NFSN Awards $75,000 to 15 Projects in Second Round of COVID-19 Relief Fund
Top L to R: Little Ones Learning Center; Keres Children's Learning Center; Our Core Inc.; HoChunk Community Development Corps. Bottom L to R: Dreaming Out Loud; Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute; Can Wigmunke; Palette of Expressions.
National Farm to School Network is pleased to announce the second round of grants awarded from our COVID-19 Relief Fund. This round, 15 organizations have each received a $5,000 grant to support their efforts helping kids and families continue eating, growing and learning about just and sustainable food – and farmers continuing to produce and supply it – during this global pandemic.
When the COVID-19 crisis emerged early this year, National Farm to School Network made a strategic decision to shift our planned programmatic activities to focus on providing support through these unprecedented times. This included reallocating our funding resources to go directly towards supporting community-based projects that are keeping those who have been most impacted by systemic inequities fed and cared for.
As an organization rooted in a vision of a just food system, we have been committed to ensuring that the resources of our COVID-19 Relief Fund specifically reach and impact communities that have been systematically underserved and disproportionately affected by this pandemic. This round of funding was dedicated to organizations led by and serving Black and Indigenous communities. We are proud to be able to support the efforts of these 15 organizations in meeting the urgent needs of their communities:
Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute - White Earth Reservation (Minnesota)
To support the transformation of food production and nurture youth through gardening and raising chickens, pigs and horses.
Can Wigmunke, the Rainbow Tree's Rebel Earth Incubator Farm - Oglala Lakota Nation, Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota)
To support Rebel Earth Incubator Farm in expanding food production, training new farmers online and continuing existing operations through the pandemic.
Charles W. Reid Help Center - Michigan
To support food bundle deliveries to families and seniors, providing nutritious fresh produce and other healthy food to those in need.
Dreaming Out Loud, Inc. - Washington D. C.
To support the Farm and Food Hub at Kelly Miller, a 2-acre project and central food hub that grows healthy food and aggregates, stores and distributes food to the District.
E. E. Rogers SDA School - Mississippi
To support families by creating a safe environment where students who need somewhere to go during virtual learning days can come during the pandemic. The project includes healthy meals and technology resources that will continue student learning safely and healthily.
Fortunate Kids - Michigan
To provide young scholars with a fresh farm basket alongside healthy meals and snacks, to nourish their minds and bodies during the summer months.
HoChunk Community Development Corp. - Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska Reservation (Nebraska)
To support the piloting of a farm to food bank model that will prioritize serving families with children, elders and families that have been directly impacted by COVID-19.
Keres Children's Learning Center - Cochiti Pueblo (New Mexico)
To provide fruits and vegetables, sourced from local farmers, to Keres Children's Learning Center families during this time of pandemic so that they will continue to be healthy and active.
Little Ones Learning Center, Hand, Heart and Soul Project - Georgia
To support the Hand, Heart and Soul Project and provide Small Bites Adventure Club local food taste test kits for children and their families to use at home.
National Women In Agricultural, Texas Chapter - Texas
To support the Engaging Agricultural Resources Together Honorably (E.A.R.T.H) program, which will increase the production of fresh produce for residents living in a food desert community in Waco, Texas.
Our Core Inc. - Family and Farmer Relief - New York
To broaden and expand emergency food access to the Newburgh community, prioritizing supporting small, Black, local farmers and with an eye towards teen leadership in food distribution.
Palette of Expressions - California
To support the participation of 10 family child care centers in the Bay Area in a year-long project that introduces farm to school curriculum and focuses on gardening and nutrition with young children.
Picuris Pueblo - Picuris Pueblo (New Mexico)
To retrofit an agricultural lab to set up a vegetable nursery, to develop a Youth operated chicken coop, and to teach skills such as leaders and connection to plants and animals.
Seedleaf, Inc. - Kentucky
To convert two growing spaces into outdoor classrooms for use by school teachers and parents who are homeschooling during the 2020-2021 school year. The sites will shift from being solely community gardens to become spaces for engaged student learning.
Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, Inc. - Virgin Islands
To support the emergency and collaboration efforts of the Virgin Island Good Food Coalition, including sourcing and distributing emergency fresh food boxes.
Since launching the COVID-19 Relief Fund in May, National Farm to School Network has awarded a total of $120,000 to 24 organizations across the country. More information about additional awardees can be found here. Our COVID-19 Relief Fund has been made possible by the generous support of small donors like you who share our vision of farm to school and farm to ECE programs supporting strong and just local and regional food systems that strengthen the health of all children, farms, environment, economy and communities across the country.
This round of funding was made possible by donors like you and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Thornburg Foundation and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
Top L to R: Picuris Pueblo; E. E. Rogers SDA School; Charles W. Reid Help Center. Bottom L to R: National Women In Agricultural, Texas Chapter; Seedleaf, Inc.
WATCH: Horizon Summer Camp for Farm Fun & Education
This post is sponsored by Horizon Organic.
Summer looks different this year. Travel has been sidelined, vacations upended and summer camps cancelled. With more than 14 million campers and counselors heading to summer camps across the country each year, there’s a need to educate kids and help families get through these months.
To help fill the void, Horizon Organic has opened the barn doors to host Horizon Summer Camp - a virtual camp that brings educational content from Horizon Organic farms right into the homes of children across the country.
Bringing this program to life are Horizon Organic’s HOPE Scholars, a group of outstanding college students pursuing degrees in agriculture who are hosting these fun, educational activities that include milking cows and demonstrating creative ways to recycle. Over the past 12 years, the HOPE Scholarship Program has gifted nearly $160,000 to 55 college students pursuing a degree in agriculture and related fields.
The first day of camp officially kicked off on July 10, and the inaugural session is led by HOPE Scholar Shila who shows how to upcycle a milk carton into a bird feeder. Not only does the session show a fun, innovative way to repurpose Horizon Organic cartons, but there are step-by-step instructions on how to make a bird feeder, combining education and arts and crafts.
Earlier this month, the summer camp provided instruction to kids about cow milking. The interactive session takes you into the barn to see the cows first hand and has instructive components from teaching the campers what the six different types of cows we have in the United States are to how many times cows get milked a week. The program offers an all-encompassing, educational experience for the campers.
Last week, campers learned about organic dairy cows’ daily life. The routine consists of how much they eat and sleep each day and how long each cow is out at pasture. The good news is there is still learning to come. Rounding out the program, campers will be going on a full farm tour, bringing the various elements of the program together.
Horizon’s goal with the Summer Camp series is to foster curiosity about the environment and teach children about the role that healthy soil and best in class care for animals play in contributing to a sustainable future for all. This program is part of an effort that builds on Horizon Organic’s 30-year legacy of advancing the organic industry, supporting family farmers, and respecting the environment to provide the best dairy products possible.
Action Alert: Senate Must Do More For Kids, Farmers & Schools
Late yesterday afternoon, the Senate released their latest set of COVID-19 relief bills, a $1 trillion bundle of legislation covering business aid, money for schools and agricultural aid funding. Included in the legislation is $70 billion for K-12 schools ($46 billion is reserved for costs of reopening in-person school this fall), tax credits and Payroll Protection Program Extensions, and $20 billion in agricultural aid funding with no additional guardrails to correct the shortcomings of USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (see here and here). While we’re glad that Senators have recognized that our schools and farmers are in urgent need of critical funding support, this proposed legislation from the Senate falls far short of targeting the actual needs of our kids, farmers, educators and school nutrition professionals.
We need targeted policies that match the scale of this current crisis. Specifically, we need policies that directly support Black, Indigenous and small scale farmers, early care and education providers, and school food service operators – they all play a critical role in feeding and caring for our communities, and especially so during this pandemic. That’s why, as the Senate and House work out the details of this next round of COVID-19 relief, we’re calling on policymakers to:
- Fully fund universal free school meals, informed by these values, this next school year.
