NFSN launches Programs and Policy Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is pleased to share a new equity assessment tool, the Programs and Policy Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool, which aims to help NFSN staff and partner organizations assess the implications of specific programming and policy advocacy on advancing racial and social equity.

The National Farm to School Network is committed to advancing racial and social equity in all aspects of our work, and our strategic plan highlights this commitment. NFSN’s strategic plan states, “advancing racial and social equity is at the core of the farm to school movement, and serving as an equity promoting organization is a core value of NFSN.”  NFSN has taken steps to integrate racial and social equity analysis into our programs and policies, including efforts to formulate the Farm to School Act asks to include support for farm to school in Native communities, creating a farm to early care and education cultural relevancy subgroup in the summer of 2016, and translating key fact sheets and resources into Spanish. Building on these efforts, this new Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool will allow the network to make significant strides in equitable policy advocacy and programming by assessing all policy and program developments through a racial and social equity lens. We aim to maximize our impact on breaking down inequities in the food system.  

The NFSN Policy and Programs Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool has two principal goals. The first section of the tool is intended to help NFSN staff refine their racial and social equity priorities through a set of questions that assess NFSN staff and stakeholder priorities as well as stakeholder engagement in formulating policy and programmatic proposals. The second and third sections in the guide assess the implications of specific programming and policy advocacy on advancing racial and social equity, ensuring these opportunities are being maximized. Specifically, the tool contains questions that assure that policies and programs are aligned with the NFSN equity priorities, that identify and address common shortcomings in developing racially and socially equitable policies, and that assure proposals are creating meaningful long-term change and are accountable to racially and socially disadvantaged communities.  

The Assessment Tool was developed collaboratively with NFSN staff and NFSN partners.  NFSN staff led the research and analysis to produce this toolkit, with feedback from Tes Thraves (Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina Core Partner) and Wendy Peters Moschetti (LiveWell, Colorado Core Partner).  

The National Farm to School Network is confident that the comprehensive approach to policy and programmatic assessment present in its Policy and Programs Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool will allow the organization and its partners to make meaningful strides to advance racial and social equity in farm to school work across the country. Though the tool was developed primarily for use by NFSN, NFSN Core and Supporting Partners and members are encouraged to adapt it to their own organizational needs, in a movement-wide effort to advance equity.

New to considering how your work advances equity? Check out the Racial Equity Tools Glossary, the dictionary of equity terms NFSN uses; understanding terms is essential and foundational to then considering what it looks like in your programming and policy advocacy efforts. Learn more about NFSN’s commitment to equity and find more resources for advancing racial and social equity in your farm to school work here.

Getting school gardens ready for back to school

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

Back to school: a season of crisp new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and often, overgrown, untended school gardens, wilting from the summer heat. Whether you’re trying to get your garden in shape before school starts or want to plan your first few class garden days to get ready for the year ahead, here are some simple reminders to get you growing in the right direction.

Make a plan. It’s hard to plan ahead, but it’s even harder to plan while juggling everything else that the school year brings. Try to put aside a little time to set some goals for your garden this year: What do you want to plant? When? Where? What can you improve upon from years past? What is a dream you have for your garden this year? Don’t feel pressured to stick rigidly to your plan, but put it somewhere you will see it often and use it as an inspiration and a guiding post when the year gets hectic.

Pull some weeds! I have a love/hate relationship with weeds. I have been known to say of my school gardens: “Who cares what the garden looks like, as long as we’re learning!” Having said this, I have to admit that pulling weeds does make a garden look nice and fresh, and there’s something about getting things in order that just feels right at the beginning of the school year. Start or end each time you’re in the garden with a few minutes of rigorous weed pulling and slowly chip away at any summer weeds that may have taken over your garden. Or better yet, if you don’t get to those weeds before the school year starts, implement some weed pulling contests in each garden class or at recess time until your problem is gone (or at least temporarily managed).

Plant something new. Once your weeds are pulled and your gardens are looking fresh, decide which of the remaining plants you want to keep and which are ready to go. Then, use your plan to get something new growing. Depending on where in the country you live, planting at the beginning of the school year may not yield your best harvests, but just like pulling those weeds, getting something planted sets a good intention for the year ahead.

