Sharing stories of success on Capitol Hill

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Policy Director, and Eugene Kim, NSAC Policy Specialist  

“Thank you to everyone who participated in the National Farm to School Network’s first D.C. fly-in. Policy is all about storytelling, and your stories and your experiences are why we come to work every day. You are the face of farm to school.”
-Helen Dombalis, Policy Director

Left: Senator McConnell (KY) with Bill Jackson of Jackson's Orchard and Tina Garland, NFSN State Lead and Kentucky Dept of Agriculture; Top Right: Jason Grimm, founder of Iowa Valley Food Co-op and family farmer, pictured with Senator Grassley (IA); Lower Right: Senator Thune (SD) with Jim Stone, Executive Director of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council and NSAC Senior Policy Specialist Juli Obudzinski. (Photo credit: NSAC)

This week, 24 farmers, school nutrition directors, extension agents, tribal representatives and farm to school advocates from 17 states across the country descended on Capitol Hill to share their farm to school experiences with their members of Congress. We met with 35 Congressional offices from both sides of the aisle, including Congressional leadership, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. And what we heard was resounding acknowledgement that farm to school programs are working to improve healthy eating in schools and create opportunities for farmers.

In a House briefing on Monday, speakers testified to the benefits for farmers, impact on students, increased job satisfaction in school nutrition services, community connection and how a USDA Farm to School grant would help their work:

  • “The farmers have been so thrilled with the program that they have been calling to see what else they can grow for us.  What they like most is that they know they can sell large quantities and they don’t have to go very far to deliver it. … We are applying for a USDA Farm to School implementation grant for equipment so that all the farmers in the area could use it to cut up fruit and vegetables so they can sell to not only our district, but surrounding districts as well.” –Donna Martin, Burke County, Ga., School Nutrition Director
  • “I think the largest benefit [of farm to school] is the community pride and social capital that is created. I can’t believe the amount of support and encouragement I get from my community by selling to my old school where I grew up. … Statewide, groups in Iowa have submitted 11 applications for USDA Farm to School grants but only two have been awarded funding. We need larger pots of farm to school funds to build the foundation. These types of long term changes take multiple years to build and implement.” –Jason Grimm, Iowa Valley Food Co-op Founder and Grimm Family Farm
  • “Farm to school matters. It is a win for all involved. Students do recognize the importance of what is being done. They are starting to see that cafeterias are a place to learn as well. Farm to school helps us to educate where the food comes from, encourages students to try different foods and empowers students to learn to make food choices that help their bodies feel good.” –Karra Hartog, Elementary Cook Manager at Gideon Pond Elementary, Burnsville, Minn.
  • “Buffalo is a cultural icon for tribes, and we're using it to break the path for other traditional foods in school lunch programs. … The purpose of the support services grant is to help figure out the capacity for schools to accept local food, transport it, etc. We work in 19 states, but our grant is specific to South Dakota. Only nine out of my 60 tribes are being supported [by this grant]." –Jim Stone, Inter Tribal Buffalo Council Executive Director

Donna Martin, Jason Grimm, Karra Hartog, and Jim Stone testifying at Monday's House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015. (Photo credit: NSAC)

These speakers and their peers walked the halls of Congress Tuesday to tell stories of how their school can’t order enough fruit and vegetables because student consumption is up so much; how the local grocery store runs out of products that are featured in school that week; how farm to school inspires creativity in school kitchens; how farm to school involves farmers, fishers and ranchers; the challenges of navigating procurement regulations across different types of schools, especially in tribal communities; how schools are a great market for number two products that can’t be sold to grocery stores; how the need for intermediary food processing is creating new jobs; and more examples of how farm to school is a win for kids, a win for farmers and a win for communities.

Thank you to all of the Representatives and Senators and their staff members who welcomed our farm to school crew to Washington, D.C., and listened with interest to how the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 could transform their communities and bridge some of the challenges facing school nutrition in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR). We hope to secure broad support as both the House Education Committee and Senate Ag Committee prepare to take up CNR in the coming months.

Have you already added joined our citizen and organizational sign-on letters, and you want to do more? Contact the National Farm to School Network Policy team, and we’ll walk you through making a phone call to your elected officials to get their support.

