Farm to school policy flourishes in 2015

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate

Top Left: Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) speaks at the Farm to School Month reception on Capitol Hill; Botton Left: Farm to school advocates gather in Washington, D.C. in April for a day of action; Bottom Right: Donna Martin, Jason Grimm, Karra Hartog, and Jim Stone testify at a House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015.

It’s been a busy year for policy in the farm to school world! Developments in federal, state and local policy have advanced opportunities for the expansion of farm to school activities, while also creating new legislative champions and advocates. Join us in celebrating our 2015 policy successes, and see what’s on deck in 2016:

Federal Policy in 2015

  • Farm to School Act of 2015: The Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced in February with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. We partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to build Congressional support for this marker bill, which currently boasts 44 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and nine cosponsors in the Senate.
  • Spotlight on farm to school: The benefits and successes of farm to school were mentioned at multiple congressional hearings on the Child Nutrition Act (see here and here). This reaffirms that Members of Congress are hearing from their constituents about the benefits of farm to school in their communities.
  • Partnership with USDA: We collected feedback and worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide input on the new Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. This pilot is a great new opportunity for schools to expand local purchasing of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Support from Members of Congress: National Farm to School Month (October) was an exciting time for policy, with 442 advocates weighing-in on the Farm to School Big Day of Action and six Members of Congress taking to the House floor to celebrate the benefits of farm to school. The month ended with our first ever Capitol Hill reception, which hosted 120 guests, including Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Tim Ryan (D-OH) and USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon.

State Policy in 2015

  • 2015 State Policy Report: We released our annual State Policy Report with new graphics, case studies and tools to help support our partners’ state advocacy work. As of the February 2015 report, over 40 states have farm to school related policies.
  • New and strengthened state policies: Many states saw a flurry of policy activity in 2015. Multiple supportive bills passed in Louisiana, Hawaii and Oregon, while other states (like New Mexico) strengthened and expanded their existing farm to school programs.

Looking to 2016

  • Child Nutrition Reauthorization: The Senate Agriculture Committee has said it will tackle Child Nutrition Reauthorization in early 2016. We remain optimistic that the Farm to School Act of 2015 will be included in this important bill.
  • New priorities areas: The National Farm to School Network will make race and income equity priority policy areas in 2016 by branching into new federal policy territory, including health and education. We know that farm to school activities can positively impact kids in every zipcode, and we're working to level the playing field so everyone can take advantage of farm to school's benefits.
  • Focus on state policy: Our annual State Policy Report will be released in fall 2016 with an expanded advocacy toolkit designed to guide those working on policy at the state level. We’ll dive even deeper into state policy by providing additional technical assistance and resources to further farm to school legislative and regulatory goals.

As the national policy leader for the farm to school movement, policy is at the core of what we do as a network. In celebrating our 2015 accomplishments, we have you, our network of members and supporters, to thank. Much of our policy success is credited to on the ground farm to school advocates willing to call, email, write letters and visit elected officials so that those in Washington, D.C. can see the importance of farm to school back home.

Here’s to 2015, a year of partnership for stronger farm to school policy, and to 2016 - a year destined for more farm to school success!

Help us continue our advocacy efforts by making an end of year, tax deductible donation today.

10 best farm to school stories from 2015

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

Happy (almost) New Year! Before jumping into 2016, we’ve been taking time to celebrate the success of the farm to school movement this past year. From national media covering the impact of the USDA Farm to School Program, to regional stories of communities transforming the way kids eat, 2015 was filled with great farm to school storytelling that has raised national consciousness around this common sense approach to child and community health.

So how did we pick these 10? We listened to you! All year we share farm to school news, articles, videos and blogs on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels. These were the most liked, shared and clicked stories of the past twelve months:

