishment to local communities everyday. We hope it inspired and facilitated new connections, wherever you may be at your farm to school journey. 

Missed the meeting? Watch the recording here!

Community Spotlight: Farm to School is Transforming School Meals in Cleveland

NFSN Staff
October 30, 2023
Rebecca Rodriguez, Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Farm to School Manager

By Jiyoon Chon, NFSN Communications Manager

In Cleveland, Ohio, farm to school is taking root and a community of remarkable individuals are sowing the seeds of change. 

National Farm to School Network interviewed Rebecca Rodriguez, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Farm to School Manager, who enthusiastically shared the farm to school programming that has been taking shape and expanding across schools throughout Cleveland. Though she's been in her role for just three months, her vision and dedication to transform how kids eat are already making a profound impact.

At the core of Rebecca's mission is a commitment to deepen children’s knowledge and relationship with food. What drives her passion? It's moments like the one she recently experienced during a cafeteria taste test. A curious little student approached her and asked, "Have you ever tried a green hot dog?" After a brief pause, Rebecca realized the child was referring to a cucumber. That was a reminder that sometimes we take basic food knowledge for granted, such as knowing what a celery or a cucumber is. For the young children who are just forming their relationships with food, farm to school activities like gardening, taste tests, and nutrition education in the classroom are especially influential. 

Cleveland is a predominantly industrious, lower-income city—Rebecca and her team are determined to prove that even with this backdrop, fresh, local, and great-tasting produce is not out of reach. Education is the cornerstone of their approach, and they have a growing community of local partners working alongside them.

Rebecca's passion is mirrored by Bob Gorman, the school district’s Executive Director of School Nutrition. Together, they're leading a range of activities to bring the benefits of farm to school to the forefront.

Mural painted by students showing what "Food is Medicine" means

Their initiatives include 11 school gardens, 2 hoop houses, and an indoor garden at one high school, all developed in partnership with FoodStrong. The gardens are paired with a curriculum that educates students about nutrition. This year's themes, "Food is Medicine," “Eating the Rainbow,” and “Lifecycle of the Farm” explore concepts like harvesting and the ecosystem, along with how fresh produce fuels our bodies through components like Vitamin C and fiber.

Through the school gardens, students are growing their own food, from kale to beets and sugar snap peas. They also learn about different ways to prepare the produce and practice knife skills through fun cooking lessons—Thai kohlrabi salad, hand-rolled veggie sushi, zucchini latkes, homemade apple cider and fresh salsa were some favorites! Students also participate in building hoop houses around the raised beds come wintertime, as Cleveland is known for brutally cold winters. These hands-on experiences connect students with the vibrant world of agriculture and nutrition. By participating in caring for the garden through the seasons, they also learn important lessons in sustainability and climate resilience. 

Students participate in maintaining raised beds in school gardens

Additionally, 17 soon-to-be 20 fruit and veggie bars are transforming lunch lines, allowing students to try new fruits and veggies while still having the power to choose what’s on their plate. All the other schools still serve fresh fruits and vegetables, offering them in little “veggie boats"—Rebecca says it’s their goal to eventually have the fruit and veggie bars available at all 87 schools in their district. 

Procurement of local food from small farmers is also a big focus for the Cleveland school district—they are currently partnering with a local distributor, What Chefs Want, to connect with BIPOC farmers in the area. This collaboration allows them to source items such as sungold cherry tomatoes, apples, peaches, nectarines, and watermelons, directly from small-scale producers.

Their partnership with What Chefs Want also extends to a fresh fruit and veggie snack program at 8 schools. Students receive fresh snacks twice a week, along with nutrition education. Items like dragon fruit, kiwi, and rainbow carrots introduce children to new and exciting flavors. 

Sungold cherry tomato tasting in the cafeteria!

Bob and Rebecca manage a handful of other community partnerships that further enrich the school district’s farm to school programming. In partnership with Feed Our Future, they offer a monthly featured produce program, complete with tastings and educational materials. During these monthly tastings, Rebecca and other educators walk around and talk with students, with three buckets and ping pong balls. Students get to put them in the “loved it,” “liked it,” or “not for me” buckets. “The fun part is talking with the students on why they chose the bucket they did,” says Rebecca. “For example, when we were tasting Sungold cherry tomatoes, one student didn’t want to try it because they said tomatoes were sour and squishy. I told them these were special from the sun, and were crunchy and sweet. They ended up loving it!” 