Clockwise: Bob Bell with the Northeast Arkansas Education Cooperative meets with Senator Boozman (AR); Rep. Guthrie (KY) with Tina Garland and Bill Jackson; April Nujean, a community educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, with Rep. Gibson (NY); Lindsey Scalera of Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Rep. David Trott (MI), and Doreen Simonds, Waterford School District Food Services Director (Photo credits: office of Rep. Trott & NSAC)

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

The Farmer Perspective: Championing the Farm to School Act of 2015

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Alexandra Beresford, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“Farm to school is great for a community because it builds social capital around health and wellness and makes the connection between the farming community and local schools.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

Jason and Hannah Grimm display black beans grown on their Iowa farm.

When most people think of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), they think of children. However, federal nutrition programs affect many stakeholders, including those who grow and produce the food that kids eats. That’s why the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is partnering with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to champion the Farm to School Act of 2015 – because farm to school programs can be just as much a win for farmers as they are for kids.  

NSAC supports policy reform to advance sustainable agriculture, food systems, and rural communities. Farm to school helps us achieve that goal by providing significant economic opportunities for farmers, fishers, and ranchers through an institutional market worth billions of dollars. As the farm to school movement has grown over the past decade, so has its impact on local farmers – in the 2011-2012 school year, a whopping $385 million was spent on local food.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue to strengthen this economic opportunity for farmers by improving the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The program has increased the use of and improves access to local foods in schools, boosting farmer incomes and local economies. It has also brought farmers and food service directors together in new ways, building relationships that are critical for laying the groundwork of robust local food economies. Thanks to farm to school programs, farmers are expanding their markets, building positive community relationships and increasing their incomes.

Today, NSAC and NFSN are headed to the Capitol with farm to school advocates – including farmers – from across the country to tell Congress why the Farm to School Act of 2015 is a critical component of the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Here’s what farmers are saying:

  • “Farm to school creates a local economic stimulus: I’m hiring people who spend money locally, I invest in equipment, I buy local inputs to grow the produce. Not only are kids improving their diet, with access to higher levels of nutrition in the fresh produce, but school kitchens are reducing waste. Personally, [farm to school] has given me a steady outlet to sell large volumes of product – my goal is to expand to additional schools in the Kansas City area.” —Mark Jirak, Farmer, Jirak Family Produce (Atchison, Kansas)
  • “I definitely see farm to school as an important opportunity for growth for farmers. As a farmer, I’m glad to sell to schools. I know fresh, local produce provides a healthier meal – and a better tasting one.” —Cliff Pilson, Farmer, CV Pilson Farm (Cameron, NC)
  • “Farm to school helps me plan what I grow. I work with school food directors, communicating with them about what they want and when, versus going to a farmers market with irregular sales and a diversified supply. Farm to school allows me to specialize – I plant what they order and have a secure sale.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

In our current agriculture system, farmers and ranchers receive only 16 cents of every dollar spent on food, down significantly from 31 cents in 1980.  Rural poverty and jobless rates are consistently higher than urban poverty rates, posing significant threats to rural communities and the economy as a whole. With these challenges facing America’s farmers, programs like farm to school have the power to revitalize local economies by connecting communities to local food producers. Farm to school not only provides healthy, local food options for our kids, but offers exciting new economic opportunities for our farmers.

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms

Tree to School: Planting Heritage Fruit Orchards in Colorado

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Anna Mullen, Communications Intern

Photo courtesy of Montezuma School to Farm Project

Happy Arbor Day! In celebration of the trees that help us breathe, we’re spotlighting a project in Colorado where students are embracing farm to school by planting fruit trees. The Montezuma School to Farm Project works with students across the high desert country of Southwest Colorado to plant heritage fruit tree orchards on school grounds that not only bring local fruits into the cafeteria, but are also helping revitalize the region’s unique fruit tree history.

Last fall, students at Cortez Middle School began planting an exact replica of a dying historic orchard in their region with 50 apple trees grafted from nearly 100-year-old stock. After receiving a USDA Farm to School Grant, an additional 25 trees were added to the orchard this spring, including nectarines, peaches, plums, pears, pluots (cross between plum and apricot) and pluerries (cross between plum and cherry). USDA Farm to School Grant funds are also being used to add cane fruits – including raspberries, blackberries, table grapes and strawberries – to the 2+ acres of production space on school grounds.