- Provide immediate funding support to early care and education centers.
- Create a set-aside small business relief fund for farmers of color.
- Waive the non-federal match requirement for local food and agriculture programs, including the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, for the next two years.
We are pleased to see some of these bold solutions already coming from the champions in the House and Senate. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) yesterday introduced the Small Farm to School Act, a bipartisan bill to pilot increased reimbursement for local procurement. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has included targeted support for Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color who grow vegetables and fruit, and a waiver of the non-federal match for USDA Farm to School Grants, in his Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets Act. Bills like these should be leading this round of COVID-19 relief from Congress.
It’s essential that your Senators hear from you about what your community needs right now to support kids, educators, farmers and school nutrition professionals. This legislation is expected to move quickly, so don’t wait - take this quick 5 minute action right now!
Already made your two calls? Sign-on to endorse our COVID-19 Federal Policy Platform that includes more measures we think the Senate must include to ensure immediate relief for the people most impacted by this crisis, while building towards longer-term policies that strengthen a resilient, just food system.
If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Instead of calling your Senators to discuss specific policies, share general information about farm to school experiences and needs in your community. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which we can all do!
Taking action right now, while this relief bill is in discussion, is especially crucial. Make your calls, sign-on to the platform, and forward this message to a friend. THANK YOU for taking a few minutes out of your day to make your voice heard.
The Last Mile
By Karen Spangler, Policy Director, and Erika Rincon, Program and Policy Assistant
Whether you’re a farmer, food bank or school serving meals to-go during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last mile is frequently the hardest equation to solve. It’s one that the USDA “Farmers to Families” program has aimed to cover, with $3 billion in contracts with vendors to provide nonprofits with “truck to trunk” food distribution. But as food banks and other community organizations apply for deliveries from the approved vendors, that last mile – getting the delivered food into the hands of the hungry – is turning out to be a considerable barrier. The CEO at the Food Bank of the Rockies says that distributing food donated through the Farmers to Families program is costing $40,000 per month just for transportation. Since May 15, the San Antonio Food Bank has spent more than $83,000 to store and distribute the food they’ve received from an event company that was awarded the USDA contract for the region.
Like food banks, schools all over the country have drastically altered how they feed kids during this pandemic, pivoting to outdoor distribution, grab-and-go pre-packaged food and social distancing in their kitchens. But the last mile for students – between food distribution sites and their front doors – can be the hardest. In the first few weeks of distribution this spring, some schools saw only a fraction of their usual free and reduced-price eligible students showing up to collect meals, sometimes attributing this to lack of transportation. So some schools mobilized their dormant fleet of school buses and drivers to deliver meals to distribution locations throughout their districts.
For low-income families who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or who have received Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) to feed their kids while school meals are unavailable, the expansion of online EBT purchases offers the potential to make purchases without risking exposure. However, in most states this expedited pilot includes only a few big retailers, leaving out local and regional producers who could serve this market. Moreover, online EBT customers do not have the option for pickup in many states, but delivery fees can’t be covered by SNAP or P-EBT funds (which must be used only for food). Immediate measures to help smaller retailers deliver during the pandemic, as well as long-term solutions to make sure all eligible retailers can accept online SNAP, have been proposed in Congress but not yet passed.
For those who are able to stay home, delivery services spare customers exposure from going into grocery stores with long lines or tight spaces. But the increasing reliance on convenient delivery means that the last mile – from the warehouse, grocery store, or restaurant – is served by workers who are risking exposure.
Food banks and local food pantries also face their own challenges in the last mile, the miles that patrons have to travel to access these distribution sites. A recent survey by Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, reported that 40% of clients are getting help from a food bank for the first time. For these new customers, first identifying and then traveling to a distribution location can be challenging, especially when avoiding public transportation. Some food banks have undertaken mapping projects to link customers with resources and help them find out what’s available in their area.
