Creative Opportunities for Funding Farm to ECE: Sugar Sweetened Beverage Taxes

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

By Sophia Riemer, Programs Fellow

Taxing sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) is a policy strategy that is gaining momentum as a way to decrease sugar consumption, improve the health and wellbeing of communities, and raise revenue for health promotion, food access, and equity related efforts. Boulder, Colorado and Seattle, Washington are two cities that have enacted a SSB tax and have dedicated a portion of the funds raised to farm to early care and education efforts. This month, we will take a look at the comprehensive and inspiring work these cities have been able to accomplish with the help of these funds.

A Natural Fit for Priority Funding
Seattle’s Farm to Table initiative and Boulder’s farm to ECE program work to bring healthy, local foods and hands-on experiences such as gardening and food education activities to their communities. In Seattle, tax fund distribution prioritizes early childhood education and food access: a natural fit for farm to ECE. “We can address these two crucial areas, nourishing these children and improving very underpaid providers’ access to healthy foods,” explained Leika Suzumura, Farm to Table consultant. Thanks to SSB funding, these programs have been true successes, supporting participating sites with the tools and resources needed to create comprehensive farm to ECE programming such as nutrition and garden education, technical assistance, and funds for local food purchasing and gardening tools.

The sugar sweetened beverage tax funds have been integral to the growth of these programs. Once Boulder’s tax was passed in 2016 and the program was able to secure funding, they hired Heather Haurswirth as the farm to ECE coordinator. With a new dedicated staff member, the program greatly expanded. “We started in 2015 with 4 child care programs. We grew to 12 programs in 2016, 37 programs in 2018, 54 programs in 2019, 68 programs in 2020, and now 75 programs in 2021,” explained Hauswirth. This past year they even started to offer additional produce to cities outside of Boulder with limited food access. Seattle’s Farm to Table also brought on more staff with tax funds, first received in 2018, enabling them to greatly expand their program. Increased staff capacity has also allowed them to spend time on developing long term plans that focus on increasing the quality and reach of the program.

A Community Asset During COVID
Both the Seattle and Boulder team explained how invaluable the SSB tax funding became during COVID when food security and food access plummeted. Families still needed to feed their children, so the programs took action and began to send food home with families. This was critical, as Seattle farmer’s markets were closed and store shelves were empty, limiting farmers’ selling opportunities and households’ access to healthy, fresh food. “We were able to respond and build even stronger relationships with our sites. We’re cultivating that trust,” explained Kelly Okumura, Farm to Table’s program manager.

Okumura went on to explain how critical building these relationships has been to the success of Farm to Table. During a visit to a center that had not fully participated in local food procurement, Okumura was able to meet Ms. Patrice, the kitchen lead. “It was magical meeting Ms. Patrice,” Okumura said. “She told me ‘now that I know who you are, I’m going to order the food.’ The shift was visceral.”

The COVID-19 experience also had an impact on how participants in Boulder’s program, and in turn, the program administrators themselves, saw theprogram’s role in the community. “Last year the most profound feedback we received was the increase in food accessibility due to our program. Because of the pandemic, we felt like we were playing a role,” explained Hauswirth. Boulder is now looking to the future to see how they can expand food access through their program. “We’d love to engage with more organizations across the city or county. There’s so many different places our program can go.”

Growing Imagination
Both Boulder and Seattle have used SSB tax funds to give children a healthy start in life, improve the quality of childcare, and provide families with vital assistance. However, as both programs made sure to note, the true value of farm to ECE comes in the excitement and sense of wonder it creates. Suzumura and Okumura shared stories about children rushing out of class to see what’s in that day’s deliver box and finding seemingly magical produce like purple potatoes, rainbow carrots, and lions mane mushrooms; tasting foods like local chickens that, as Ms. Patrice noted, just smell better; seeing worms squirm around in soil; and planting a few potatoes and harvesting four buckets full. These experiences not only teach children to appreciate the fun and often mysterious place our natural environment can be, but can lead to naturally healthier children, both mentally and physically. As Hauswith explained, “certain kids wouldn’t touch a brussel sprout or a tomato, but went on a field trip to a farm, or saw it in their produce box, or grew it in their garden, and now they're asking for it at home or eating it at lunch. It’s something we see time and time again and it always makes me smile. That the intention of the program is actually working.”

This blog was originally posted on August 9, 2021.

The History of Forced Native American Boarding Schools, the Link to Farm to School, and Our Commitment

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director

Over the past several weeks, National Farm to School Network staff and I have been listening to, learning about, and reflecting on a history that Native and Indigenous people have been naming for generations, but that only recently has gained public attention: the horrific, traumatic, and unjust history of forced boarding schools for Native children.

The US government first opened these schools in 1879 with the express intent of cultural genocide by removing Native children from their homes in order to systemically wipe out Native cultures. Under the management of the US federal government and several Christan church denominations, there were at least 367 schools in 29 states where Native children were punished for speaking their languages, stripped of their cultural clothing and hair, and banned from behaviors reflecting their Native identities. Physical, sexual, emotional, cultural, and spiritual abuse and neglect were rampant. Hundreds of thousands of Native children were removed from their families and forced into these schools. In 1926, it was estimated that 83% of all Native school-age children had been forced to attend. As recent news stories from Canada and the US have retold, many never returned home.

Another piece of this history – which is directly linked to farm to school’s history – was forced agricultural labor in many of these schools. This was a specifically chosen tactic for forcing values of individualism, dismantling communal worldviews, and driving the agenda of a colonistic food system that’s rooted in exploitation, extraction, and profit. It is imperative to understand that this real and traumatic history of Native children gardening at schools in the early 20th century has often been re-spun into a white dominant narrative about the benefits of America’s first school garden movement, which for white children (to be specific) was viewed as "[affording] opportunity for spontaneous activity in the open air, and possibilities for acquiring a fund of interesting and related information.” To be clear, gardening and agricultural labor was anything but a benefit to Native children in these circumstances. (Thank you to Alena Paisano, a former colleague at National Farm to School Network, for previously sharing this history with us.)

Today, National Farm to School Network actively partners on farm to school efforts in Native communities. Through these efforts, we strive to be supporters in work happening to reclaim food traditions, revitalize Native foodways, and build food sovereignty. While there have been shining spots in this work, there have also been shortcomings. Given this, and my deep desire for National Farm to School Network to be a better ally to our Native partners, I have been reflecting: if National Farm to School Network had existed 100 years ago, would we have been complicit in the horrific actions imposed on Native children? In what ways are we complicit to the injustices that continue to persist for Native peoples today? And what changes can I lead to be accountable to and correct this?

One starting way is through this statement you are reading. I state, unequivocally, that National Farm to School Network is committed to standing by our Native and Indigenous partners and their communities in demanding answers, accountability, and justice for past harms and injustices. I am also committed to leading by example, especially for National Farm to School Network staff, in continuing to listen, learn, and reflect on this history. Since actions speak louder than words, I will also be proactive in taking action for justice, including deferring to the leadership of our Native partners and whatever actions they may ask of me and National Farm to School Network – now, and in the future. I acknowledge that sustained commitment and engagement is required, and that my actions – and the actions of National Farm to School Network – will demonstrate the sincerity of this commitment. I openly welcome feedback, conversation, and the opportunity to be held accountable to these things.

National Farm to School Network is committed to a vision of a racially just food system, and as such, we will not keep silent about racial inequities. As a network of farm to school and community food systems advocates, we must address the impacts and legacies of traumatic and unjust histories – past and present – in the spaces we work. If this history of forced residential schools for Native children is new to you, I encourage you to continue listening, learning, and reflecting, and to turn that learning into active support for Native peoples in fighting for equity and justice. Here are some places to start:

Thank you to Mackenize Martinez, National Farm to School Network Program Associate, for elevating this history on a recent call with NFSN staff and for encouraging our organization to speak publicly about it.

UPDATE: Thank you to Valerie Segrest, NFSN Advisory Board member, for suggesting that we also elevate the lasting impact of Native children being fed army rations and how that has altered Native peoples' physical taste buds and interrupted the transmission of cultural foldaway knowledge through generations. Learn more in this article written by A-dae Romero-Briones:
Fighting for the taste buds of our children.

This blog was originally posted August 5, 2021.

Local and Values-Based Procurement from Farm to Cafeteria

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Child nutrition programs across the country exercise collective purchasing power on a massive scale. Pre-pandemic, the National School Lunch Program alone invested $14.2 billion annually to serve 29.6 million lunches every school day. K-12 school meals, early care and education (ECE) nutrition, after-school snacks, and summer meals are an opportunity for every community to express their values through purchasing priorities and to shift power in the food system as a whole.

During our NFSN Community Gathering: Shifting Power, Cultivating Justice in June 2021, we hosted a panel of experts and practitioners to discuss the opportunities and power in values-aligned procurement, including:

  • Jennifer Gaddis, associate professor of Civil Society and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools
  • Jose Oliva, Campaigns Director with HEAL Food Alliance
  • Chang Vue, Capacity Building Director with Hmong American Farmers Association
  • Jackie Wincek, Procurement and Sustainability Specialist, DC Central Kitchen

In this powerful session, moderated by Janna Parker, NFSN Policy Associate, the panelists articulated how every decision made in our food system signifies a choice being made, whether hidden or apparent. As Jose Oliva shared, “The system shows the values they care about with the choices they make.” Inspired by the drive to shift power in our food system through values-aligned procurement, this session shed light on the interconnectedness of our society’s issues and the importance of intersectionality in the work that we do. Jennifer Gaddis illustrated, “The cafeteria is a place that we can all collectively renegotiate our values.” And as we work to mobilize and shift power, we, with cultural humility, must prioritize and empower our local communities by centering the voices of those who are most impacted by the changes in our food system. Watch the conversation above or here.

This blog was originally posted August 3, 2021.