Healthy kids are common sense, not a trend

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director

Investing in the health of our children is common sense, and "when you put money into school nutrition programs, you know it's going straight into kids’ mouths." That’s according to Donna Martin, School Nutrition Director for Burke County Public Schools in Georgia, and it rings true across the country.

Recent media coverage has questioned the importance of improving school meals as a strategy for supporting child health – one of the fundamentals influencing the work of the National Farm to School Network and our partners. Yet, thousands of communities across the country have experienced firsthand the significant impact farm to school initiatives have on creating a generation of healthy eaters. Here’s how we know that farm to school works:

Fruit and vegetable consumption is going up
“We're having a fruit and vegetable shortage because we've increased consumption so much," says Donna Martin of her schools in rural Georgia that feature local produce on the lunch menu. Studies show that farm to school activities improve early childhood and K-12 eating behaviors, including choosing healthier options in the cafeteria, consuming more fruits and vegetables at school and at home, consuming less unhealthy foods and sodas, and increasing physical activity. A study published just this month in the journal Childhood Obesity confirmed again that students are eating more healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, and that plate waste is not increasing.

Obesity rates are going down
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights cities, counties and states that have started to see their childhood obesity rates go down in recent years. They’ve observed that communities that take a comprehensive approach are making progress. Farm to school is a comprehensive approach. Not only are students exposed to healthy eating in school, but food education also travels home. Doreen Simonds, Food Services Director for Waterford School District in Ortonville, Mich., explains, “We hear back from kids and parents that they are trying new foods at home, going to farmers markets now, and using the Double Food Bucks too.” Through farm to school practices, we are laying the groundwork for reversing years of unhealthy lifestyles.

Education is key to fostering healthy choices
Farm to school programs provide experiential education opportunities for kids to taste, try, and eventually like new foods – to make choices for themselves. Farm to school is about creating positive food experiences for kids, with farm tours, cooking demos, school gardens, and farmers in the classroom. As quoted in the Huffington Post, Dora Rivas with the Dallas Independent School District – the second-largest system in Texas and 14th-largest in the country – has seen their farm to school program change everything from what kids are eating to the way they are learning. "We feel like children remember and are more excited about trying new foods when they actually experience it," Rivas said. "School gardens are a great way to introduce them to new foods."

Education is key to facilitating behavior change, and change requires time and patience. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 95 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standard requirements for school meals. More than 40,000 schools across the country have changed their approach to child health and food education by implementing farm to school activities. And farm to school continues to come up as a successful strategy to improve child nutrition again and again and again in Congressional hearings preparing for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act this year.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: students who are properly introduced to new foods through farm to school are more likely to adopt healthy eating habits, participate in their school's meal plan and are less likely to waste food, which results in a better bottom line for schools and healthier kids.

Creating change in the lunchroom – whether it be farm to school or the new nutrition standards – is never easy. But do we let our kids give up easily when they are trying something new? We don’t! We encourage them to keep trying, and teach them to be patient.

It’s just common sense to support our kids to be healthy in the same way!  

Farm to school shines at House CNR hearing

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate

A version of this blog also appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website.

On Tuesday, June 16th the House Education and Workforce Committee held its third hearing in preparation for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack was the sole witness addressing the question, “Child Nutrition Assistance: Are Federal Rules and Regulations Serving the Best Interests of Schools and Families?”

As it did in the first hearing in April, farm to school continued to shine as a successful strategy for increasing healthy food consumption in schools and at home, while also supporting farmers and strengthening communities.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – a champion of the Farm to School Act of 2015 – raised the importance of giving schools flexibility to include farm to school in preschool, summer food and afterschool programs. Secretary Vilsack responded that these additional venues for farm to school activities would not only supply children with the freshest products possible, but they would also provide farmers with a significant market opportunity and would keep school meal dollars in the community. If fully integrated into CNR, the Farm to School Act of 2015 will provide this flexibility and the support schools need to implement it.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) expressed concern that too few parents are involved in their children’s nutrition choices. In response, Secretary Vilsack noted that activities like school gardens – a core component of farm to school – get kids excited about fruits and vegetables, and kids bring that enthusiasm home to their families.

This is exactly what is happening in Burke County, Ga., where local grocery markets have asked School Nutrition Director Donna Martin to alert them to what local foods are being featured in the cafeteria and in lessons so they can stock up. Martin told legislative staff at a House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015 in April how grocery stores were selling out of local foods featured at school because kids are insisting that their parents purchase it at home too. The benefits of farm to school activities go far beyond the school cafeteria, and the Farm to School Act of 2015 can help ensure these benefits are extended to more communities across the country.

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 in CNR. Together we can make sure that the benefits of farm to school, highlighted in Tuesday’s hearing, are a key part of the conversation as this critical legislation is developed.

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

Dream big, find your crowd of supporters

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

by Marie Sayles, Projects and Partnerships Director for Barnraiser

The National Farm to School Network is partnering with Barnraiser, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to good food and farming projects, to elevate farm to school projects across the country. Visit our page at to learn more.

Do you have a big dream of starting or expanding an amazing school garden, food or farm project? So did Chef Hollie Greene, when she teamed up with Lu Sutton Elementary School to improve the health of an entire school community – children, parents, teachers and their families – by teaching basic cooking skills focused on vegetables and fruits first.
But school budgets are limited in how they can support food, farm or garden programs; even when the benefits of teaching children to eat well, grow their own food and connect with their local farms are now more apparent than ever. Traditional methods of raising money for extracurriculars can fall short, and while parent volunteers will come and go, building a community of supporters around a project is one way to secure dedicated funding and increase a project’s longevity.

