NFSN Statement on Newest USDA Proposed Changes to School Nutrition Standards

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

On Jan. 17, USDA announced new proposed rules to further modify nutrition standards established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. These proposals—which follow other highly contested changes that have rolled back nutrition standards— would loosen restrictions for school meal requirements that could result in less fruit available at breakfast, reduce vegetables at lunch, and make it even more difficult for students to make healthy choices in the cafeteria.

National Farm to School Network advocates that any proposed changes be informed by both the needs of children and the capacity and expertise of the staff feeding our children. Program flexibility and efficiency that does not sacrifice quality and nutrition should be the primary goal of any proposed rules. Ultimately, these programs exist to serve our children and to support their wellbeing. Many of the 20 million children receiving free and reduced-price meals rely on school meals for the majority of their daily calories and nutrition, and for some children, these are the only meals they eat. These children are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of malnutrition, so the nutritional quality of these meals is of utmost importance in ensuring a lifetime of health and wellbeing.

For these reasons, the National Farm to School Network firmly opposes any of USDA’s proposed changes that would reduce the nutritional quality of school meals. USDA’s own School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study found that the stronger standards are having positive impacts, and numerous studies have shown that they’re working to get students eating more fruits and vegetables, maintaining NSLP participation, and not increasing plate waste.

We recognize that the nutrition standard changes from 2010 can be challenging to implement because children need time to adjust to new and unfamiliar foods and child nutrition staff need time, training, and support to adapt to new guidelines. Farm to school practices are a solution to many of the challenges that schools are facing as they continue to transition. Farm to school activities like taste tests, school gardens, farm visits and cooking demonstrations are part of the equation that’s helping students get excited about trying and liking these new, healthier foods. As our kids continue to grow accustomed to the healthier nutrition standards and our country remains plagued by childhood obesity, it’s a disservice to them and their future to turn back on nutritional quality.

USDA’s new proposals were entered in the Federal Register on Jan. 23, and will be open for public comment for 60 days. In the coming days, we will share additional information and materials about how you can join us in submitting comments on these proposed changes. Contact Chloe Marshall, NFSN Policy Specialist, at with questions.

Centering Our Work in Equity: 2020 Plans & Opportunities

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. Learn about
our efforts in 2019 to further our commitment to equity, and see what we’re planning for in 2020 below.

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

As I shared at the end of 2019, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) aims to center our work in equity and doing so requires persistence and patience. It also requires planning while knowing that this work is not linear, and partnerships while knowing that privilege impacts opportunity to engage. In the spirit of planning and partnerships, I am excited to share what we’re planning for in 2020 to continue NFSN’s equity journey and to invite you to join us in these efforts. This year, we’ll be:

Updating our mission and vision statements to better reflect that we center our work in equity, and that justice is our end goal.

Updating our equity commitment statement to better explain the history and intentional racism behind the cited statistics and our role in this work.

Updating our core values to better highlight the myriad values embedded in farm to school, and then we’ll be pushing ourselves and our partners to strive for farm to school that supports not only local but also just food systems.

Embedding programmatic equity content throughout our 10th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference program, from workshops and posters to keynotes and field trips. We’re also providing scholarships to make this important gathering more accessible to persons who have been impacted by racial and social inequities in the food system. (Be sure to save the dates: April 21-23, 2020 in Albuquerque, NM!)

Using our Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool to increase our capacity to identify inequities embedded within farm to school programming and policy advocacy initiatives, and to support decision making processes which maximize opportunities for advancing equity.

Starting all meetings with our community agreements.

Meeting monthly as staff and weekly as staff teams to discuss progress along our equity journey, and all staff are embedding equity goals into our job plans.

Allocating professional development funds to equity trainings for all new staff hires.

Participating in the 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge starting on March 30.

Hiring an equity consultant to facilitate some of the above activities and to offer us new, more impactful ways of thinking about our equity work.

Conducting biannual organizational equity assessments (and we may develop our own tool to do so), and we’ll be developing a dashboard to track progress on concrete goals.

Seeking and engaging in celebrations and events like the National Day of Racial Healing, Black History Month, and Native American Heritage Month to share stories, listen, learn, and connect with other people, organizations and movements.