  • Advocating to Put Better Meals on School Children’s Plates: Twenty-three year old farmer Cliff Pilson takes great pride in selling his produce to local schools. That’s why he advocates for more federal funding for farm to school programs. (Carolina Farm Stewardship Association)
  • Fresh From Farm to Schools - It Just Makes Sense: A USDA Farm to School Grant has changed everything in Dallas public schools, from the way kids are learning to what they’re eating for lunch. (Huffington Post, by American Heart Association)
  • Healthy Eaters, Strong Minds: What School Gardens Teach Kids: From healthy eating habits to entrepreneurial skills, the benefits of school gardens have long-term payoffs for students. (NPR)
  • Healthy Kids are Common Sense, Not a Trend: Thousands of communities across the country have experienced the significant impact farm to school initiatives have on creating a generation of healthy eaters. Here are three ways we know farm to school works. (National Farm to School Network)
  • High Hopes for Farm to School Act of 2015: As the farm to school movement matures, conversation about Child Nutrition Reauthorization is not just about more funding for the USDA Farm to School Program. It’s about institutionalizing the presence of local food in schools, and how CNR can help that happen. (Inside School Food)
  • How One Visionary Change School Food in Detroit: With a focus on healthier foods and local farms, National Farm to School Network Advisor Betti Wiggins has led Detroit kids through a food revolution. (Civil Eats)
  • Making School Gardens Accessible: Unlike traditional classrooms, school gardens help level the playing field for students by empowering everyone to contribute to the process of growing food from seed to harvest. (National Farm to School Network)
  • More Students are Eating Locally Sourced Food: New federal data from USDA indicates students in public schools are eating healthier cafeteria meals made from an increasing array of locally sourced food. (The Atlantic)
  • More Than Lunch: The Academic Benefits of Farm to School: We know farm to school activities are an effective approach for encouraging kids to try healthy foods, but what are the benefits of farm to school in the classroom? The short answer: there are many! (National Farm to School Network, by New Jersey State Lead)
  • 6 Food and Farming Stories From Native Communities: Native American communities are connecting to their roots through food, farming and education. Here are six stories of what’s working. (Civil Eats)

Storytelling is an incredibly effective tool for policy action, spreading awareness and building support for the farm to school movement. We are proud to help elevate stories like these year-round, and share the ways that farm to school is a win for kids, farmers and communities in every corner of the country.

Help us continue to share these success stories and case studies with policymakers, change makers and communities across the country by making an end of year gift to the National Farm to School Network. Your support makes it possible for us to continue this important work and keep farm to school in the spotlight.


Celebrating 5 years of healthy kids

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Students at Malabon Elementary (Eugene, Ore.) enjoying their Oregon Harvest Lunch.

Happy 5th anniversary to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA)! In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and our partners were active in supporting HHFKA legislation, with a primary focus on advocating for the creation of the USDA Farm to School Program. The program was successfully included in the HHFKA, and provides competitive grants and technical assistance to help schools, farmers, non-profits, state agencies and other entities implement and expand farm to school activities across the country.

In the 5 years since its creation, the USDA Farm to School Program has been so well received that demand for grants is five times higher than available funding. The grant program provides initial support for those who are just exploring the possibility of bringing farm to school to their community, and for those who want to expand their farm to school activities by leaps and bounds. That's why we're continuing our advocacy for farm to school at the federal level with the Farm to School Act of 2015.

Left to right: 5th graders at Airport Heights Elementary (Anchorage, Ala.) celebrate their 6th season of gardening. Photo credit: I. Valadez; Guy Lee Elementary (Springfield, Ore.) students at the FOOD for Lane County Youth Farm.

We know that farm to school activities like taste tests, farm visits and school gardens are the training wheels that get kids excited about healthy eating. The 2015 USDA Farm to School Census shows that school participating in farm to school see more kids in the lunch line and less food waste in the trash. Farm to school also benefits local economies and farmers. Local food purchasing grew to $598 million during school year 2013-14 – an increase of more than $212 million since the last Census in 2012.  

We're proud to have worked alongside champions of the legislation that created the USDA Farm to School Program that's strengthening farm to school initiatives across the country. Our network of farm to school practitioners and supporters has been an essential part of this policy process, and together we continue working to make our voices heard in Congress. The farm to school movement has come a long way in the past 5 years - just look at these smiling faces! Here's to healthy kids, thriving farms and vibrant communities everywhere.

Photo credit, top left to bottom right: DC Greens; S.C.R.A.P. Gallery; Shelburne Farms/VT FEED; DC Greens.

Help us continue to support federal policies that strengthen farm to school by donating to the National Farm to School Network this season of giving. Your tax deductible donation supports healthy kids and vibrant local food systems across the country. Together, we can make sure all students have access to a bright and healthy future.  


Giving Thanks

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director and Co-Founder

On behalf of the entire National Farm to School Network, the farm to school practitioners we support, and the kids and farmers who benefit from our work, thank you for joining us on Giving Tuesday and generously contributing to our efforts.

We raised more than $12,000 in ONE WEEK thanks to the support of farm to school champions like you and a match from Newman's Own Foundation. And we’re not done!

Through the end of December, you can help us reach our end-of-year goal to raise a total of $15,000 by making a tax-deductible donation that will go toward network development to strengthen this grassroots movement, resources and trainings for farm to school practitioners across the country, and policy advocacy at the state and federal level.