Farmers who relied on institutional sales to restaurants or schools have been left with a surplus in their fields, but for them, the last mile to the food bank is expensive and time-consuming. The cost of harvest, transportation, and navigating the patchwork of operating hours of local food pantries – often narrow windows of time, constrained by volunteers (many of whom are elderly at at high-risk) and a lack of storage capability at the distribution site – means extra difficulty in getting excess produce to its destination. New York state is trying to solve this problem through $5,000 refundable tax credits to farmers for donating crops, and $25 million in funds for food banks to buy from local and regional producers and invest in storage capacity. This approach is faster, more flexible, and more cost-effective than the federal Farmers to Families approach.
The “last mile” is often an afterthought in government programs, as evidenced by the Farmers to Families dilemma. COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to evaluate our supply chain and the security of our food system. During and after this public health crisis, public investments should increase the capacity of local and regional food systems to bridge that last mile.
We Need to Rebuild Our Food System. Schools Can Lead.
By National Farm to School Network and Urban School Food Alliance
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role schools play in our food systems, as a source of food for students, an employer of essential food service workers and a market for food producers. The pandemic also exposed the deep, pervasive inequities in our food system, including the devastating impacts COVID-19 had on those historically underserved.
Our food system is permeated with troubling disparities. Even before the pandemic, access to healthy food has been a challenge most pronounced for people of color who live in low-income communities. And since the onset of the pandemic, a survey has found that nearly 41 percent of mothers with children ages 12 and under reported household food insecurity.
Food system workers, who represent 1 in 5 essential workers, are predominantly people of color who often earn less than a living wage, and have been dying at higher rates from COVID-19 due to prevalence of underlying health conditions. Concerns exist that farmers of color, who make up less than 4 percent of the nation’s producers, are being overlooked in the US Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Combined, these inequities in our food system span urban, suburban and rural communities, the direct result of inequitable and inefficient policies and practices as old as our nation itself.
When, in March, nearly all 100,000 schools across the country closed their doors, there were herculean efforts to ensure that school children – nearly 75 percent of whom receive free or reduced price meals – continued to have access to food. Ensuring every child is fed must be part of our work to rebuild the food system. As conversations turn towards “what’s next” in responding to the pandemic, we have a tremendous opportunity to change our food system and ensure that every person along the supply chain – from grower to eater, is treated justly. To recover from the present health and economic crisis, we must relook at the critical role food plays in health, equity and prosperity in our communities.
Many approaches will be needed to do this work, and we’ve been heartened to see multiple ideas already shared. There is one approach we think deserves more attention: school cafeterias can be a major propeller of this urgent, needed change in how we eat. Here’s how:
School cafeterias are our nation’s largest restaurant chain. When school is in session, cafeterias feed 30 million hungry mouths each day. More than 7 billion meals are served annually through the National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast Program and more than $18.2 billion invested in these programs annually. With schools everywhere, focusing on school food supply chains means focusing on food in every community.
School meal funding recirculates in local communities. The collective purchasing power of school food service provides an opportunity to invest in local communities – both in the food purchased for meals, and in providing stable workforce opportunities. According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools spent nearly $800 million annually on local food purchases, and more than 42 percent of schools report engaging in farm to school opportunities. Every dollar invested in farm to school efforts stimulates an additional $0.60-$2.16 of local economic activity.
School meal infrastructure helps make communities adaptable during a crisis. During this pandemic, many schools have taken on the role of feeding entire communities. The existing infrastructure of school meals and the experience and ingenuity of school nutrition professionals has allowed them to meet this critical need. Furthermore, schools’ existing relationships with farmers have shown resilience during this crisis: a School Nutrition Association survey found that nearly a quarter of schools are supporting local agriculture and serving local foods in their emergency feeding programs. Simultaneously, we’re seeing support of local food systems continue to rise during this pandemic.