Include your gardens in Back-to-School Night. Back-to-School Nights are a great time to show off your gardens and engage with families. If you work better with a deadline, the pressure of Back-to-School Night might be just the kick you need to get your garden looking spiffy in a timely manner! And if the garden isn’t looking its prettiest by then, that just might help your case in recruiting volunteers.

Relax! Most importantly, remember that your school garden does not have to look perfect when the school year starts (or ever)! Perfect is rarely fun or interesting. Gardens are living things, and as such, they are constantly growing and changing. Even though you may have a long list of garden tasks you want to complete before your garden is “ready” for students, take comfort in knowing that those tasks you feel piling up are fun and interesting learning opportunities.

Looking for more ideas to keep your school garden growing strong? Find garden lesson plans, garden to cafeteria guides, garden assessment tools and more by searching the “School Garden” topic in our Resource Library.

Policy Review: Farm to School and the 2018 Farm Bill

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

In the first half of 2018, the National Farm to School Network, as the leading policy voice for farm to school, advocated to advance three important federal farm to school priorities:  

  • Adopting the Farm to School Act of 2017 to increase mandatory funding.  The Act expand access for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to fully incorporate 1) beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, 2) early care and education sites, summer food service program sites, and after school programs, and 3) native and tribal schools.
  • Amending the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food. Current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request.
  • Continuing and expanding to more states the Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables and allow participating states more flexibility in procuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Given the benefits farm to school has on farming communities and economies, NFSN looked to the farm bill as the best legislative vehicle this year for moving these priorities forward. In fact, two of the priorities - geographic preference and the pilot program - had been taken up in previous farm bills.

Over the the past year, NFSN and its partners worked tirelessly to recruit cosponsors for the Farm to School Act of 2017, and also highlight the other two priorities aforementioned. Many of our Core and Supporting Partners helped NFSN make connections with their respective federal “decision makers” and their staff. Through these efforts, we were successful in gaining 13 bipartisan House cosponsors and 13 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and we educated many more policymakers on the benefits and opportunities of farm to school in their respective districts and states.

Although the House bill did not include farm to school priorities, NFSN recognized opportunities remained with the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee version of the farm bill also did not include any of NFSN’s three farm to school priorities when it passed out of committee. However, the farm to school message was received on Capitol Hill when two of these priorities were filed as amendments to be considered by the full Senate in its final vote on the bill:

Amendment #3179 - Geographic Preference Provision
Co-Sponsored by Senator Brown (D-OH), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Tillis (R-NC) & Senator Hassan (D-NH)

Amendment #3129 - Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables
Sponsored by Senator Wyden (D-OR)

The inclusion of these two priorities as amendments was a major step forward for farm to school being part of the federal policy making dialogue, and it was a direct result of tireless advocacy efforts from farm to school champions across the country. There were over 150 amendments scheduled to be considered by the full Senate, however, ultimately, Senate leadership only allowed a handful to be voted on before closing the amendment process. This meant that many amendments, including these two farm to school amendments, were not voted on and thus not included in the final version on the Senate farm bill, which passed with a 86-11 vote.  

Despite not crossing the farm bill finish line, there are reasons to be proud of our farm bill advocacy efforts:

  • NFSN and the farm to school movement gained new, bipartisan Congressional champions for farm to school - most notably the amendment champions listed above.
  • Together, we increased exposure to farm to school with Senators on both sides of the aisle, thanks to advocates calling, emailing, and using social media to contact  your representatives, asking for their support of farm to school in the farm bill.
  • NFSN forged new coalitions with national organizations, such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
As the farm bill process concludes, we now turn our attention towards other federal legislative opportunities to advance farm to school. While the National Farm to School Network continues advocacy at the federal level, it’s important to remember that federal policy is just one policy approach to advancing farm to school. State farm to school policy can be equally - if not more - important in fostering and growing farm to school programs in your communities. Our State Farm to School Legislative Survey: 2002-2017 shows that state and territory legislatures are proposing farm to school policies in record numbers. So even as things slow down on the federal level, there are still ample opportunities to keep up our advocacy work in state, local, and school policies. Don’t forget the significant of your voice in helping creating change at every level of government!

To learn more about the National Farm to School Network’s policy advocacy and to find resources to help you shape farm to school policy in your community, visit our policy webpage.