Using our financial resources to deepen farm to school engagement and impact in four high-opportunity locations via our network of partners, and to provide 20 travel stipends to ensure equitable access for participation in our Annual Farm to School Leaders Meeting.

Hosting the first NFSN Equity Learning Lab cohort.

And, we’re exploring more opportunities - like forming an NFSN Staff Equity Team, participating in equity trainings specific to our positions, developing a leadership plan for staff of color, and holding a staff training on how to talk about the equity imperative and what happens if it isn’t achieved. Centering our work in equity means being open to learning, creating and reflecting as we go.

This is an extensive list for one year, but as I said in my last blog about our equity journey, this is work that must be done. Too many inequities in our food system and society persist. What from the list above inspires you? Have you reviewed your mission and vision statements lately with an equity lens? Have you tried out our equity tool? Have you even started conversations about equity in your communities? We want to hear from you!

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 New Year, and here’s to a bright and bold 2020 together!

Thank Yous, Farewells, Welcomes, and Plans: NFSN Advisory Board Update

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Artwork by Bonnie Acker

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

In addition to an incredible group of Partners and Staff, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is fortunate to have a Board of Directors housed at Tides Center (our fiscal sponsor) and an NFSN Advisory Board of smart and passionate advocates for the work we do. As we ring in a New Year, I extend my sincere thanks and say farewell to outgoing board members and am excited welcome in the new cohort.

First, a huge amount of gratitude goes out to the entire 2019 board. This past year was significant  for NFSN, including our executive transition and strategic planning for 2020-2025 (more on that to come). Thank you to:

  • Betsy Rosenbluth, Vermont FEED
  • Brandon Seng, Michigan Farm to Freezer
  • Caree Jackson Cotwright, University of Georgia - College of Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Dan Carmody, Eastern Market
  • Erin Croom, Small Bites Adventure Club
  • Haile Johnston, The Common Market
  • Johanna Herron, Alaska Division of Agriculture
  • Laura Edwards-Orr, sustainable regional food systems advocate
  • Miguel Villarreal, Sam Ramon Valley Unified School District
  • Ricardo Salvador, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Rodney Taylor, Fairfax County Public Schools
  • Simone Washington, Lawyers for Children
  • Vanessa Herald, University of Wisconsin - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

In particular, I am honored to have started my tenure as Executive Director alongside Miguel as 2019 board chair. He is a tireless champion for nutritious, local, and just food in schools, and he inspires me every time we connect. Miguel, thank you for your six years of service to NFSN and for a lifetime of dedication to our mission.

Along with Miguel, we say farewell to Dan, Johanna, and Rodney. Dan’s leadership in board governance and the executive transition, Johanna’s longtime farm to school experience and passion as an NFSN Partner, and Rodney’s day-to-day work as a farm to school practitioner have been meaningful beyond measure.

Miguel with NFSN staff at the 2019 NFSN Annual Meeting.

As we say these thank yous and farewells, we are also excited to announce the addition of eight new board members in 2020:

  • Anneliese Tanner, Austin Independent School District, Executive Director of Food Services and Warehouse Operations
  • Bertrand Weber, Minneapolis Public Schools, Director, Culinary and Wellness Services
  • Catherine Compitello, The Beacon Fund, Director of Nutrition and Activity
  • Jamese Kwele, Ecotrust, Director of Food Equity
  • Janie Hipp, Native American Agriculture Fund, CEO/President
  • Silvia Abel-Caines, Organic Valley, Staff Ruminant Nutritionist
  • Sommer Sibilly Brown, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, Founder and Executive Director
  • Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Little Ones Learning Center, Executive Director

We are also thankful to those stepping into leadership positions on the board this year:

  • Haile Johnston, Chair
  • Laura Edwards-Orr, Vice Chair
  • Simone Washington, Governance Committee Chair
  • Erin Croom, Programs and Policy Committee Chair
  • Betsy Rosenbluth, Strategic Plan Implementation Committee Chair (new board committee in 2020)

Finally, as a sneak peek into the work of the board this year, they will be focusing on:

Many thanks again to our outgoing Advisory Board members, and welcome to our new members! I’m looking forward to an exciting new year together.