Green Ribbon Schools, Senator Leahy and the Green Apple Day of Service
Last week our deputy director, Mary Stein (left), and policy and strategic partnerships director, Helen Dombalis (right), attended the 2014 U.S. Department of Education's Green Ribbon Schools Celebration, where they had the pleasure of meeting with Senator Leahy, a long-time congressional champion for farm to school.
The Green Ribbon Schools Celebration is hosted by the Center for Green Schools at the US Green Building Council (USGBC). USGBC also organizes the Green Apple Day of Service through which they encourage individuals and communities to dedicate a day to making their schools a safer, healthier place through projects like planting school gardens. This year's day of service will take place on Saturday, September.
NFSN advisory board member testifies before Senate Agriculture Committee
Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry held a hearing, “Meeting the Challenges of Feeding America’s School Children.” The hearing – which was the second to be held by the Committee in preparation for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act – focused on school meal program operations and related procurement for school meals. This hearing was held because the current Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is set to expire at the end of September 2015.
The witness list included:
- Betti Wiggins, Executive Director, Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools, and advisory board member for the National Farm to School Network;
- Scott Clements, Director of the Office of Healthy Schools and Child Nutrition at the Mississippi Department of Education;
- Julia Bauscher, President of the School Nutrition Association and Director of School and Community Nutrition Services for Jefferson Public Schools;
- Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director for the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi; and
- Phil Muir, President and CEO at Muir Copper Canyon Farms in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The majority of Agriculture Committee members were present and posed questions to the witnesses on a variety of topics related to procurement, school gardens, and nutrition standards. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted that “students are learning about where their food comes from through farm to school garden efforts that are very exciting.”
Well-versed in the opportunities presented by school gardens, Ms. Wiggins extoled the virtues of Detroit’s 71 school gardens and discussed the role the gardens play in engaging students and the community. Detroit’s farm to school practices are “generating healthy returns for farmers and children,” she said, adding that teenagers are eating Michigan-grown asparagus and like it.
Addressing the issues with implementing the USDA school lunch standards, she noted that short-term pains “pale in comparison to the benefits from reform that is highly desirable and attainable.”
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked Ms. Wiggins to talk about her experience with urban gardening and how it may be used as a model for other cities across the country. She described the importance of the community partnerships she formed with groups like Detroit Eastern Market (represented on NFSN’s advisory board) and the farmers that distribute there, as well as Michigan State University (NFSN’s Michigan State Lead). Through these partnerships with NFSN Core Partners, she created the Detroit School Garden Collaborative that has taught children to garden, has educated teachers about gardens as learning spaces, and has cultivated youth garden ambassadors. The children planted zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes, which were later used in a “Stoplight Salad.”
Many of the Senators in attendance talked about the benefit of local food systems. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) described how proud Indiana farmers are when they see their products being used in their community’s schools. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) remarked that food hubs allow farmers to reach underserved areas with local produce. Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) described farm to school as a good bridge between our nation’s farmers and our children.
National Farm to School Network congratulates Betti Wiggins on her impactful testimony and her great work providing nutritious, locally grown produce to Detroit’s 50,000 students.
New pilot program for locally-grown produce accepting applications
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a request for applications from states interested in participating in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Kevin Concannon, the USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, announced that under the pilot, up to eight states across five regions will be granted flexibility in using a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The pilot project “offers states an additional opportunity to bolster local farm economies while providing the children who participate in our school meals programs with healthy food from within their own communities,” said Under Secretary Concannon.
USDA’s FNS and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be working closely together to implement the pilot project and anticipate having deliveries start in the middle of the 2014-2015 School Year.
Applications must be submitted via email using the forms and instructions in the request for applications. Interested State Distributing Agencies (SDAs) must submit an application by September 30, 2014 to be considered for selection for the 2014-2015 school year. The pilot projects are anticipated to be multi-year and may involve additional requests for applications.
In states selected to participate in the pilot project, school food authorities (SFAs) or SDAs (acting on behalf of participating SFAs), will be permitted to competitively solicit a USDA-approved vendor using USDA NSLP entitlement funds for unprocessed fruits and vegetables. SDAs or SFAs will be able to use their pre-existing commercial distribution channels and relationships with farmers, produce wholesalers and distributors, as well as apply geographic preference in procurement.
State and vendor selection process and pilot project details
The Farm Bill requires that at least one project be located in a state from each of the five regions of the U.S.: Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Western, Midwest, and Southern. FNS plans to prioritize applications based on: the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the applicant states on a per capita basis; the demonstrated commitment of the States to farm to school efforts; and whether the states contain a sufficient quantity of SFAs, varying population sizes and geographic locations.
Once pilot project states are selected, AMS will work with those states to identify approved vendors, such as farmers, food hubs, wholesalers, distributors and processors. Vendors must submit documentation certifying compliance with AMS requirements regarding a comprehensive food safety program, 100 percent domestic origin and food defense. AMS will publish an approved vendor list on the AMS website. SFAs or SDAs from pilot project states can then procure unprocessed fruits and vegetables from these vendors, up to the amount of USDA entitlement that the states set aside for the pilot project. SDAs must submit monthly reports to FNS and AMS summarizing delivery and pricing information from all USDA-approved vendors, who are then paid by AMS in accordance with these reports.
USDA technical assistance and contact information for state applicants
FNS plans to conduct conference calls on August 7th and September 10th to answer questions and provide technical assistance with the application process to states that wish to apply. Details from USDA are forthcoming.
For questions regarding the pilot project and application, SDAs should contact: