Centering Our Work in Equity: 2019 Reflections & Looking Ahead

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Artwork by Bonnie Acker

In 2007, the National Farm to School Network was founded with core values of local and just food and a vision of equality in the food system. But it was not until more recent years that we’ve come to recognize that the fullest expression of our vision is ultimately equity and justice. Many of the systems and sectors within which farm to school exists—including the food system, education system, economic system, and other public institutions and structures—are deeply racialized and have in the past and continue in the present to exclude, disadvantage, and cause harm to Black, Indigenous, Latino, immigrant and other people of color in our communities. Systems like these that are failing anyone are failing all of us, and we can not engage in farm to school effectively without changing them.

As we begin this new decade, we’re reflecting on National Farm to School Network’s journey to centering our work in equity and focusing our intentions towards justice. Below, learn about our efforts in 2019 to further our commitment to equity, and see what we’re planning for in 2020

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

I do this work every day from a place of equity. The early years of my career were spent in direct service - first working with kids with developmental disabilities and then with adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses - without realizing my upbringing afforded me privileges that advantaged me and made it difficult to understand the realities of those I was attempting to serve. As my career focus shifted to making nutritious foods available to all people, I quickly learned that there’s more to the equation than want; everyone wants to live healthy, fulfilling lives, but there are intentionally inequitable and discriminatory systems and policies affecting access and ability to do so. People should not have to want for nutritious food; everyone has a right to food that nourishes them. So I shifted my focus to demand that right through advocacy and systems change. I remain grateful to the clients that inspired that shift. There was the client that took me to the grocery store with his SNAP dollars (then food stamps) at the start of the month; he held up a box of mac’n’cheese and an apple - both about $1 - and asked which I thought he would choose. (The mac’n’cheese of course; it’s more filling.) There was the client that took me to the food pantry and showed me that the foods I was teaching about in our cooking classes were far from the sugar- and salt-laden foods on the shelves.

As Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), I am honored and challenged to center our work in equity every day. Our food systems was built on injustices, and I cannot seek to change it without standing against those injustices. The work is urgent, because specific groups have been consistently impacted, and this has to stop now. There remain too many injustices in our food system and society.

In 2007, NFSN was founded with core values of local and just food and a vision of equality in the food system. But it was not until more recent years that we’ve come to strive for equity (not just equality), and that far more is required beyond acknowledging need. In our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, we made intentional and practice-orientated goals for making our commitment to equity more than just talk; we worked to put equity “in action.” If we are to truly achieve our vision, nothing less than this will do.

We also recognize that we have a responsibility as a national movement building organization to have a broad and diverse reach, including over 20,000 members, 70,000 followers on social media, and more than 12.5 million people plugged into National Farm to School Month in October. We have significant reach, and great potential to drive justice-oriented work in the farm to school movement and beyond. We have an important role to play in inspiring more partner organizations - at the national, regional, state, community, and sovereign levels - to create equity-driven impact in their work. We certainly know that this is not a linear process; we work forwards, backwards, and sideways. And we know it will take all of us - as reflected in our tagline Growing Stronger Together - to make forward progress.

In this spirit, I want to share what National Farm to School Network did in 2019 to further our equity work. First, we’ve kept the conversations going. Prioritizing discussions about equity ensures we all continue our learning (because there’s always something new to learn) and make the time for the work. This is a journey. We used to notice how it was too easy to set aside our focus on equity for the day-to-day things that “had” to get done: grant deliverables, fundraising, and so on. But the truth is, equity work is the work that “has” to get done. So we make time for it. Thanks to inspiration from other organizations, a group of NFSN Partners and Staff led the creation of the NFSN Community Agreements for our Annual Meeting with Core and Supporting Partners this spring. We recently realized that those agreements are a good way to start not only our annual gatherings, but all meetings, so we’re now doing so for everything from staff and board meetings to meetings with our partners. Take a few minutes of meetings to make space to remind us why we’re here and how to come to the conversations with respect.

