Serving Up Tradition!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Since farm to school celebrates local food, farmers, communities and traditions, it looks different in every community.  So an important question for our work is, “what do culturally relevant and traditional foods look like in our schools?” Food service directors, garden educators and school administration should ask, ‘Is this food culturally relevant to my students?’ in the same way that they ask, ‘Is this food grown locally?’. The following are two stories of farm to school champions that recognize the importance of structuring farm to school activities to reflect their communities’ food cultures.

In the capitol of Iowa’s heartland, Executive Chef Chad Taylor has been working in the Des Moines Public Schools for over 20 years. The DMPS district serves 63 locations and an average of 34,000 students daily. While the district has worked with farm to school initiatives through state funded nutrition education programs, FoodCorps, and a USDA Farm to School grant, it was not until several years ago that the district started considering the intersection of culturally relevant foods with farm to school.

A principal from one of the district’s middle schools approached Chad with a unique challenge involving a group of immigrant students.  These middle school students were going home at lunch to eat and not returning to school because they were uncomfortable with the foods being offered through school lunch, and too embarrassed to bring their traditional foods from home. Chad met with these students and their families and asked what they would like to see offered on the school lunch menu. He did not want the changes to be a one time hit and miss, so DMPS committed to offering noodles and/or rice everyday at this middle school per the students’ request. In the end, it was a win for all students. Chad noted that, “the Midwest native students wanted to try the new foods, too.”

Today, DMPS Food Service works to provide flavor stations in many of their schools, giving students access to a variety of culturally-relevant herbs, sauces and other flavor enhancers such as locally grown jalapenos. Chad was quick to point out that not every flavor station looks the same because every school has students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Since the 1970’s, the district has included a number of immigrant and refugee populations from Latin America, Asia and Africa. Even within a single school district farm to school is not one size fits all.

About 4,000 miles from Des Moines, a farm to school pilot on the island of Kauai in Hawaii is taking off under the direction of Megan Fox, Executive Director for the nonprofit organization Mala’ai Kula. There are approximately 350 students in the four charter schools that Mala’ai Kula serves. Most of the students are native Hawaiian and have chosen to attend these schools because of programs such as Hawaiian Language immersion, which allows students to learn in their native language before learning in English. The emphasis on the importance of native traditions extends into these schools’ food service and education thanks, in part, to the support from Mala’ai Kula, a recipient of a National Farm to School Network Seed Change in Native Communities* mini-grant.

Since Hawaii was colonized, the western diet has brought non-traditional foods such as nitrite-filled meats and ultra-processed snacks to the island. Today, Hawaiians have high rates of diet-related diseases such as chronic high blood pressure and diabetes.  This is one of the many reasons that Mala’ai Kula’s farm to school pilot work is so important. Megan described farm to school as a tool for “giving local farmers an outlet for native foods.”  She added that farm to school helps in the effort toward “creating a traditional food way and bringing back a more native diet.”

With funding support from Seed Change, several of the schools’ food service staff attended an Edible Schoolyard training in Berkley, California this summer. This training served as an invaluable tool that inspired one school chef to reconnect with the importance of Hawaii’s native foods, also known as canoe foods. Kalo (taro), ‘Ulu (breadfruit), and ‘Uala (sweet potatoes) are all canoe foods that are now growing in school gardens, being served up on school lunch and breakfast trays, and serving as teaching resources to connect students to their ancestry.

From a large school district in the Midwest to small, native charter schools in Kauai, a focus on culturally relevant foods can look vastly different depending on the school community.  Many farm to school slogans highlight the power of farm to school’s ability to ‘serve up change.’ The Des Moines Public Schools and Mala’ai Kula remind us that using farm to school to ‘serve up tradition’ can be just as powerful.


*Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Farm to ECE and Head Start: A Natural Alignment

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Tiffany Turner, Senior Fellow, Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation

Farm to early care and education (ECE) offers benefits that strongly parallel the goals and priorities of the early care and education community, with a particularly strong alignment with Head Start priority areas, including an emphasis on experiential learning opportunities, parent and community engagement, and life-long health and wellness for children, families and caregivers. Additionally, farm to ECE expands healthy food access for children and families, provides additional market opportunities for farmers and supports thriving communities.

To make it even easier for Head Start stakeholders to implement farm to ECE, the National Farm to School Network has created Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education. This new, comprehensive resource aims to promote understanding amongst Head Start stakeholders of how farm to ECE supports achievement of Head Start Program Performance Standards and contributes to learning and development benchmarks as outlined in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework. Growing Head Start Success is designed with clear, easy to read tables that directly align Program Performance Standards and the Early Learning Outcomes Framework with specific farm to ECE activities from each of the three core elements of local procurement, gardening, and food, agriculture and nutrition education.

The resource can be used in a variety of ways. For example, if a Head Start program is working on their community wide strategic planning and needs assessment (Part 1302, Subpart A, 1302.11), they can look to Growing Head Start Success and identify at least three farm to ECE focused ways to meet this standard: (1) identify resources for local food access in the community, (2) opportunities to use food-based education to increase family and child nutrition knowledge, or (3) identify community organizations to support onsite and community gardens. Integrating food access and local food resources as a component of community assessment creates a foundation for utilizing local food opportunities to support other standards around family engagement, family support services, and community partnership and coordination.

In another instance, a Head Start teacher is seeking ways to support vocabulary development (a sub-domain of Language and Communication) for her preschool age students. The teacher can find the “Vocabulary” sub-domain in Growing Head Start Success and see specific farm to ECE activities, books and resources that directly support goals in the “Vocabulary” sub-domain. The teacher chooses a rhyming storybook describing how vegetables grow to help children act out directional and positional words. In choosing a farm to ECE related book, the teacher is not only supporting appropriate development within the domains, but also promoting food knowledge, exposure and acceptance.    

The resource also offers three profiles of Head Start programs leading the way in addressing performance and learning standards with farm to ECE. STEP, Inc., of Pennsylvania, Inspire Development Centers of Washington State, and Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties in Minnesota offer these recommendations for integrating farm to ECE in Head Start:

Tips for Farm to ECE in Head Start Success:

  • Develop a team of staff who can be stewards of the initiative and engage with local partners, such as farmers market managers who can connect ECE programs with local farmers.
  • Start small and experiment with different types of farm to ECE activities to find what works for your community. Grow from those small successes.
  • Focus on building community buy-in and support from many different stakeholders, from the teachers, staff, and parents in the Head Start Program, to local schools or business who can provide promotion and support.
  • Connect with and visit other Head Start programs integrating farm to ECE to better understand opportunities and best practices in implementation.


To help you share out this exciting new resource, we’ve created a Communications Toolkit with sample social media and blog posts. By promoting this resource widely, we hope that even more Head Start programs choose farm to ECE to meet program and learning standards while providing children, families and communities with the myriad benefits that farm to ECE has to offer.

The National Farm to School Network is available to provide additional training, customized support and tools for your organization on a consultation basis. To learn more, contact Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, at lacy@farmtoschool.org.


Food For Thought: Farm to School Podcast Recommendations

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern



The farm to school movement is about a lot more than farms and schools. In fact, farm to school is intrinsically tied to our food system, and the food system connects to just about everything: public policy, economics, social and cultural traditions, history, equity, and more. Podcasts are a great way to learn more about the complexities of our food system, broaden our understanding of farm to school, and foster a sense of connection to others in our field of work through storytelling.

So we asked: what are your favorite farm to school and food systems podcasts? And we heard from lots of you - our Core Partners and Supporting Partners, members, social media followers and staff. Below is an abbreviated list of the most shared recommendations. The next time you are working in the school garden or on the farm, dicing vegetables for school lunch, or commuting to work, try one of these podcast for some food for thought! *Note: Most descriptions come from the podcast creators.

Heritage Radio Network is a great umbrella resource, as their entire set of programs delves into the U.S. food system and provides a platform for artisans, chefs, activists, policy experts and farmers to share their perspectives on eating, food production and the future of agriculture. A few of pointed recommendations include:

  • Inside School Food: Looking for an inside view of K-12 food service? Host Laura Stanley shares conversations about what’s happening across the spectrum of school food, from coping with regulations to meeting sustainability goals.
  • Eating Matters: With food emerging as a critical policy area, host Jenna Liut and food policy experts discuss the issues that shape our everyday experiences of buying, cooking and eating food.
  • The Farm Report: Host Erin Fairbanks and her guests dig into the nitty-gritty of agriculture, exploring distribution networks, policy issues and other topics in the world of ag and food.

The Secret Ingredient: In every episode of The Secret Ingredient, you'll learn new ways to think about how you eat everyday. The hosts talk with the people whose life's work has been to understand the complex systems of production, distribution, marketing and impact these foods have on our lives. They won't tell you what to eat, but they will tell you why you're eating it. Make sure to check out Episode 19: School Food.

The Female Farmer Project: This podcast series aims to serve as a platform for women to discuss agricultural issues, and give power to traditional, cultural and experience-driven knowledge.  