Teaming up with Barnraiser

Together, Chef Hollie and Miguel Villareal, the District’s Director of Food & Nutrition and National Farm to School Network Advisory Board Member, worked with Lu Sutton Elementary to find their community of supporters on Barnraiser, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to good food and farming projects. They launched the Joyful 12 School Project with a hefty goal of raising $20,000 to bring to life their vision to teach an entire elementary school to cook and eat more vegetables together. And they did it!

Farm to school project ideas as small as $2,000 can be incredibly impactful for students, farmers and communities. What does your program need? To build a garden greenhouse, pay the nutrition education coordinator’s salary, design a new health and wellness curriculum, or get a farm to cafeteria collaboration off the ground? Crowdfunding could turn this idea into reality.

How to make the most of crowdfunding?

  • Define your farm to school project: Your project can be anything from a new greenhouse to after school cooking classes.
  • Find your CROWD: Make a list of EVERYONE who would be interested in seeing this come to life. This is your crowd!
  • Tell your story: Create a campaign page with photos, project description, simple budget and video.
  • Offer rewards: Pull together a great selection of rewards. Think school auction here! Gift certificates from local businesses, handmade thank you cards, classes or workshops, a box of fresh garden produce, a party or event tickets.
  • Spread the word: Invite your crowd to support the campaign by sending out emails, flyers, posting on Facebook, etc., and don’t be afraid to ask, ask, ask your extended community to support your efforts.
  • Expand your reach: Keep promoting until you reach your goal, then keep going! There is no limit to what you can raise if the campaign builds enough momentum.

Crowdfunding platforms are a great way to reach your local school community and a wider online audience that shares your desire to connect students to good food and local farmers to new market opportunities. Look for a platform that helps you find your crowd and offers support in promoting your campaign.

Chef Hollie Greene and Miguel Villareal serve healthy food samples at Lu Sutton Elementary School.

(Photo courtesy of JoyFondly)      

Why Barnraiser?

Raising money takes work and the team at Barnraiser is here to help! As your advisors, consultants and cheerleaders, we will review your project and give feedback before the campaign, then offer encouragement and suggestions as you work your way toward your goal. Our staff is comprised of professionals from the front line of the good food movement, including trained chefs, organic farmers, school gardeners and more.

We are committed to your success because we believe that your work is what is going to change our food system for the better. Our 70% project success rate doubles that of other crowdfunding platforms and our growing Barnraiser audience is ready to support your project, too. Discover successful Barnraiser campaigns including Lettuce Learns and Yountville Community Garden. Remember, when the community comes together and one farmer gets a new barn, the whole community gets better food. Let’s raise some barns!

Marie Sayles, Projects and Partnerships Director for Barnraiser, can be reached at Learn more and launch your campaign at

Passion, persistence, and patience in New Jersey

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Jaime Lockwood, Development Director

Photo courtesy of New Jersey Farm to School Network

Social media can be a powerful tool for change by connecting people with similar passions and complementary talents. Tony Kowalak and Steve Vande Vrede are a perfect example of this. Tony is the Sodexo Food Service Director in the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District of central New Jersey. Steve is a farmer at Edible Garden in Belvidere, New Jersey. The two met in 2013 while participating in New Jersey Farm to School Network’s “I Tweet for Food” campaign. Noticing each other’s tweets about the importance of getting locally grown food in schools, they formed a partnership that is now bearing fruit.

Over the past several years, Tony has been an internal advocate for sustainable practices within Sodexo, a company that provides food services to schools across the globe. Tony has also been a farm to school advocate, and has worked to establish farm to school programs across his home state of New Jersey. Through this work, he became familiar with a project in Rhode Island where local producers and food service companies worked collectively and intentionally to overcome distribution hurdles and help local produce find its way into schools across the state. Tony was fascinated by the idea and wondered how New Jersey schools could leverage similar partnerships, particularly in the winter when local fields are dormant and food must be imported. When he met Steve, who specializes in greenhouse growing and produces year-round, the two began investigating what it would take to get Steve’s lettuce into schools across New Jersey.

Initially, the task seemed daunting. There were distribution channels that needed to be tweaked, liability insurance that needed to be increased and pilot school sites developed. With the help of others, including Beth Feehan of the New Jersey Farm to School Network and our New Jersey State Lead, Edible Gardens won approval by Sodexo and their primary distributor, PFG, to start moving Steve’s lettuce into a handful of school districts. Beginning in January, lucky students in East Orange, Long Branch and West Windsor-Plainsboro school districts began eating lettuce grown within their state – in the dead of winter.

This new partnership is a big victory for Tony, Steve and students in New Jersey. School food can be incredibly complicated, with many layers of funding and regulation that dictate what is served in the cafeteria. And, schools that work with distributors are often limited by what is available through their established partnerships. But, as this example in New Jersey shows, when schools, distributors and producers come together to bring more local options in to the lunchroom, students can enjoy fresh, local food year-round.

New Jersey State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher visits Catrambone Elementary School’s kitchen with students to see how local lettuce is used for lunch. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Farm to School Network)

Now that he’s been through it himself, Tony graciously shares his process with others to help them understand how they can overcome challenges facing their own local procurement projects. When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, he had this advice for people working to connect local producers with schools: “Passion, perseverance and patience is the winning combination,” he said. “Projects like this don’t happen overnight, but if you stick with it, you will ultimately prevail and know that you’ve done the right thing for kids and for farmers in your community.”

In April, a celebration was held at Catrambone Elementary School in Long Branch. New Jersey State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher and other representatives from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Sodexo management, and New Jersey farm to school champions visited the school to highlight the program and participate in a lunch where lettuce from Edible Gardens was featured. Tony, Steve and all those involved hope that their lessons learned and success will inspire similar partnerships and programs across the country.