Freshly prepared cobb salad, a student favorite!

The school district also partners with Americorps and nearby Baldwin Wallace University to bring interns who help with the taste tests, garden activities, and the fresh fruit and veggie snack program! This past summer, the team partnered with Case Western University’s student garden to provide 60 bags of produce each week to families, along with a simple infographic that showed what was being sent home, what it looks like in the garden, and a simple recipe. This was a great way to engage parents and the wider community in farm to school. 

So far, the feedback from families, parents, and principals has been overwhelmingly positive. As a relatively new concept in Cleveland, farm to school has been met with enthusiasm and support. During a recent meeting with school principals, Bob gave a presentation introducing the concept of farm to school. At the end of the presentation he was met with a standing ovation, underscoring the community's desire for this positive change.

As part of this growth of farm to school and the transition to more scratch cooking, Rebecca mentions that she’s incredibly thankful to the kitchen staff who make this possible. “I always tell my kitchen staff that they are my frontline and have such an impact on the kids. Even their simple interactions with students in the lunch line, like asking, ‘Why don’t you try this apple? It’s super crunchy and good for you!’ can have a positive lasting impact. Making sure they know how important they are and supporting and thanking them goes a long way.” 

Guests from USDA and the Ohio Department of Education joins for CMSD's Farm to School Month event

As Farm to School Month is in full swing, Rebecca and her team recently hosted a two-day event with members of the USDA, Ohio Department of Education, and FoodCorps, who all got to take part in an apple crunch event supplied by Bauman Orchards at Almira Elementary School. It was followed by a cooking demonstration at Food Strong’s learning garden. On day 2 of the event, they hosted a space where school district representatives, distributors, farmers, and food producers had the opportunity to network and ask questions to their state representatives. It was a successful event that brought together the community to celebrate their progress on serving students the best of the best. 

As Bob reflects, "When I took this position, I recognized the dire need to change the way children eat. My staff and I are on a mission to shift how our community connects where their food comes from. CMSD is proud to lead the charge in bringing Farm to School practices to Northeast Ohio, and we are excited for what the future holds!" 

Advocating for Arkansas’ Farm to School Future

NFSN Staff
October 18, 2023

Guest blog by Dan Spatz, Healthy Flavors Arkansas 

At Healthy Flavors Arkansas, we are focused on increasing the availability of locally grown vegetables to kids in schools across our state. While we are celebrating National Farm to School Month in October, I want to share all the wonderful farm to school advocacy that happened with our family farm last month. 

September was special because the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) invited us to join in an advocacy effort to support farm to school in the upcoming Farm Bill! Congress is now hammering out this massive piece of legislation that lays out the U.S. government’s policy framework for nutrition and agriculture. It is revised only every five years, so having a voice in this process is important. We appreciate the invitation to speak out and be a part of their efforts to rally support for farm to school! 

Our collaboration was a “two step” approach. First, we met with Arkansas Senator John Boozman on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Next, we hosted elementary students at our farm and demonstrated the power of farm to school with two of Senator Boozman’s Arkansas staff members.

Sen. Boozman is the ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the Senate committee responsible for drafting the Farm Bill. We visited with him about the importance of farm to school, both for school kids and for farmers. We made the point that schools are the largest “restaurant chain” in Arkansas and across our country, and therefore provide an excellent market for farmers. 

We also emphasized that infrastructure is lacking for direct supply of local food to school food service programs, and farm to school programs can play an important role with infrastructure both in schools and on farms. We also spoke with the Senator about risk management and the various points in local supply chains where risk plays a role in inhibiting more local food being served to kids.

We heard Sen, Boozman express his concern about the decline in many rural communities across our nation, and we believe investments in farm to school can help revitalize these areas with local markets and local job creation.

