Big wins for little eaters in 2016

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021


2016 has been a big year for little eaters! The farm to early care and education movement is on the rise, and with it, many new opportunities to bring fresh, healthy food and high-quality educational opportunities to young children across the country.

At the National Farm to School Network, we’ve had an exciting year of developing new resources, building partnerships, and scaling up efforts to strengthen the farm to ECE movement and reach more children in these vital early years. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve accomplished in 2016:  

SURVEY RESULTS: Launched results of our 2015 National Survey of Early Care and Education Providers with an infographic, fact sheet and report. We found that more than 50 percent of respondents were already incorporating farm to ECE activities - like gardening, including local foods in meals and snacks, and food and nutrition education - into their early care and education settings and another 28 percent plan to start in the future.

TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES: Provided training for farm to ECE practitioners at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, which included workshop sessions on farm to early care and education procurement, curriculum and network building.

WEBINARS: Our Farm to ECE Webinar series highlighted opportunities and best practices to further farm to ECE with in-depth looks at State Level Partnership Opportunities, Cultural Relevancy in Farm to ECE, and Local Procurement in ECE Settings.

NEW RESOURCES: Updated our collection of farm to ECE factsheets – including Getting Started with Farm to Early Care and Education, Local Procurement for Child Care Centers, Local Purchasing for Family Child Care Providers – and added new ECE resources created by partners to our Resource Library.

CASE STUDIES: Partnered with pfc Social Impact Advisors and the BUILD Initiative to develop a series of six case studies that highlight best practices from service providers using farm ECE as an approach to support health, wellness, high-quality education, and community change.

STORYTELLING: On our blog, we’ve shared inspiring stories of the many ways providers use farm to ECE activities to introduce young children to healthy habits and strengthen local communities. For example, how a garden has brought together preschoolers and Veterans in California, how fresh beets and a blender inspired a 4-year old try new foods, and they ways CACFP providers are finding success with farm to ECE.

With over 12 million children spending an average of 33 hours per week in early care and education settings, farm to ECE has the potential to set up a significant number of young children for success with healthy habits and high quality learning environments. We need your help to grow this movement, and insure that all children and families have access to a bright and healthy future.

GIVE NOW


Join us in strengthening these efforts to give our littlest eaters a healthy start. A donation in any amount is an investment in our children's future.  

We are grateful for your generous support of the farm to ECE movement, and uplifted by your commitments to grow a healthier next generation. Thank you for being our partners in this work!

Creating healthy food environments for Latino kids

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Guest post by Lisa Ellis-Veraza, Salud America!

Salud America! The RWJF Reach Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children has worked since 2007 to increase evidence and policy recommendations to prevent Latino childhood obesity. The 50,000 member network includes researchers, community leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders working together to increase advocacy support and the number of Latino advocates seeking policy solutions to combat childhood obesity. See Salud America!’s research here.

High school students in El Paso aren’t only learning how to grow fruits and vegetables, they’re learning how to prepare and sell them, too. (Photo credit: Ana Suffle)

Healthy school food is a key component of growing a healthier next generation. But offering nutritious food in schools is particularly vital for our growing population of Latino students, who face higher risks of obesity and diabetes than their peers.

According to a new research review from Salud America! The RWJF Reach Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children, Latino students are more frequently exposed to unhealthy foods in their school and neighborhood environments than their white peers. The review indicates when a school’s proximity to fast food increased, so did Latino students’ body mass index. It also suggests that Latino-majority schools tend to have weaker policies regarding school snacks and drinks, and may be less likely to implement nutritional guidelines.

This situation has dire health consequences, as it is expected 30 percent of the U.S. student population will be Latino by 2030. If obesity remains unchecked, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every two Latino children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. So how can we ensure healthier food environments for Latino kids?

Let’s consider school food! Most students, including Latinos, consume up to half of their daily calories at schools, and the nutritional value of the foods and beverages available at schools play a major role in influencing students’ diets and weight. School policies that reduce access to sugary snacks and drinks are likely to reduce Latino students’ consumption of unhealthy items during the school day, and positively impact student weight trends.

Michaelie Love advocated for a healthy breakfast cart at her high school in Texas.

There are many things that can be done to help drive wellness policy and system changes like these at schools. For example, student Praxina Guerra and her mentor, Cathy Lopez, advocated for hydration stations across their school’s campus in order to encourage students to drink more water and less sugary beverages. In Texas, student Michaelie Love worked in her school to offer up a healthy breakfast cart for fresh food options in the morning, and Cecil Whisenton brought healthier vending machines to her Latino-majority high school.

Farm to school initiatives can also create healthy food environments. For example, see how high school student Elena Dennis's summer school cooking camp in California brought students to local farms and taught them how to make healthy meals from scratch. Programs like Elena’s “Camp Cauliflower” are teaching kids how to grow, cook and enjoy nutritious food, planting the seeds of healthy habits for a lifetime.

We also know students are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables when schools offer opportunities to learn in school gardens. Watch how Bowie High School’s garden in largely Latino El Paso, Texas, helped the whole community learn about healthy foods in a culturally relevant way. Or, see how teacher Lonnie Schlerandi started a school garden in Austin, Texas, that inspired students to get involved in growing produce and distributing it to school and community members.

So how can you get involved in helping create healthy food environments for Latino children? Salud America! has created an online haven for healthy change where you can become a Salud Leader and share your story, learn what changes are happening in your area, be inspired by educational videos, access research and policy briefs, sign petitions and more.