How to Health: Dr. Laurie Marbas and Katie Reines, MS, RD share inspiring stories of individuals conquering chronic disease, overcoming incredible obstacles, and the experts to help you find health. Changing health by changing the food we eat. Don't miss Episode 55: Chef Ann Cooper: Renegade Lunch Lady.

The Rudd Report: Hosted by Kelly Brownell, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity Director, the series features experts in nutrition, food marketing, food policy and law, the food industry, and weight bias.

The Racist Sandwich: This podcast serves up a unique perspective on food and how the ways we consume, create and interpret it can be political. From discussions about racism in food photography to interviews with chefs of color about their experiences in the restaurant world, hosts Soleil Ho and Zahir Janmohamed hash out a diverse range of topics with humor and grace.

Future of Agriculture: Hosted by Tim Hammerich, this podcast looks into the diversity that is agriculture and agribusiness. The global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and agriculture is expected to produce more food with less land and less water. Agribusiness will be part of the future to constantly innovate and find sustainable ways of meeting the challenges of tomorrow.

Gastropod: This podcast looks at food through the lens of science and history. Each episode examines the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic. Listen to interviews with experts and visit labs, fields and archaeological digs while discovering new ways to understand the world through food.

Bite: Join acclaimed food and farming blogger Tom Philpott, Mother Jones editors Kiera Butler and Maddie Oatman, and a tantalizing guest list of writers, farmers, scientists and chefs as they uncover the surprising stories behind what ends up on your plate.

The Bioneers: The greatest social and scientific innovators of our time celebrate the genius of nature and human ingenuity. From social and racial justice to women’s leadership and indigenous knowledge, this award-winning series features breakthrough solutions for people and the planet.

The Uncertain Hour: This Marketplace podcast documentary series is brought to you by the Wealth & Poverty Desk. The first season is a timely, immersive look at the welfare system 20 years after reform. Follow the money and read the fine print to magnify how one of the most controversial federal programs works.

Check out more suggestions from our followers and tell us about your favorites on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Or, send us a note here. Happy listening!

65 Free Farm to School Recipes From The Chef Ann Foundation

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Guest post by Sarah Flinn, Marketing Manager, Chef Ann Foundation

Chef Ann Cooper has been reforming school food for almost 20 years, and when recently asked what she’d do if she had a magic wand, her response was quick and to the point:

1. We need to feed kids—all kids should have access to healthy food at school every day.
2. We need to teach kids food literacy.


“What is it that we do numerous times a day from the day we’re born to the day we die? It’s eat. It’s not trigonometry. But what do we test students on? We have to teach kids about healthy food and where it comes from.”

Why Farm to School?

We know that one of the best ways to teach kids about their food is to show them where it comes from. Through farm to school activities we aim to connect kids to local farms, farmers and food, and to let them see, smell and touch the fresh produce. But above all else, they need to taste it.

It’s great when schools have activities to teach kids about local produce, but we’ve found that those learning experiences in the lunchroom are even more impactful when the students later see those same ingredients incorporated into their school meals.

Free Farm to School Recipes

For many schools, a barrier to serving local food is a lack of recipes that utilize farm-fresh ingredients. That’s why we’re so excited to provide 65 new Farm to School recipes on The Lunch Box! Not only do these recipes credit towards the USDA meal pattern, they’ve also been created and tested in a school kitchen, and are taste-taste approved by students.

The recipes on The Lunch Box are consistently the most utilized resources that the Chef Ann Foundation provides to schools and we’re not surprised why:

  • All of our recipes (there are over 300 of them) are free for anyone to download at any time.
  • The recipes can be scaled for any number of servings, taking the guesswork out of purchasing.
  • Each recipe also includes the full cost analysis for your specific school or district’s size in addition to the cost per serving—making it easier to plan your budget while incorporating these new recipes into your menu cycle.

Bringing Farm to School to Pre-K

For the schools that are serving lunch to our youngest kids, the pre-kindergarteners, recipes have been even harder to come by, but our farm to school recipes are among the first recipes that credit towards the new Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) that go into effect this fall. We’ve also put together a complete 6-week menu cycle for Pre-K (and all other grade levels).

Removing the Barriers to Scratch-Cooking

When you get down to the root of everything that we do at the Chef Ann Foundation, it all leads back to helping as many schools as possible serve healthy, scratch-cooked food to all of our students, regardless of their age or family’s income. When we can help schools with the recipes they need to do that and encourage schools to use their buying power to boost their local economy and decrease their carbon footprint at the same time, everyone wins.

One last thing, did we mention that these meals are really delicious? Doesn’t Chicken Piccata, Tuna with Lemon and Dill, or a Black Bean Empanada sound more appealing than a frozen burrito or chicken nuggets? You can find all of the new farm to school recipes for free here.