When finished, the 75-tree orchard will increase annual production to more than 37,500 pounds of heirloom fruit for students to enjoy! And it also serves as a hands-on curriculum tool for the classroom:

  • Science lessons cover the functions of fruit trees, grafting, water conservation and soil health
  • Math skills are learned by mapping out and installing drip irrigations systems
  • Students expand their business and entrepreneurial learning by projecting wholesale and retail sales of fruit at various markets, including their own Youth Farmers Market
  • Navajo language classes use the orchard to teach new vocabulary

Students are also learning local history in the orchard, like how Montezuma County once had a booming apple economy that delivered apples across the country via railroad. Revitalizing that history in schools has been a collaborative project between Montezuma School to Farm Project and the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP), which works to save dying varieties of heritage fruit trees only grown in the Montezuma Valley region. Along with MORP, students in Montezuma County are a playing key role in the development of local food systems and in rebuilding the historical lineage of heirloom food crops that will feed their community.

Photo courtesy of Montezuma School to Farm Project

On Monday, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are heading to Washington, D.C., to tell Congress that programs like the Montezuma school heritage orchards are building more resilient communities, connecting the next generation with our agricultural history and providing teachers hands-on learning environments to inspire their students. We’re asking legislators to strengthen the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package this year.

Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and check back next week for more farm to school success stories here on our blog!

We’re headed to Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Stacey Malstrom, Public Relations & Outreach Manager

“Farm to school is about feeding them more than just food, it’s about feeding passions. We are working to change our menus and influencing families to make healthier choices at home too.” - Doreen Simonds, Food Services Director, Waterford School District (Ortonville, Mich.)

Next week, Congress will hear from school nutrition directors, farmers and farm to school advocates from across the country when we travel to Washington, D.C., in support of the Farm to School Act of 2015. We’ll meet with legislators from Maine to California to tell them how farm to school is an opportunity to empower more children to make healthy food choices; support more farmers, fishers and ranchers; and contribute to more vibrant communities.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced in Congress earlier this year by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). The bill is a bipartisan approach to child nutrition being considered as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, and it has the potential to be a significant economic driver for local communities -- in the 2011-12 school year, U.S. schools spent $385 million on local food purchases.

Not only that, farm to school is helping school districts meet science-based nutrition standards and reduce cafeteria food waste. See how Doreen Simonds describes the positive impacts of farm to school at Waterford School District in Ortonville, Mich., where she is the Food Services Director:

  • Local food tastes better: “Food waste was the common thread of what principals, lunchroom parent volunteers, teachers and custodians were worried about. Since we started implementing farm to school activities, the staff is noticing that the kids are more willing to eat fruits and veggies. We used to waste so many apples - they had no flavor. And now that we are buying them locally, the kids are eating them like crazy.”
  • Taste tests break through negative assumptions: “Farm to school activities definitely helped us meet the new nutrition standards. We needed the taste tests because the kids were programmed to think this wasn’t going to taste good, and we had to show them that it does. Now when they see a sign for local products, they know it’s going to taste good.”
  • Food education travels home: “We hear back from kids and parents that they are trying new foods at home, going to farmers markets now, and using the Double Food Bucks too. One mom said to me, ‘I would have never thought to go to the farmers market. We don’t buy fresh fruits and veggies at the store because we can’t afford them, and it doesn’t stay fresh.’ We’re passing out recipes to the parents, so they are trying that at home, too.”
  • Farm to school helps promote farms: “The Oakland Farmers’ Market is a lot busier now. When we talk to the market manager, he’s sure we have an impact because we are sharing so much information. We’re in the newspaper all the time because we take the kids there. The kids take home food from the market at the end of the trip, and we buy food there, too.”

Waterford School District leveraged a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to extend its farm to school program beyond taste tests, building new relationships with local farmers, adding a successful salad bar and providing in-depth training for kitchen staff. Doreen and her team continue to expand farm to school initiatives this school year with the USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, which provided resources needed to develop new educational programming for students and staff, purchase large capacity produce washers and add open-air merchandizers to highlight local food for sale in the cafeteria.

Doreen Simonds will join fellow farm to school supporters in D.C. next week to share these insights and more with lawmakers considering strengthening the USDA Farm to School Grant Program this year so that more districts like Waterford can benefit from these activities.

How can you help champion farm to school priorities in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act?

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. Learn more at

House begins CNR hearings

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate

Update: Watch this clip of Rep. Rick Allen's (R-GA) remarks about farm to school at the Education and Workforce hearing on April 15, 2015.

