Take Action: Paper Plate Advocacy

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Congress only has a few weeks left to pass the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) this year, so we’re organizing a paper plate campaign to share with legislators the many reasons that healthy school meals and farm to school are vital for a healthier next generation.

At the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference last month, more than 350 people joined us in writing and drawing on paper plates what school meals and farm to school mean to their communities. Here’s a snapshot of what people said:

Kids are what they eat and will eat what they grow. Let them grow healthy!

School meals may be the best meal of the day! Make it good, make it great. Tasty, healthy food for ALL.

Helping schools source local produce improves freshness and quality and builds and supports the local economy.

School meals fuel healthy bodies & strong minds!

In the next few weeks, we’ll be delivering these plates to lawmakers as they continue to debate this important piece of legislation.

There’s still time to participate in our paper plate campaign! Share your farm to school message on a paper plate (add your name, city and zipcode to the back) and send it to our office in Washington, D.C. We’ll hand deliver your plate to Congress and send a strong message to legislators that school meals and farm to school are an important part of growing healthy kids. As a reminder, this activity is not lobbying so anyone can participate!

Mail paper plates to:
National Farm to School Network
110 Maryland Avenue NE, Suite 209
Washington, D.C. 20002

Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest CNR news.

UPDATE: We'll be delivering the plates to Congress the week of September 19. Stay tuned to our social media channels for live updates!

Putting data to work

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Messaging and advocacy with results from the NFSN Farm to Early Care and Education Survey and USDA Farm to School Census

By Lacy Stephens, MS, RDN, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

With abundant information from the National Farm to School Network 2015 National Survey of Early Care and Education Providers and the preK data from the USDA Farm to School Census, we have a better understanding than ever of the current reach of farm to early care and education.

According to the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) survey, 54 percent of respondents are currently engaging in farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) activities, and the USDA census shows that 32 percent of responding school districts participate in these activities with preschool students. This information not only provides a picture of the current status of farm to early care and education, but can be a valuable tool to spread and scale the movement. NFSN’s survey infographic, fact sheet and full report and USDA’s website and data sets can be used to spark programmatic and policy change at multiple levels and engage all stakeholders in understanding the value of local food procurement, gardening and food and farm education.  

NFSN survey responses will resonate with early care and education providers – the survey’s respondents – who indicate that two of the top reasons for engaging in farm to ECE activities include improving children’s health and providing experiential learning opportunities. These reasons parallel goals in the early care and education community and underscore the opportunity for farm to ECE to create a high quality environment for young children. The survey also demonstrates the wide array of activities encompassed by farm to ECE, including the top three reported activities: teaching children about local food and how it grows, gardening and using local food in meals and snacks.

State level stakeholders, such as state agencies housing the Child and Adult Care Food Program, those housing early childhood programs and early care and education professional or advocacy organizations, will find appealing the ability to use farm to ECE to meet health and early learning objectives and should note the wide spread interest in growing farm to ECE: in addition to the 54 percent of respondents already engaged, an additional 28 percent plan to start activities in the future. Further, the specific information regarding purchasing practices can help frame and tailor training opportunities. State level stakeholders may be interested to see that farm to ECE activities are being applied in all types of early care and education settings, so regardless of the type of program they work with, these opportunities abound.      

Local, state, and federal policy makers are important stakeholders to reach with data. The infographic and fact sheet developed from the NFSN survey are valuable tools to start these conversations as they not only outline the challenges in early childhood, including obesity, food insecurity and poor quality care and education, but also the opportunity to reach a large number of children and families through early care and education settings. The value of farm to ECE in addressing these problems is reflected in the motivations reported by respondents, including improving children’s health, experiential learning and increasing access to fresh, high quality food.

Conveying the potential economic impacts is also important in communicating with policy makers. According to the NFSN survey, reporting respondents spent 27 percent of their food budget on local food and 74 percent of those purchasing locally plan to increase their purchases in the future – a huge potential boon to farmers and producers and local economies. Results also identify barriers to local purchasing, including cost and seasonality of food and unreliable supply. Understanding barriers can spur conversation about policies that may alleviate these issues, including increased funding, offering provider trainings and supporting local food supply chain infrastructure. USDA census data allows you to make your message local. Seeing how your state or school district compares to others in applying farm to school in preschool can be a great motivator to take action and catch up with other states or districts.

