It's not only about race, but it's always about race

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Every month, National Farm to School Network staff gather to engaging in ongoing learning and discussion about racial and social equity in farm to school. This month, we started our conversation with each staff member sharing a story, thought, or resource relating to Black History – a timely discussion, as February is Black History Month. One staff member shared a few words that had stuck with them, offered by a NFSN Core Partner: “It’s not only about race; but, it’s always about race.” Hearing these words struck me, too. I would encourage you to re-read the quote a few times, sit for a moment, and think about this short, simple statement. These words resonated with me because they encompass how I approach my work with NFSN.  Farm to school is not only about race; but it’s always about race.

The National Farm to School Network is committed to racial and social equity as a central tenant of farm to school. Why? Because troubling racial and ethnic disparities exist in our food system:

  • Black and Latino youths having substantially higher rates of childhood obesity as compared to their White peers.
  • Native Americans are twice as likely as White people to lack access to safe, healthy foods, ultimately leading to higher obesity and diabetes rates.
  • Many food system workers take home poverty-level wages, with women, Blacks and Latinos most likely to earn the lowest.
  • With regards to land ownership, Latinos make up 3.2 percent of today’s farm owners, American Indians or Alaska natives 1.8 percent, Black or African people 1.6 percent, and Asians constitute less that 1 percent.

We believe that farm to school programs rooted in equity can, quite literally, grow and cultivate a more fair and just food system for all Americans, Native Americans, and citizens of the U.S. Territories.

Black history - and more specifically, black history in the US food system - is important to understand because our food system was built inequitably.  This is to say that the social and racial injustices of our current food systems exist by design. (Learn more by watching Ricardo Salvador’s keynote address at the 2016 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference here.) The racial disparities that permeate the food system are not happenstance, but rather a result of our nation’s history of exploiting people of color, particularly Native Americans and African Americans. As much as farm to school is about cute, toothless kids pulling fresh carrots from a school garden and farmers supplying local foods for school lunch, it is also about the real, true history of food in this country. This real, true history includes stolen land and slavery and Jim Crow, which, naturally, gives one less of a warm and fuzzy feeling when compared to the cute kids with carrots in a school garden.  

And that brings me back to “It’s not only about race; but, it’s always about race.” For me, this is an important reminder that our work in growing healthy kids and supporting local agriculture through farm to school activities isn’t only about addressing racial inequities. But, race must always be part of the conversation because racial inequities are a reality of the food system that we work within. Farm to school is not only about race, but it’s always about race.

As long as I show up and hold space for a comprehensive farm to school discussion, then there will be space for it to be about cute kids, local carrots, and race. If you are wondering how you can show up for racial justice in the US food system or better integrate racial equity into farm to school, there are some great resources available that I invite you to explore:  

  • Read over the National Farm to School Network’s commitment to racial and social equity in farm to school here.
  • Register to attend the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this April 25-27 in Cincinnati, OH.  The conference program features a number of workshops focused on equity and justice in farm to cafeteria, as well as a “Re-Framing Food: Food Systems work through a Racial Equity Lens” short course. Learn more and register here.
  • Check out the multicultural and non-English resources available in our Resource Library.
  • Watch our recent “Advancing Equity Through Farm to School” webinar here.

As our staff continues to learn about and deepen out understanding of inequity in our food system, we’ve collected a robust list of resources and readings that we’ve found helpful to deepening our understanding of this important work. You can explore our list of suggestion (and send us your recommendations!), here. As you begin to delve into learning more about racial and social justice in food systems, it’s important to remember that no single training or article holds all of the answers. Similarly, we often remind ourselves that learning about equity in the food system is a journey, not a destination. Understanding how culture and history have influenced food takes time and dedication. For me, Black History Month reminds me to reflect on the ways that I show up for racial and food justice while challenging myself to learn more.  But there isn’t anything inherently special about February for taking time to reflect, learn, and challenge each other and ourselves.  Indeed, every month is a great time to commit to making racial equity a priority in our work.

Growing the “Farm” in “Farm to School”

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Farm to school is as much about the farm as it is the school. Farmers and producers are the movers and shakers that make local foods served in schools and early care and education settings possible. From the cafeteria to the classroom, their products are used to educate students about where food comes from and generate excitement for trying new, healthy foods. And farm to school is just as much a win for farmers, too!

However, farmers are often underrepresented in the farm to school movement. That’s why the National Farm to School Network is committed to providing learning opportunities, sharing innovative resources, and propelling new ideas to support farmers and producers in the farm to school movement.