Our staff continued internal monthly calls dedicated to discussion for grounding our work in equity, and mid-year, we began rotating facilitation and topic identification between staff to ensure professional development opportunities for all. Topics for these calls ranged from how to embed equity into our 10th National National Farm to Cafeteria Conference (coming April 2020) program and communications, to reviewing the results of and discussing opportunities for growth stemming from our biannual organizational equity assessments. We also dedicated calls to approaching Native American Heritage Month as allies and adding land acknowledgement to our email signatures (which we now do), practicing removing deficit-based language in our communications, deciding about companies to take money from based on values alignment, integrating equity into research and evaluation, and reviewing our hiring processes with an equity lens. The two NFSN Staff teams also held weekly informal discussions about emerging equity issues and questions in our work and the world, and NFSN Advisory Board members participated in an equity enrichment activity at the in-person meeting.

To track that our discussions and idea sharing are being put into action, we use the aforementioned biannual organizational equity assessments and also an equity action plan dashboard, developed in conjunction with our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan. We’ve also developed a standard practice of  using the NFSN Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy that we developed in 2018 to meaningfully advance equity in our advocacy and programming. For example, the legislative language in the Farm to School Act of 2019 was not a simple copy-paste from the 2017 and 2015 versions. Rather, our Policy Team conducted listening sessions and thoughtfully reviewed the language to better ensure that the USDA Farm to School Grant funding is prioritized for communities that have been systematically disadvantaged by the food system, often communities of color.

Integration of equity throughout the work of our organization also goes beyond programming and policy. I was reminded by my colleagues many times throughout the year that there’s always an “equity path” to take. This includes everything from the contractors and vendors we pay for services to the way our staff celebrate the holiday season. There are always opportunities to center our practices - no matter how small - in equity; sometimes, it just takes slowing down, talking to others, and thinking through what that path is and how to find it. Finally, recognizing demand from NFSN Partners to dig deeper into integrating this work into their own organizations and communities that we get in Annual Meetings and webinars, and with guidance from our equity consultant, we envisioned and then successfully fundraised for our first official equity program, the NFSN Equity Learning Lab. Stay tuned for more on this in 2020.

Thank you for being part of the farm to school movement and for the work you do in your communities every day to advocate for equity and justice through our food system. If you have not been part of this work, we welcome you as new partners in this work. If you are not already a member, please join us (it’s free) to stay up-to-date in 2020 for more regular news about our equity journey. And, if you’re inspired by reading this, we always welcome donations to support our continued equity journey. Happy holidays, and here’s to a bright and bold 2020 together!

National Farm to School Network Announces New Equity Learning Lab

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Thanks to the generous support of National Co+op Grocers and Newman’s Own Foundation, National Farm to School Network is excited to launch a new initiative aimed at advancing racial and social equity and addressing injustices in farm to school and the wider food movement. Our Equity Learning Lab, launching in 2020, will train farm to school leaders from across the country in equity principles and strategies that will maximize impact towards creating a more equitable and just food system.

Advancing equity has been a core value of the National Farm to School Network since our founding, and we are committed to centering equity in all of our work. During our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, we focused on developing resources and tools to help farm to school practitioners put equity into action. We created the Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy, hosted numerouswebinars on equity topics, invested in farm to school in Native communities, and more. We’ve heard resounding feedback from our partners and members that they look to the National Farm to School Network as a leader for advancing equity in farm to school, and they’re eager for more tools and support to further this important work in their organizations and communities. We hear your feedback, and meeting this need is our vision for the Equity Learning Lab.

Our concept for the Equity Learning Lab is to take a collaborative and innovative approach, where project stakeholders will co-construct the programmatic content and curriculum alongside National Farm to School Network staff. Given this dynamic structure, the first Equity Learning Lab will be open to twelve NFSN Core and Supporting Partners. We believe serving a smaller group of stakeholders as an intimate group will provide the ideal environment for learning. Session topics will include identifying inequities in the food system and related history and policies; why farm to school is an approach to addressing inequities and why farm to school cannot be successful without addressing inequities; NFSN’s approach to advancing equity and how we implement it through programs and policy; equity in action; and more. It’s also our goal that this model be replicable. We’ll be using a “train the trainer” approach so that the impact of the Equity Learning Lab can extend beyond the participants, giving them tools, resources, and knowledge to share what they’ve learned back in their communities.