On Wednesday, the House Education and Workforce Committee held its first hearing in preparation for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). With the current bill set to expire at the end of September 2015, the “Serving Students and Families through Child Nutrition Programs” hearing focused on key child nutrition programs, including farm to school.

Committee members discussed flexibility for school nutrition administrators, public-private partnerships and hunger as a barrier to academic achievement. And members on both sides of the aisle called out farm to school as an important tool for school meals.

Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA) commented that in his district, the addition of fresh, local products such as collard greens and sweet potatoes in school meals increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by students. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw similar results in his district, with a 10 percent increase in school lunch participation after the introduction of local products and a salad bar. This increase in participation has created additional revenue for the school and improved its economic viability.

In her witness testimony, Julia Bauscher, president of the School Nutrition Association, agreed that kids eat what they know. She said this happens as kids become more familiar with fruits and vegetables through farm to school taste-tests, agriculture education and school gardens. Responding to a question from Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – one of the champions of the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 – the First Lady of Virginia, Dorothy McAuliffe, added that many students do not know where their carrots and peaches come from until they meet farmers. She has seen farm to school help students build healthy habits, and commented that it’s an important tool for supporting farmer incomes and local economies in her state.

Committee members also commented on successful farm to school programs they have seen in their districts during school and farm tours. As Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) stated, “this is really a bipartisan issue,” and a win-win-win for kids, farmers and communities.

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. The benefits of farm to school were heard in Wednesday’s hearing, and we will continue to work to make sure they are part of the conversation as this critical legislation is developed.

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school with the Farm to School Act of 2015.

Bringing farm to school, one Thursday at a time

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director

Photos courtesy of the Center for Ecoliterary

The premise of California Thursdays is simple: encourage school districts to serve one locally sourced and freshly prepared meal per week to benefit kids, local economies and the environment.  It’s a program the Center for Ecoliteracy and Oakland Unified School District piloted during the 2013-14 school year. By October 2014, when the California Thursdays program was rolled out statewide, 15 school districts were on board.

Despite its relative newness, California Thursdays is already demonstrating its impact. By last fall, four of the six largest school districts in California had signed up, including Los Angeles Unified with its 1,309 schools. Combined with the 14 school districts in the original cohort, these participating school districts serve 190 million meals annually – approximately 20% of school meals in California. Now with 42 school districts from across the state joining, California Thursdays is poised to make an unprecedented impact on local procurement in California.

In February, the Center for Ecoliteracy graciously invited me to a communications and media training for participating California Thursday school districts to learn more about the program. The program is designed to take much of the guesswork and behind-the-scenes research of sourcing local food out of the equation for school food programs.  It also trains school districts in communicating the value of California Thursdays across their community to garner support.

As I sat through this California Thursdays training (one of several that the districts participate in throughout the school year), it was clear that the initiative is the result of careful listening, planning and thought partnering on behalf of the Center for Ecoliteracy and school food staff from across the state. Their hard work has resulted in a comprehensive set of supports designed to address the most common challenges schools face in sourcing and preparing fresh, local food in school kitchens, including:

  • A list of California-grown/produced foods that meet the federal reimbursable guidelines – and the vendors who sell them
  • 21 recipes featuring California-grown fruits and vegetables, including nutritional information
  • Trainings to help school districts broadly communicate the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of California Thursdays to various members of their community
  • Resources in both English and Spanish to help engage parents in the discussions about school food
  • A network of school food service/nutrition directors who can reach out to each other for continuing support and ideas

California Thursdays stands out as a state-level innovation that is ripe for replication across the country. A similar program, Minnesota Thursdays, has already followed California's lead. To riff on their tag lines, what if all Thursdays were Arkansas Thursdays, West Virginia Thursdays, Rhode Island Thursdays, and Wyoming Thursdays? What if all states had initiatives that supported their schools in improving the quality of food served, building relationships with local farmers, and helping students and their communities reclaim their food heritage?

Then perhaps, one day, every day will be Local Food Day in schools.

Cultivating Food Justice with Farm to School

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Anna Mullen, Communications Intern

What does it mean for food to be just? And what factors must be considered in cultivating food justice? These questions were on the table at Just Food? A Forum on Justice in the Food System, recently held in Cambridge, Mass. Hosted by the Harvard University Food Law Society and Food Better Initiative, the event brought together activists, scholars and practitioners to explore the complex legal, political, health and environmental aspects of building a just food system.

Food justice is interconnected with many other social justice causes, including farmworkers rights, racial justice and the environment. This multidimensional understanding of food justice requires that a plurality of voices be included in creating our vision of a just food system. Indeed, food is everyone’s issue, because everyone eats! Therefore, everyone has a hand in cultivating food justice.

So, what’s the role of the farm to school movement in helping create a more just food system?

  • Farm to school educates the next generation of conscious eaters: As Dr. Molly Anderson reminded listeners in her keynote address, the road to food justice is long, and will require years of activism. Farm to school is working today to help educate the next generation of food advocates. In classrooms, school gardens and cafeterias, more than 23.5 million students are engaged in farm to school across the country. By teaching kids about where food comes from – who grows food, how it is harvested, how to prepare delicious meals – farm to school is cultivating conversations about just food among our nation’s youngest eaters.
  • Farm to school builds a spirit of inclusivity: Food is a bridge between people, communities and cultures – everybody eats! As a panelist at Just Food, Sunny Young, our Mississippi State Lead, shared how Good Food for Oxford Schools has partnered with other local organizations and churches to make healthy food a community affair. Their annual Gospel Choir Showcase in front of Oxford City Hall features local gospel music, dancing, healthy food samples and farm to school presentations from students and staff. The event brings the wider Oxford community together to celebrate the connections between the farm and their forks. Creative community collaboration can bring food change from the classroom out into the streets, and even to the steps of City Hall.
  • Farm to school can connect all students to healthy, local food: Many of our nation’s children eat two of their meals at school every day, so what better place to level the playing field on access to good food? Our Policy Associate, Natalie Talis, explained to the audience of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization workshop how the Farm to School Act of 2015 will expand and improve the popular USDA Farm to School Grant Program to reach more schools nationwide. And not only more schools, but also more preschools; critically important summer food service sites; after school programs; tribal schools and producers; and beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Collectively, these programs offer millions of children access to healthy, local food, irrespective of race, socioeconomic status or geographic location. Farm to school can connect all students to good food, and Congress has an opportunity to expand the programs supporting these efforts with the Farm to School Act.
  • Farm to school supports small farmers: Student presenters from The Food Project emphasized that we need small-scale farmers in our communities to help know our food. Farmers make great food educators, and they’re also valuable contributors to local economies. Farm to school activities open the doors to an institutional market that spent an estimated $385 million on local food for schools during the 2011-2012 school year. Furthermore, farm to school facilitates farmer-community relationships, diverse markets and encourages grower cooperatives. It’s a win for farmers and the communities they help feed.

The National Farm to School Network is bound together by the vision that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential to the health of our children, farms, environment, economy and communities. It’s a vision that we believe is integral to the work of food justice. Join us.

Encouraging Future Farmers in North Carolina

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Laura Fieselman, Executive Assistant

“I hope people will learn to revere farmers. And farmland too.”

-North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler

Farm to school doesn’t just happen in the cafeteria; it takes place in the classroom too. That was the case recently when North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of the university’s new Carolina Cooks, Carolina Eats initiative. The event afforded students an opportunity to interact with farm to school on a policy level, asking the Commissioner about North Carolina’s ports and the Department of Agriculture’s budget. It was also a chance for Commissioner Troxler to share what he’s most passionate about: farming.

North Carolina’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, speaks to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A farmer himself, the Commissioner is no stranger to teaching and instilling ag excitement in young people. Commissioner Troxler encouraged the class to consider agriculture as a career – and not just farming, but also processing, transportation and the science of crop development. As the local food movement continues to take hold with schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutional buyers across the country, opportunities for new farmers and food businesses are expanding exponentially.  

The North Carolina Farm to School program has been serving fresh, local produce in the state’s lunchrooms since 1997. Originally a pilot project with strawberries, today the program has grown to serve tomatoes, zucchini, collards and sweet potatoes, along with blueberries, cantaloupes, apples, peaches and sprite melons. During the 2013-2014 school year, nearly a million dollars worth of North Carolina produce was served to the state’s students in farm to school programs. That’s a lot of food dollars reinvested in local and regional agriculture.

The National Farm to School Network believes that vibrant local and regional food systems are essential for building healthy kids and healthy communities. In North Carolina, Troxler is helping students learn this in the classroom, and encouraging them to taste it too.

Learn more about how farm to school is a win for kids, win for farmers and win for communities here.