For example, we focused our 2017 Innovation Awards, with funding support from Farm Credit, on celebrating beginning farmers (in their first 10 years of farming) and farmer veterans for their exemplary efforts in selling local produce to schools and engaging kids in learning where their food comes from. Our two awardees – John Turner of Wild Roots Farm Vermont and Dylan Strike of Strike Farms in Montana - shared their stories with us on our blog, in webinars and social media takeovers, helping inspire more farmers and schools to take the first steps in getting involved. The awards also supported their ongoing engagement in farm to school activities in their own communities. Dylan used the Innovation Award to host fall farm field trips free of charge to Bozeman, MT-area schools and continued to strengthen relationships with several schools that purchase his produce for school meals and Montana Harvest of the Month activities. Jon Turner expanded his educational outreach and engaged in new projects to support food systems learning opportunities for the K-12 community in Addison County, VT. He specifically focused on establishing a compost system with Bristol Elementary School and Mt. Abe High School, which included mentoring students to lead the composting project and working with a local illustrator to develop a comic series about composting to educate and engage more students in local food systems activities.

Dylan Strike and students at Strike Farms.

Jon and Dylan are just two examples among many of farmers who’ve found success with farm to school. Here’s a snapshot of some of the other stories that farmers have shared with us:  

Clearview Farm - Massachusetts
Rick Melone, owner of Clearview Farm, explains that business relationships with schools have provided his farm a valuable and necessary market. “I’m too small to work with huge markets like Whole Foods and other grocery store whole-salers," he says. "But I can bring a truck load of apples in (to schools) and they will use them that day.” It's schools that have become one of his most reliable and valuable customers.

Fisheads Aquaponics - Georgia
One of Fisheads Aquaponic’s first regular customers was Burke County Public Schools, located just 17 miles from the aquaponics operation. Burke County Schools has a standing order for Fisheads lettuce, and the positive relationship helped Fisheads expanded to selling to several other school districts, as well. In order to keep up with demand for their produce, Fisheads is doubling their production with the addition of a second greenhouse and hiring more staff.

Moon on the Meadow Farm - Kansas
Jill Elmers says that her business relationship with schools has given her farm, Moon on the Meadow, a consistently reliable market. “The core items that they (schools) buy, they know how much they need every week, and so those sales are consistent.”

In 2018, we’re excited to continue connecting with farmers and producers and sharing more resources and opportunities for farmers and schools to dig in to new partnership opportunities. Here are several upcoming webinar opportunities to hear more stories of success and learn about resources for jumpstarting farm to school partnerships:

Farm to School 101 & Funding Opportunities
February 28 // 5pm ET
Hosted by USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems and the National Young Farmers Coalition, this webinar for farmers and food producers that will cover different ways to incorporate farm to school into your business plan, how working with schools can impact and bring value to your operation, and funding opportunities. Register here.

Trending Topics Webinar: Engaging Farmers in Farm to School
March 1 // 2pm ET
Hosted by the National Farm to School Network, this webinar will explore how farmers and producers can garner economic and social benefits through farm to school, and will feature several guest speakers who wills hare innovative yet practical approaches for engaging farmers in a wide variety of farm to school activities. Register here.

The Business of Farm to School
March 15 // 5pm ET
Hosted by USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems and the National Young Farmers Coalition, this webinar will cover the procurement (purchasing) rules that schools follow, describe questions and talking points to discuss when selling to and building relationships with schools, identify which products schools are looking for, and highlight the different Child Nutrition Programs (CNP’s) that provide these opportunities - hint, it’s not just school lunch! Register here.

If you’re ready to take your farm to school partnerships to the next level, we hope you’ll join us in Cincinnati this April for the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference! With 36 skill-building workshops, inspiring keynote addresses, short courses, field trips, poster presentations and lots of networking opportunities, this one-of-a-kind gathering will help you bring real food solutions home to your community. Learn more and register here.

In the meantime, check out more great stories about the farmers who make farm to school happen on our blog, explore resources for getting started in our free Resource Library, or find local farm to school networking event taking place in your state in our national events calendar.

National Education Association Selected As 2018 NFSN National Partner of the Year

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

As a national organization uniquely situated at the intersection of numerous sectors, networking and partnership building are at the core of the National Farm to School Network’s efforts. Partnerships are integral to our success, and are essential to the growth and long-term sustainability of the farm to school movement. That’s why our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan includes a key goal to facilitate expanded engagement in farm to school through new and diverse partnerships and promotion, including the designation of a “National Partner of the Year.” Through intentional programmatic collaboration, resource sharing and cross-promotion, we aim to both educate our members about the work of national partners, and increase knowledge of farm to school and our organization in diverse sectors.