To spread and scale farm to early care and education and ensure that more children, families, and communities benefit from these valuable activities, we must reach stakeholders and garner support at every level. Equipped with data, resources and passion, farm to early care and education champions are furthering the movement everyday by advocating for programmatic and policy changes that not only directly support farm to early care and education, but create high quality learning environments and improved community food systems.

For additional resources and ways to get involved by visiting our farm to early care and education and farm to school policy webpages.

Four ways to use social enterprise to sustain your school garden

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Courtney Leeds, Schoolyard Farms

This blog was adapted from a Lightning Talk presented by Schoolyard Farms Co-Founder and Director Courtney Leeds at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference on June 3, 2016, in Madison, Wis. The 2016 conference brought together more than 1,000 diverse stakeholders working to advance a more healthy, just and sustainable food system for all.

School gardens offer countless benefits: they encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables; teach science, math and history; and increase positive attitudes toward schools and communities. Yet, despite the known benefits, many school gardens struggle to secure funding for supplies, maintenance and garden educators. While there are grant opportunities that help kick start school gardens by providing initial funding for tools and infrastructure, how can programs continue to sustain themselves? One solution could be incorporating social enterprise into your school garden activities.

At Schoolyard Farms in Portland, Ore., we have tested several enterprise models to see which options best fit the schools and communities we work with. Here are a few ideas you can use to help your garden thrive:

Plant Sales
Generate funding and bring the community together with a plant sale. Have each class at your school start a different type of plant in early spring, or ask a local nursery to donate their older inventory. Pick a date and plan an event to sell the seedlings and bring the community to your garden. This could be a garden celebration, a potluck, or simply an opportunity for guests to wander the garden. Invite everyone – the school community, local businesses, community groups and neighbors. Recruit students to help staff the plant sale table, where they’ll have the opportunity to learn important entrepreneurial and money skills.

Save Seeds
Saving seed from the garden is an amazingly effective way to teach hands-on lessons about life-cycles, recycling and stewardship. It’s also a great opportunity to create products that can be sold throughout the year to support your school garden. Let some of the plants in your garden go to seed and teach students to harvest them. Save some of the seeds to be replanted in your garden next year, and reserve the others to sell. Seeds are a great product because they are nonperishable and generally remain viable for three years. Easy seeds to start with are beans, which are large, beautiful and easy for children to thresh. Another simple option is cilantro: it goes to seed quickly, produces large seeds, and can be used as either cilantro seed or coriander spice. Have students decorate small envelopes with pictures and planting information, package the seeds, and sell at school events or a local nursery.

Community Supported Agriculture
If your school has a large garden, consider growing and selling excess produce to the community through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA is a model used by small farmers to sell their product directly to consumers, where consumers pay a fee to the farmer in the beginning of the season and, in exchange, receive weekly boxes of fresh produce from the farm. The CSA program at Schoolyard Farms generates approximately 30 percent of our income, with grants and donations making up the remainder of our revenue. Managing a CSA program can be time and labor intensive, but this model of selling fresh garden produce offers great benefits for both school and the community.  

Market Stands
If managing a weekly CSA program is not feasible, consider setting up a market stand to sell your garden’s produce. Market stands offer a great amount of flexibility – they can be set up once a week, once a month, or whatever interval best meets your needs. Whichever schedule you decide, try to stick to it so the community knows when your stand will be open. Unlike CSAs, market stands don’t require a set amount of produce each week. They provide the flexibility to sell whatever is available in the field at a given time. Market stands can easily be set up at your school or at local businesses, and provide a great opportunity for students to develop strong marketing and customer service skills.

Schoolyard Farms is dedicated to creating healthier communities by teaching kids how to grow nutritious food that goes from their schoolyard to their plate. They do this by building mini-production farms on underused schoolyards that act as outdoor classrooms for schools. Learn more about Schoolyard Farms here.