The launch of our Equity Learning Lab has been made possible through generous support from National Co+op Grocers and partners within the natural/organic foods industry, who raised funds for the Equity Learning Lab during NCG's annual grocery and wellness conference and tradeshow earlier this year, and support from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman.

We will be sharing more details about the initiative and its outcomes in the upcoming months. Be sure you’re signed up for our e-newsletter to receive the latest updates and opportunities to get involved. Have questions? Contact Krystal Oriadha, Senior Director of Programs and Policy, at

Native F2S Champions: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs K-8 Academy

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Photo Credit: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Oregon K-8 Academy

This blog is part of a series of profiles of Native Farm to School Champions, organized and collated by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). IAC is NFSN's 2019 National Partner of the Year, and we are excited to collaborate with IAC on this storytelling project to celebrate farm to school activities happening across Indian Country. These Champion profiles were written and submitted by IAC's Regional Technical Assistance Specialists, and these programs will be recognized for the farm to school leadership at the 2019 IAC Annual Meeting. Learn more about the IAC at

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs K-8 Academy opened its doors to an estimated 675 students at the beginning of the 2014 school year.  The project budget for the school was $21,472,600; the Tribes and Bureau of Indian Affairs provided 50% of the budget with the Tribes' $4.6 million, and a $6.8 million loan from USDA Rural Development was also used.  Jefferson County School District 509-J provided $10.7 million through a memorandum of agreement and an Inter-agency Education Agreement between Jefferson County School District 509-J and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Mission Statement of the Warm Springs K-8 Academy:

  • We believe our students should feel a sense of pride in themselves, their community and school
  • We believe that the whole child is important
  • We believe that all children should be loved
  • We believe that pride, compassion, culture and diversity build community
  • We believe that learning is lifelong and should be nurtured

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs applied to National Farm to School Network’s Seed Change in Native Communities project.  In 2017, they were awarded a mini grant, which was used to implement farm to school activities in their community and leverage community wide initiatives towards building food security and food sovereignty. As well as, revitalizing the use of traditional foods.  The program has helped students make connections as to where food comes from and how it is part of their cultural heritage by building a greenhouse, planting a school garden, and promoting a healthy snacks program. The garden has also been used for science and nutrition education.  The Academy hosted an end of school year Pow wow which, was attended by over 1,000 students and family members and served a traditional dinner of salmon, fresh foods, and root vegetables.

Learn more about Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs K-8 Academy here:

Native F2S Champions: STAR School

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Photo Credit: D. PadillaThis blog is part of a series of profiles of Native Farm to School Champions, organized and collated by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC). IAC is NFSN's 2019 National Partner of the Year, and we are excited to collaborate with IAC on this storytelling project to celebrate farm to school activities happening across Indian Country. These Champion profiles were written and submitted by IAC's Regional Technical Assistance Specialists, and these programs will be recognized for the farm to school leadership at the 2019 IAC Annual Meeting. Learn more about the IAC at

  • Farm to Cafeteria
  • Healthy Kids = Healthy Learning
  • Connecting Farmers and Schools

In July, the Intertribal Agriculture Council was invited to speak at the “Healthy Kids = Healthy Learning: Connecting Farmers and Schools Symposium” at a successful Farm to School program called STAR School near Flagstaff, Arizona. At the symposium, organizational and program professionals presented to approximately 150 farmers, gardeners, educators, health officials and other partnerships interested in pursuing a Garden to Cafeteria program to support nutritious meals in their schools.

The Intertribal Agriculture Council has been working closely with National Farm to School Network in pursuing this challenging development. There are several schools in New Mexico who are currently developing Garden to Cafeteria Pilot Programs who are paving the way for other schools as well.

There are many partnerships necessary in developing protocols that include a food safety plan, environmental regulations, school garden staff, food and nutrition staff, etc. The Belen Consolidated Schools is partnering with the School Nutritional Services Department and is one example of pursuing the task of a Farm to School Program to provide students with fresh and healthy garden grown food through their school lunch program. The other school researching the program is Magdalena Municipal School located in Southern New Mexico.