This year, we are pleased to announce the National Education Association (NEA) as our 2018 National Partner of the Year. NEA is the nation's largest professional employee organization, committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA’s 3 million members – from every state and more than 14,000 communities – work at every level of education, from pre-school to university graduate programs. Furthermore, NEA’s membership represents nearly 500,000 Education Support Professionals (ESP) – school support staff who work to meet the needs of the whole student. Working as food service staff, custodians, secretaries, classroom paraeducators, bus drivers, and in many other jobs, these essential educators (who make up nearly one-third of the education workforce) help ensure that children are safe, healthy, well-nourished and well-educated. ESP can be tremendous advocates and resources for helping connect students, parents and community allies with farm to school activities, though are often underrepresented in the farm to school movement.

Through this year-long partnership with NEA, we look forward to making stronger connections with educators and ESP across the country, while additionally providing resources and tools for our members to build meaningful partnership with educators and ESP in their communities to strengthen local farm to school efforts. NEA and NFSN have a successful history of collaboration, including efforts around policy advocacy, storytelling on our blog, and celebrating events like National Farm to School Month and National Teacher Day. We look forward to deepening our partnership and furthering these efforts in 2018 to better educate and engage our membership in each other’s work.

Stay tuned for opportunities to learn more about NEA and dig into this partnership with us throughout 2018!

Announcing Keynote Speakers for 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

As the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference approaches, we are excited to share more details about the conference program. 36 conference workshops in 12 tracks will cover a wide range of farm to cafeteria content – from Youth Leadership and Engagement to Equity and Justice in Farm to Cafeteria, and Local and Sustainable Procurement to School Gardens and On-site Farms.  You can check out the full conference agenda and workshop descriptions here. In addition to workshops, we’re also offering 8 short course and 11 field trips to explore the farm to cafeteria landscape across the Ohio Valley region.  And there’s more!

We are thrilled to announce our conference keynote speakers. Rodney K. Taylor is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCSP), in Va. FCPS is the 10th largest district in the U.S. with 188,000 students, in 194 schools, providing 149,000 meals per day. Prior to his employment with FCPS, Rodney was the Director of Nutrition Services, for the Riverside Unified School District, in Riverside, California.  

A noted pioneer and expert in farm to school salad bars, he is particularly known for establishing the “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar” program in 1997, while working as Director of Food and Nutrition Services in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, in Santa Monica, Calif. Rodney is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the California Endowment’s “Health Heroes” Award and the Loma Linda University Award for “The Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles---For Outstanding Commitment to the Public’s Health.”

Haile Thomas is 17 years old, an international speaker, health activist, the youngest Certified Integrative Health Coach in the United States, and the founder/CEO of the nonprofit HAPPY (Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth). Haile founded HAPPY when she was 12 years old to address the need for free/affordable plant-based nutrition and culinary education in under served/at-risk communities, as well as in schools and through annual summer camps.

Haile has personally engaged over 15,000 kids and thousands of adults around the world since beginning her activism in 2010. She was inspired to pursue this passion after her family successfully reversed her father’s type-2 diabetes without the use of medication, only healthy eating and lifestyle choices, and upon learning that kids were also increasingly being diagnosed with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. All of Haile’s programs, projects, and initiatives, are geared towards engaging, educating, motivating and empowering young people to make healthy lifestyle choices to live their best life. Haile and her work have been featured on the Today Show, Food Network, CNN, Dr.Oz, Teen Vogue, Fortune, O Magazine, and Experience Life Magazine to name a few.

To highlight a local perspective of farm to cafeteria, we are honored to share that Dr. Roger Rennekamp, Associate Dean and Director of Ohio State University Extension, will be our Welcome Speaker. Dr. Rennekamp will share how the OSU Extension system and Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation discovery theme, also known as InFACT, align with principles of the Farm to School movement. He will also give examples of how the university—an institution with 17,000 students on its meal plan—is getting closer to reaching its goal of serving 40 percent local or sustainably grown foods by 2025.

Read more about our keynote speakers here.

Early bird registration is open now through March 9th, and we are accepted conference scholarship applications until February 12th at 8pm EST. For more information on registration and scholarships, please visit our conference website. We look forward to hosting you and your farm to cafeteria team in Ohio!