In particular, we are supporting policy proposals that address the issues important to the Senator and Arkansas farmers. Opportunities for the Senator to increase this Farm Bill’s direct return on investment for Arkansas’ producers include:

  • Local Farms and Food Act (S. 1205): This bill offers program reforms to streamline paperwork and remove barriers for applicants, increase infrastructural investments for the local supply chain, and sustain the impactful nutrition incentives through Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive, and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
  • Strengthening Local Processing Act (SLPA) (S. 354): This bipartisan bill promotes competitive agricultural markets and invests in economic development by addressing acute livestock supply chain issues, supporting small meat and poultry processing plants, and promoting training programs that will bolster the resilience of communities and their food systems. It will increase slaughter options for local livestock and poultry producers, assist smaller facilities as they adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, and help farm to school customers access locally raised meat & poultry.
  • Whole Farm Revenue Protection Improvement Act (S. 2598): Directs the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) to take specific, targeted actions that will streamline access to Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) and close the coverage gap for our country’s small to mid-sized, beginning, specialty crop, and diversified producers.

Upon return from Capitol Hill, the absolute highlight of this advocacy work was to host some of Arkansas’ farm to school leaders, the Senator's in-state staff and 13 students from Chicot Elementary School in Little Rock. We delighted in watching and hearing this small group of young students wander in amazement and awe through our squash patch at Healthy Flavors in Conway, AR!

“Look at those bugs... what are they doing?” (Pollinating squash flowers!)
“Why are these stems itchy, covered with hair?” (To protect the plant from predators!)
“How could this squash be red and this one brown and this one green?” (Because nature made many varieties of squash!)
“What about this squash with a hole in it, can you eat it?” (Maybe, depends on what kind of damage was done to the fruit!)

These 13 students had a field trip of discovery, engagement and learning organized by Destiny Schlinker, Impact and Partnerships Lead for FoodCorps Arkansas. Destiny had already taught these students about the six parts of a plant through an interpretative dance (which the adults joined in as well!). And she also got them into the act of food preparation by having them make a salad for lunch.

A hundred years ago, most of these students would have grown up on a farm in Arkansas. Unfortunately, our society has allowed kids to become separated from the knowledge and experience of where food comes from, how growing food impacts the environment we all share, how food gets prepared before we consume it and how real, nutrient dense food builds and heals our bodies. Just bringing these kids to a squash patch sparked so many questions.

I’m hopeful that just as this visit to a squash patch encouraged curiosity and exploration, the growth of farm to school programs in Arkansas and across the country will empower more children to nourish their bodies and minds through food. Maybe it will motivate one of the students to become a child nutrition expert and serve better meals in schools. Could yet another find the path to being a farmer themselves one day? Maybe one will go on to work on agricultural policy, and realize that by restoring our community roots, we build a stronger and more stable society for all.

We appreciate the Senator's support for strong family farms in Arkansas and look forward to working with Senator Boozman to increase the economic impact of healthy farms and farmers in Arkansas.

— Dan Spatz, Healthy Flavors Arkansas

The National Farm to School Network and Healthy Flavors AR advocate for increased public investment that supports farmers, catalyzes on-farm economic stability and strengthens the infrastructure of food supply chains. 

Rooted in Community: An Invitation to Our 2023 Movement Meeting

NFSN Staff
October 13, 2023

National Farm to School Network is thrilled to invite you to our annual Movement Meeting! 

October 26, 2023; 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM EST 

On Zoom - Register Here 

What is the Movement Meeting?

National Farm to School Network hosts this annual Movement Meeting as a dynamic celebration of the incredible farm to school work happening across the nation. But it’s more than just a showcase; it’s also a place where we connect and create intention for the future of the farm to school movement. 

Why Should You Join? Who’s It For? 

The Movement Meeting is open to everyone, regardless of your role or level of experience with farm to school! 

For the farm to school veterans: If you’ve been deeply immersed in farm to school work for years, come and find your people! We’ll be shining a spotlight on inspiring examples of farm to school across the country. Together, we’ll take a step back, reflect on the movement’s journey, and chart a course for where it’s headed.

For the newcomers: If you’re brand new to the work, the Movement Meeting is a fantastic first step to learn about the different aspects of farm to school and gain a broad picture of the movement. It’s your opportunity to get acquainted with the many facets of farm to school initiatives and become part of this vibrant community! 

Join us by registering today


Thank you to our 2023 Movement Meeting sponsors, CoBank, Mushrooms in Schools, Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools and National Co+op Grocers! 