Best of all, all of our content can be shared using social media – a primary way Latinos access health information. Once you register to be a part our network, you can access free community health reports, maps, videos, policy updates and more to drive change for Latino childhood obesity prevention. Join us, and together we can help unite the Latino voice for childhood health!

Earlier this week, we joined Salud America for a tweetchat about ways to create healthier school environment for Latino kids. See a full recap of the conversation here

Senate Agriculture Committee passes CNR draft

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

  Watch Senator John Thune’s (R-SD) remarks on the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 at the Senate Agriculture Committee business meeting.

This morning, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved their version of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). The bipartisan bill, Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016, is a big victory for the farm to school movement, with all priority policy pieces recommended in the Farm to School Act of 2015 included.

Under the bill, funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is doubled from $5 million to $10 million per year, helping schools across the country increase their local food purchases and expand food and agriculture education. The bill also increases the ability for tribal schools and feeding programs to serve culturally significant foods and increase the scope of the USDA Farm to School Program to include early care and education centers, summer food service program sites and after school programs. You can find a full summary of the bill markups here.

During the brief committee business meeting, farm to school was mentioned by Senators on both sides of the aisle. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), champion of the Farm to School Act of 2015, commented, “Farm to school programs offer support to farmers and local economies, while teaching kids about nutritious foods and where they come from. The program has helped schools across the country meet nutrition standards by offering children local, fresh produce that tastes great.”

Senator John Thune (R-SD) focused his comments on the benefits to Indian Country, noting that tribal leaders “have expressed their deep desire to make traditional foods integral parts of their nutrition programs” and that “farm to school programs have proven to be successful in providing greater access to locally grown and culturally significant foods to students in South Dakota.”

This exciting progress in the Senate Agriculture Committee is the first of many steps in the reauthorization process. With the committee markup completed, the bill will now be sent to the Senate floor for final debate. The exact timing for the Senate floor debate is not yet known, but the bill is widely expected to pass without major difficulty. The House of Representatives must then work through its own version of the bill. See this handy flowchart to follow along with the process.

We need your help to keep the momentum going!

If you have a Senator in the Senate Agriculture Committee (check here), thank them for their fantastic work so far. Share this message and/or graphic on social media: Thank you @(insert Senator here) for your bipartisan support of healthy kids & #farmtoschool in #CNR2016 bill!

If your Member of Congress  is not on the committee, let them know you want to see a CNR with strong support for farm to school programs brought to the Senate floor for passage. Share this message and/or graphic on social media: We need a strong CNR with #farmtoschool to grow healthy kids. @(insert Senator here), bring #CNR2016 to the Senate floor!



Thank you to everyone that has lent their voices to CNR so far. This victory is a direct result of your advocacy efforts and hard work to demonstrate the importance of farm to school to Congress. Thank you!



Connecting to Cherokee culture with farm to school

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

Garden signs at Cherokee Central Schools. (Credit: Cherokee Central Schools)

From school gardens and farm visits, to Harvest of the Month initiatives and local food taste tests, farm to school activities are adaptable to every educational setting. That’s what makes farm to school exciting – the opportunities are endless!

In Western North Carolina, Cherokee Central Schools use farm to school practices to engage students in healthy eating while connecting them to Native culture. Serving 1,250 elementary, middle and high school students from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, the school district integrates Cherokee culture into all aspect of learning – and the cafeteria is no exception.

For several years, Janette Broda, the district’s Child Nutrition Director, has worked to include locally grown foods in school meals. With the addition of two FoodCorps service members and a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2014, the district expanded their farm to school activities. Local foods like apples, cabbage and romaine lettuce have become staples on the lunch menu, the campus’s nine raised garden beds have been expanded to 22, and a campus greenhouse hydroponic system has been added.  


With support from the National Farm to School Network, Broda and FoodCorps service members Katie Rainwater and Alison Villa have further connected students to their Native heritage through farm to school activities. In the garden, they’ve planted traditional Cherokee crops with edible, medicinal and craft uses, like corn varieties with hard seeds that can be used for making jewelry. Many of the heirloom crops grown in the garden came from seeds handed down by generations of local Cherokee farmers, which students have marked with colorful signs that label the plants in both Cherokee and English.  

Students create garden signs and posters. (Credit: Cherokee Central Schools)

In the cafeteria, the team coordinated with the middle school art class to create a mural that depicts the four seasons and highlights traditional Cherokee foods. They’ve also purchased posters featuring seasonal produce labeled in Cherokee and English to be featured in all three school cafeterias.

For the classroom, a farm to school resource library has been developed for teachers. The library includes nutrition education materials, study guides and resources to help create comprehensive lesson plans that integrate farm to school principles into classroom curriculum. For example, the 5th grade science class recently conducted a compost trail test to project how much their landfill waste could be reduced by composting cafeteria food scraps.

Two newly purchased mobile kitchens with induction stoves, blenders and cooking tools are also getting good use. Katie and Allison move these pop-up cooking stations between classrooms and the school greenhouse, where students learn to transform freshly harvested vegetables into delicious snacks, like salads, pesto and smoothies. The team is now developing a food safety plan and working towards GAP certification so garden produce can be harvested and served directly in school meals.

At Cherokee Central Schools, farm to school not only get kids excited about fresh, healthy food, but creatively connects students to their Native heritage. From the school garden to art class, and the cafeteria to science lessons, these farm to school activities are planting the seeds of a vibrant, healthy future.