School meals are an investment in the future. This pandemic shows we are capable of cooperation and rapid change, and it is important this continues. Every community deserves a strong and just local food system and we must continue to leverage our collective energy for equitable change as we rebuild by seeking opportunities for collaboration and action amongst schools, growers, producers, governmental agencies and community advocates. Investing in school meals is smart and a proven strategy for whole-community health, economic stimulus and resilience. School meals must be part of the conversation as we talk about the future.
Learn more at www.farmtoschool.org and www.urbanschoolfoodalliance.org.
Federal Policy Update: A Big Budget Win & More Opportunities to Champion Farm to School Through COVID-19
By Karen Spangler, Policy Director
On July 9, the House Appropriations Committee advanced its agricultural spending bill for Fiscal Year 2021. The package provides $12 million in funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, a discretionary bump of $7 million above the annual mandatory $5 million level. In addition, it allocates discretionary funding for school kitchen equipment grants, outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), and the Food Safety Outreach Program. This is a huge win for farm to school, and follows USDA’s recent announcement of a record 159 Farm to School Grant awards, made possible by the additional funding secured by our Congressional champions through appropriations bills for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. The Senate is currently working on its own set of FY2021 spending priorities, which it must negotiate with the House before passing a final spending bill for the President’s signature. After those steps, this increased funding for farm to school will be official.
Of course, farm to school activities can’t take place without the strong foundations of a viable local and regional food system, school meal programs and CACFP sites that actually have the resources to invest in farm to school, and educators who are supported in using farm to school activities with kids. We’re pleased to have such strong champions in House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, including Chair Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who help make possible this important additional support. But to make the most of this future funding, we must address the immediate needs of stakeholders across the farm to school community that need relief now, and that will need support to rebuild in the years to come.
That’s why National Farm to School Network was pleased to endorse the Local FARMS Act, introduced July 2 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). This bill would waive the non-federal match required for USDA Farm to School Grants, covering 100% of project costs instead of the current 75%. As state and local budgets are squeezed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding scarce matching funds will no longer be a barrier to accessing these grants. The Local FARMs Act would also support local food systems as producers rebuild, in particular directing 50% of bonus Specialty Crop Block Grants to purchase crops from women, veterans, and people of color.
School meal programs and early care and education providers who participate in CACFP have borne the responsibility of transforming their operations to continue feeding kids, even as reduced reimbursements from federal programs put programs in the red at a median level of $200,000. The HEROES Act, passed by the House in May, contains two provisions that would help somewhat, offering funding to cover some operational costs and make up for declining reimbursements. But as the uncertainty and burdens of the COVID-19 crisis drag on, more groups are looking to universal free meals in the 2020-2021 school year, including the School Nutrition Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a new joint campaign, School Lunch for All, led by Urban School Food Alliance and Student Voice. Universal free meals would not only help ensure health and educational equity for low-income children, but would also allow school nutrition staff to focus on nourishing kids rather than worry about reimbursement paperwork in the midst of a crisis. National Farm to School Network is supportive of these calls for universal free meals, and urges that any new policies to emerge be rooted in racial equity and justice.
What’s next? Senate leaders face growing pressure to take action and pass more COVID relief legislation as the costs and uncertainty of this pandemic drag on. The good news is that there’s still time to shape what’s in this package - including many of the policy needs cited here in this post.
You can take action by:
1) Signing NFSN’s COVID-19 platform on federal policy response.
2) Urging your Senators to support the Local FARMS Act.
3) Telling your Senators that relief for school meal programs and CACFP sites must be part of any new legislation. (Need support reaching out to your Senator? Just let us know!)
4) Joining forces with groups pushing for immediate universal free school meals in the 2020-2021 school year.
Advisory Board Perspectives: Bertrand Weber
This post is part of National Farm to School Network's new series of interviews with members of our Advisory Board about the impacts, challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 has brought about for the farm to school movement.
Name: Bertrand Weber
Title: Director, Culinary and Wellness Services
Organization: Minneapolis Public Schools
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
First-year on the National Farm to School Network Advisory Board.