Meet a Farm to School Coordinator! Q&A with Janelle Manzano

NFSN Staff
October 11, 2023

By Jiyoon Chon, NFSN Communications Manager

Farm to school enriches and empowers communities, bringing more farm-fresh, nourishing food into schools and supporting local jobs and economies. But it can also be a complex endeavor, requiring coordination and relationship-building across many people.

We also know that having a dedicated farm to school coordinator role at a school district can address many of these challenges. In addition to increasing the amount of local foods in school menus, farm to school coordinators may also help increase hands-on nutrition and food education in the classroom or school garden. This can create a ripple effect that not only benefits students, but also the entire school and broader community. 

National Farm to School Network spoke to a current Farm to School Program Specialist, Janelle Manzano from the San Diego Unified school district, to illuminate how this may look like in practice. Read on to learn more about Janelle’s unique role and how it supports her community! 

Can you summarize the main responsibilities of your role? What are the main things you coordinate to make farm to school possible in your school district?

My main responsibilities include overseeing our nutrition ed programs (assemblies, classroom presentations, taste kits, tastings, FoodCorps team, etc.), supporting school gardens, and supporting my Food Team (menu, marketing, procurement, testing, etc.). 

I must make sure all our programs and projects are ‘scalable’—we are a very large district of about 200 schools—and that our Farm to School programs help promote our menus and foods that we serve to our students. The main things I coordinate to make Farm to School happen in my district include writing and managing our state Farm to School grants.    

Are there any accomplishments that you're particularly proud to have achieved through your role? 

An accomplishment I am especially proud of is being rewarded $1.5 million dollars in state funding for Farm to School! With this grant funding, we were able to start family Farm to School themed picnics, expand our FoodCorps team, provide tasting kits to educators district-wide and of various grade levels, and so much more. Also with this funding, I have started creating impact reports each school year to track how many students our Farm to School programming has reached.

Why is your farm to school coordinator role important to your school district? 

My common example that I give to questions like this is that we (Food & Nutrition Services Teams) can serve all this “organic”, “local”, “free range” produce, chicken, etc., but if our students aren’t aware or don’t understand the significance of what these words mean or the people that grew, raised, or cooked that food for them—then they aren’t going to eat it and it’ll go to waste. 

Farm to School, and especially the nutrition education component, helps our students engage, learn, and taste all the delicious offerings that their school café has to offer. Destigmatizing school food is so important to gaining the trust of our students—especially with all the changes that school nutrition has seen these past few years from universal meals, kitchen/infrastructure grants, and the general growth of Farm to School programs nationally!

Are you also a current Farm to School Coordinator, or are you part of a school district that would love to hire one? Apply now for our Farm to School Coordinator Community of Practice and School District Working Group. Both are paid opportunities—learn more and apply here

Press Release — Celebrating National Farm to School Month 2023

NFSN Staff
October 1, 2023



Jiyoon Chon

National Farm to School Network

October 2, 2022 – This October, schools and early care and education sites across the country are celebrating the thirteenth annual National Farm to School Month, a 31-day campaign to recognize the benefits that 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 that builds 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 “Rooted in Community: Growing Stronger, Together.” At the core, farm to school is built for and by communities, with all of us working together to cultivate a better future for us all. Farm to school brings together a community of individuals across sectors, generations, and interests—farmers, parents, students, advocates, teachers, food service workers and lawmakers—who all share a common vision of an abundant, nourishing and equitable food system. 

Throughout October, National Farm to School Network’s activities will be focused on celebrating achievements, sharing stories of collaboration and community and highlighting progress toward racial equity in farm to school, so that we can continue to grow stronger, together. 

National Farm to School Network’s October celebrations also include the annual Movement Meeting on October 26 from 3 - 5:00pm ET. The Movement Meeting is a gathering point for dedicated advocates in the farm to school and farm to early care and education realms, providing an invaluable opportunity to come together, rejoice in our shared achievements, foster meaningful connections, ignite inspiration and collectively nurture our growth. Along with Qiana Mickis as the keynote speaker, the Movement Meeting will feature a panel of speakers who will share their leadership, experiences and connections to community in their farm to school work. 

National Farm to School Network offers dozens of free resources for celebrating National Farm to School Month on its website, 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 sponsor National Co+Op Grocers for supporting this year’s campaign. 


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: