NFSN launches first-ever farm to school evaluation framework
Today, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) launched a pioneering and highly anticipated new resource, Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross Sectoral Evaluation Framework for Farm to School.
In less than a decade, farm to school has expanded from a handful of programs to a full-fledged, thriving, grassroots-led movement in all 50 states and D.C. To date, however, no evaluation framework existed to guide practice, ground research and enable policy development for the growing field.
Evaluation for Transformation is a first step toward bridging that gap — not only does it define outcomes farm to school can achieve across multiple sectors, it offers common language, guidelines and metrics to help users understand and articulate those outcomes. The framework is organized around four key sectors: public health, community economic development, education and environmental quality. Beyond the four sectors, the framework is also structured around three levels of action: program, research and policy. This organizational structure enables all users to identify the parts of the framework most relevant to their interests.
Here are a few examples of ways the framework can be used:
- A teacher or early care educator interested in starting a garden project can gather ideas from the framework to better understand how to articulate and track proposed garden activities.
- A foundation/ grant-making agency providing funds for farm to school/ preschool activities can use the framework to create common guidelines and reporting requirements for project grantees as well as incorporate the language in funding announcements so that proposals can be compared more effectively.
- A graduate student interested in researching farm to school outcomes in a specific sector can use the framework to quickly find existing literature and identify gaps to help formulate the scope and goals of their research, building on the existing knowledge base for the movement.
- A local elected official or school board member can scan the framework for policy outcomes to identify those that align best with their priorities. The policies they support can then be based on sound research, as well as needs articulated by the field.
“It was very important to us that this evaluation framework be relevant to a variety of different users,” says Anupama Joshi, NFSN’s executive director and co-founder. “Unlike any other resource currently available, Evaluation for Transformation will be useful for those working on the program level, like teachers and school nutrition directors, as well as for funders, researchers and policy makers.”
The framework was developed collaboratively with input from more than 300 practitioners and sector experts to ensure that it was relevant across sectors and across program sites.
For each of the four sectors (public health, community economic development, education and environmental quality), the framework provides:
- a compilation of existing peer-reviewed research literature;
- stories from on-the-ground activities demonstrating outcomes in that sector;
- priority outcomes, indicators and measures vetted by contributors;
- examples of existing evaluation and implementation tools and resources;
- a flavor of cross-sectoral connections feasible through farm to school activities.
NFSN is confident that the comprehensive language, outcomes and tools presented in Evaluation for Transformation will help unite the farm to school/ preschool movement around a common understanding and vision grounded in knowledge from local sites, research data and policy agendas, so all communities can grow stronger together.
Where does yogurt come from? And how do you milk a cow?
Those are the questions preschoolers in northeast Iowa were asking recently while participating in Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative’s (FFI) Farm to Preschool program. Teachers across the region got creative to teach children where yogurt comes from and all the many ways to enjoy it.
In West Union, Head Start teacher Sara Converse filled a rubber glove with water and attached it to a cardboard cow cutout to teach children where milk comes from and how to milk a cow. At South Winneshiek Elementary’s Jump Start Preschool, students tried three different flavors of yogurt and graphed their favorite as part of a math lesson. At New Hampton Preschool, children made yogurt dip and smoothies and took home yogurt information and recipes for their families to try.
FFI’s Farm to Preschool program introduces a new local food to children each month, covering the same foods that are included in farm to school programs at K-12 school districts in the region. Since the program began in January, children have learned about yogurt, eggs, oats and cucumbers. Preschool students are given opportunities to cook, taste and learn about the foods through various activities during the month.
The program’s positive benefits reach beyond the classroom: Each of the preschools sends information about the foods home with children, including recipes that the kids learned at school and can repeat at home. Some sites also hold monthly farm to preschool celebrations to which parents are invited.
One class also had a chance to share their Farm to Preschool experience with the school board. “The principal asked me to present at the school board meeting,” said Shanna Putnam Dibble, Lead Teacher at Jump Start Preschool. “The kids made yogurt popsicles, and the principal and board members tried them.”