Betrand Weber joined Lacy Stephens, NFSN Senior Program Manager, to share insights on how the COVID-19 emergency has impacted school nutrition programs, what it has revealed about our food system, and how nutrition programs and communities have responded in the short term and are preparing for long term change.
“At its core value, from the beginning, farm to school was about making a connection
back to the food system for our students, providing our students with the best quality
food, reducing carbon footprint, and increasing local economies and sustainability,
those are still all there, none of that has gone away. We will have to adapt on how we
provide that to our customers, but at its core, that is still there and still a value we need to continue.”
– Bertrand Weber
Listen to the full podcast here:
Remembering Philando Castile, School Food Hero
By Noah Cohen-Cline – Lead Program Officer, Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation – and Helen Dombalis – Executive Director, National Farm to School Network
This blog originally appeared on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website.
Photo courtesy of Joan Edman, via TIME.
This week—July 6, 2020—marks the four-year anniversary of the police killing of Philando Castile, only a few miles from where George Floyd was killed in Minnesota, during a traffic stop on his drive home from the grocery store with his girlfriend and her young daughter. Philando was many things to many people; in a statement by his family, he was remembered as “an amazing mentor, supporter, friend, son, brother, and Man.”
And to hundreds of children at a small elementary school in St. Paul, he was “Mr. Phil,” the kind and devoted cafeteria supervisor who handed out meals and made sure that kids had the food they needed to thrive. According to his obituary and to reporting at the time, Philando loved his job, loved the children he served, and often paid for the lunches of students who could not afford them.
Philando—like so many other Black people who have died at the hands of police violence recently and throughout our country’s history—was a victim of institutional racism. Because Philando was a school nutrition professional, we also remember him as a champion of racial justice—because school food programs, and the thousands of workers who make them run, are a bedrock of equity in our food system.
We knew before the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent Black Lives Matter protests that our food system is rife with racial inequities and that the current public health crisis has only exacerbated them. Our nation’s economy and our agricultural system are built on a foundation of racism and exploitation. Beginning with the theft of indigenous land from Native people and then the enslavement and forced labor of Africans to build our country’s wealth, the way we grow and produce food and get it from farm to table—both historically and today still—relies heavily on the underpaid and undervalued labor of Black, Latinx, and Native American communities. These inequities in our food system contribute to economic and health inequalities: the same people that provide labor in our food system often can’t afford nourishing food for themselves and their families. As a result, Black, Latinx, and Native American communities are significantly more likely to face hunger and food insecurity than White individuals, and to suffer from diet-related diseases like diabetes.
School food programs play a central role in addressing this injustice. By serving 30 million children every day—22 million of whom qualify for subsidized meals based on family income—school meal and child nutrition programs are delivering critical nourishment to the children who have been most underserved by our economic and food systems’ structural racism. School food alone cannot dismantle systemic racism, nor can any food access program. But schools can play a critical role by providing the nourishment that all children, of every race and ethnicity, need to grow, learn, and thrive.
In addition to providing equitable food access, many school food directors are finding innovative ways to use their programs to drive equity and sustainability in the broader food system. Good Food Purchasing Programs in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other cities are using the collective market power of their school food budgets—totaling $18 billion nationally—to advance racial and social equity on farms and in food businesses and communities. National Farm to School Network’s early advocacy efforts for values-based universal meals—and the team of organizations and schools supporting this model—show promise for a national shift in how we spend our resources, and serve our children, to become a system rooted in racial equity and justice instead of the opposite.
School food heroes show up every day, motivated by the needs of the children they serve. They work tirelessly—often for unreasonably low wages and with limited training and subpar equipment—to serve our children nourishing meals. They’re serving balanced, nutritious meals on unrealistically tight budgets, and they have met the challenges of the global pandemic with innovation and devotion. They do this because they believe every child, everywhere, deserves to eat well and thrive.
Philando Castile was one of these heroes. As we remember his life and honor his legacy, let us also recognize and support school food programs and school nutrition professionals as the essential drivers of racial justice that they are.
View the original blog, posted on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website, here.