As we near the end of the year, I am thankful for the many contributions and successes our team has made in 2015. Here’s a glimpse of some of our big wins for the farm to school movement:

  • National Policy: Introduced the Farm to School Act of 2015 with bipartisan and bicameral support in Washington, D.C., and we are continuing work on the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization to expand opportunities for connecting kids with healthy food and nutrition education
  • State-level Support: Launched Seed Change, our first targeted state-level initiative to grow farm to school activities and develop strong networks of support
  • Focus on Early Care and Education: Strengthened our engagement in early childhood education and care with dedicated program staff to elevate farm to early care and education at the national level and work with key partners to research and identify innovative strategies
  • Farm to School Month: Expanded public awareness by sharing the farm to school message with more than 3.5 million people during National Farm to School Month
  • Leadership Development: Gathered our network of farm to school leaders from across the country in Chicago for two days of targeted training, resource sharing and partnership, including a cohort of Native communities

In 2016, we look forward to hosting the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, releasing new data from a national survey of early care and education settings, re-launching our educational webinar series and starting a strategic planning process to guide the future of NFSN and the farm to school movement.  

We need your help to continue this important work.

We wouldn't be here without the incredible generosity of our supporters. Thank you for being a part of the National Farm to School Network and contributing to vibrant communities, and healthy kids, farms and families!


USDA Farm to School Grants Awarded

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

In 2013, Alaska Gateway School District received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to assess the area’s existing food supply chain, and used the funds to develop a business plan for sustainable farm to school activities – like growing their own produce, and eventually sourcing 40 percent of the school’s food from within Alaska. With 92 percent of Alaska Gateway students on the free and reduced meal plan, school meals are a particularly important source of overall nutrition for these kids.

Two weeks ago, the Alaska Gateway School District found out that they received a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant to carry out their procurement plan and scale up their farm to school work. The grant will allow them to continue educating students in agriculture and nutrition, as well as grow fresh fruits and vegetables in a year-round greenhouse that can withstand harsh winter temperatures that sometimes dip to -70 degrees Fahrenheit.

A total of 74 communities in 39 states received USDA Farm to School grants in November, and now have a similar opportunity to explore, expand, or scale up their farm to school activities. The 2016 awards total $4.8 million, ranging in size from $15,000 to $100,000, and will impact 2.9 million students. The USDA Farm to School Grant program has always been highly competitive, and the 2016 grants were no exception; 271 applications were submitted from school districts and communities around the country.

While this year’s funding will reach 5,211 schools, there are thousands more eager to have access to these crucial funds. These schools use the grants to invest in their local communities by creating relationships with farmers and ranchers and buying their products. That is why the National Farm to School Network is working with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congressional champions to incorporate the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the reauthorization package for the Child Nutrition Act.

This bill will increase access to the farm to school grant program and small business opportunities for veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as expand the grant program’s flexibility to support preschool, summer and after school sites so that all students have access to a healthy future and strong communities like this new group of grantees we are celebrating.

The National Farm to School Network has connected with supporters on both sides of the aisle to demonstrate the importance of the Farm to School Act and farm to school in general. Watch some of the movement’s champions discuss the benefits of farm to school here: Rep Westerman (R-AR), Rep. Delbene (D-WA), Rep. Davis (R-IL),  Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Garamendi (D-CA). The Farm to School Act also has strong grassroots backing with hundreds of local and national non-profits signing our petition to Congress in support of this bill.

Help us continue to support federal policies that strengthen farm to school by donating to the National Farm to School Network this season of giving. Your donation supports healthy kids and vibrant local food systems. Together, we can help grow healthy kids, farmers and communities.


Gifts that give back to the National Farm to School Network

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Chelsey Simpson, Communications Manager

Making a donation in someone’s name is always a kind and doubly-generous idea, but if you are dying to use your expert wrapping-paper skills, there are ways to give back without giving up on your shopping list. Here are a few gift ideas that support the National Farm to School Network:

National Farm to School Network shop

Our own shop has some great gems, including notecards and posters created by attendees of our 2012 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference under the leadership of Vermont-based artist Bonnie Acker. And let’s not forget our most popular item: farm to school aprons!

Calendars from Hailey King Photography

Portland-based photographer Hailey King is donating $5 from every calendar she sells to the National Farm to School Network. The calendars feature 12 months of Hailey’s beautiful food photography, taken during her travels all over the country, from citrus in Florida to berries in the Rocky Mountains. See more calendar photos on her blog.

Modern Kids Design

Modern Kids Design is full of great ideas for every budget, from this $5 Eco Kids rolling pin to children’s furniture. My favorite find is this $20 wooden fruit cutting set. Just select the National Farm to School Network’s listing before you start shopping, and Modern Kids Design will donate five percent of all your purchases.

And, of course, donations directly to the National Farm to School Network can be made in someone else's name and will help support the growth of the farm to school movement across the country.

Thank you for your support, and have a happy holiday season!