The Intertribal Agriculture Council will continue partnering with the National Farm to School program officials as we continue to bring awareness to programs such as the Garden to Cafeteria Program.

Learn more about STAR School here:

Motherhood Inspires My Farm to School Work

Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Since I became Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network earlier this year, I’ve been eager to share with you why I am inspired to do this important work every single day. In 2017, my family expanded when I gave birth to a daughter and became a first-time mom. Since that time, the impact of farm to school has taken on a new level of significance personally and professionally.

Now that she is a toddler, our daughter is testing boundaries and asserting independence. There are moments when it can be difficult to get her to try new foods. In these times, I remind myself of the importance of the National Farm to School Network’s work in early care and education settings. My daughter is at the critical age when taste buds are forming, and she is developing life-long habits that will build the foundation of her lifestyle and well-being.

This is what farm to school is about: empowering kids to be knowledgeable about and invested in their local food systems. At home, my husband and I take our daughter to Garden Sweet, a farm in our community. We go weekly during the growing season to pick berries and flowers, and participate in their community supported agriculture (CSA) program. I watch our daughter’s excitement about our weekly farm visits; she knows that the berries on her dinner plate come from Garden Sweet and its farmers with whom she regularly interacts.

National Farm to School Network is committed to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to know where our food comes from: to be nourished by food grown justly and sustainably in our communities, to visit farms and know farmers, and to dig into gardens that teach how food grows. There are many inequities built into our food system that hinder the opportunity for every child to engage in these experiences. Dismantling these injustices is what makes our work so important.

Through farm to school, we’re able to connect our children to where their food comes from, enhance the quality of the educational experience, and promote practices that bolster more equitable food systems. At the National Farm to School Network, we lead national efforts to strengthen and expand this work by connecting people to resources, people to policies, and people to people.

We cannot do this important work without your support. Your gift today enables us to improve children’s health, strengthen family farms, and cultivate vibrant communities across the country.


P.S. One last farm to school lesson we have with our daughter: at meals, our family always starts with gratitude - for the chicken farmer, the rice farmer, the broccoli farmer - the people who made our meal possible. It is with tremendous gratitude that our family thanks you for helping make farm to school possible!


A Big Year in Florida Farm to School

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

2019 has been an exceptional year for Florida’s Farm to School Initiative. Farm to school momentum in the state culminated with two exciting events this November. First, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services release their first ever Farm to School Annual Report. The report details Florida farm to school product sales and uses economic impact modeling (using IMPLAN software) to estimate the economic contribution of farm to school sales in the states. The results are powerful! According to the report, approximately $64,106,312 of Florida products were purchased by schools in the 2018-19 school year. Those purchases contributed to 639 jobs, $30,429,315 in labor income, and $144,765,615 in total economic impact (total output – direct, indirect, and induced effect).

The first Florida Farm to School Conference, held November 8-9 in Orlando, was a celebration of the state’s accomplishments and evidence of the drive to expand the work. The conference included tracks for producers and a track for school nutrition service and farm to school coordinators. While content focused on the unique need of each stakeholder group, meals and networking events facilitated collaboration and the development of new partnerships. Presenters brought the origins of farm to school together with the hope for farm to school future, with sessions from one of farm to school’s original champions Glyen Holmes of the New North Florida Growers Cooperative and emerging leaders like Lane and Brett Singleton of Singleton Family Farms. National Farm to School Network Program Manager, Lacy Stephens, contributed to the joyful learning with a session on Advocating for Farm to School Support.

A strong contributor to Florida’s farm to school growth is the support and championing of the efforts by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner, Nicole “Nikki” Fried. Commissioner Fried articulated the goals of the Farm to School Summit and the Florida Farm to School Initiative in her welcome message to attendees: “Together we can ensure that every meal served is healthy, nutritious and Fresh From Florida.”

Photo: Lacy Stephens, NFSN Program Manager, and Beth Spratt and Andrew Smith, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, NFSN Florida Core Partners, at the Florida Farm to School Conference.