Action Alert: Two Opportunities for Farm to School in the Farm Bill

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The 2018 farm bill is back in action today. As the bill moves forward, we are thrilled to see that TWO of our farm to school priorities will be introduced as amendments to this legislation, and could be included in the final version of the Senate’s farm bill.

Senator Brown (D-OH), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Tillis (R-NC) & Senator Hassan (D-NH) Amendment #3179
Amends the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food. Current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request.

Senator Wyden (D-OR) Amendment #3129
Continues and expands to more states the Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables and allows participating states more flexibility in procuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Both of these amendments are crucial for advancing farm to school procurement in your communities. These amendments are a direct response to ongoing calls, letters, and story sharing from farm to school advocates like you. Please join us in one last push to help these important farm to school priorities make it across the finish line!

TAKE ACTION: Take five minutes right now to call both of your Senators and ask them to support these two farm to school amendments. Here’s how:  

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or look up contact information for your two Senators here.

Once you’re connected, leave a message like this:

Hello, my name is [______] and I’m a constituent of Sen. [______]. I understand the Senate is debating the 2018 farm bill this week, and I’d like to ask that the Senator vote YES on two important, bipartisan amendments: (1) Vote YES on the Sen. Brown, Sen. Collin, Sen. Tillis and Sen. Hassan Geographic Preference amendment (#3179), which would allow schools to prioritize local, fresh produce when procuring foods for school meals. And, (2) Vote YES on Sen. Wyden’s amendment (#3129) to expand the unprocessed fruit and vegetable pilot program. These two amendments would be a win for children, farmers, and communities across our state. Thank you for passing along this message to the Senator, and for your time.

If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Follow the same actions above, but instead of mentioning the specific policy asks, share general information about farm to school in your state and how you have had troubles with purchasing locally and/or how the pilot program has benefited you. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which all of us can do!

Local food procurement in our nation’s schools is more than a win for kids and farmers - it’s strong agricultural policy. Make your voice heard and help us ensure that these important farm to school priorities are included the farm bill.

USDA Announces 2018 Farm to School Grant Recipients

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Congratulations to the newest USDA Farm to School Grant Program recipients! USDA announced today that 73 communities in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Guam  have been awarded farm to school grants to explore, expand, or scale up their farm to school activities. The 2018 awards total $5.2 million, and will impact 2.8 million students.

While this year’s funding will reach 6,006 schools, there are thousands more eager to have access to these crucial funds. In fact, 296 communities submitted applications this grant cycle, requesting nearly $21 million — four times higher than current available funding.

That's why the National Farm to School Network is working with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congressional champions to strengthen this important grant program and support other farm to school priorities with the Farm to School Act. While the Farm to School Act has not been incorporated into current drafts of the farm bill, we’re continuing to work with our Congressional champions to find a legislative path to move these priorities forward.

Your voice is crucial in this ongoing work to advocate and advance farm to school at the federal level. If you haven’t yet done so, please take 2 minutes to add your name to our citizen sign-on letter and/or organizational sign-on letter in support of the Farm to School Act. And, continue sharing your #farmtoschool stories and successes with your members of Congress and on social media.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Join us in calling on Congress to continue and expand its support for this highly impactful program.

New Resources to Make Your Case: State Farm to School Networks and Positions

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Hannah McCandless, NFSN Network and Partnerships Fellow

The National Farm to School Network’s Strategic Plan for 2017-2019 includes three strategies for farm to school at the state level: policy, networks and positions. These strategies have been shown to increase the capacity of the National Farm to School Network’s Core and Supporting Partners and farm to school practitioners across the country, and to expand the breadth of farm to school activities nationwide. Since our founding in 2007 the National Farm to School Network has maintained a State Farm to School Legislative Survey that documents all proposed and enacted state farm to school policies, as well as best practices for state advocacy. We are pleased to announce the release of two new companion resources: the State Farm to School Networks Toolkit and the State Farm to School Positions Guide. Used together or separately, these three resources support farm to school stakeholders from every state and territory leverage proven strategies to grow and sustain the farm to school movement.

The State Farm to School Networks Toolkit is a compilation of network development tools, best practices, case studies, analysis, and tangible examples of how individual states are building teams to grow their statewide farm to school efforts. State farm to school networks are key to bringing together diverse sectors and stakeholders and to creating a united voice and set of priorities to propel the movement. But just as farm to school is not a one-size-fits-all model, nor are state farm to school networks. While each state farm to school network is unique, our research found that many share a set of best practices that facilitate growth at the state level and in turn support the national movement — what we call the Six Seeds of a Successful State Farm to School Network. The toolkit expands on each “seed” with a detailed look at the implementation of these best practices and examples shared by our Core and Supporting Partners, including starting a farm to school network, leveraging partnerships, and developing lasting and effective networks.

In addition, the toolkit includes a primer on general network models and development, four case studies highlighting successful tools and tactics, and an analysis on challenges for and the future of state farm to school networks. Throughout this resource, you’ll find a plethora of practical examples and useful tools that can help increase capacity and involvement in growing farm to school efforts in your state or territory. Explore the full toolkit here.

The State Farm to School Positions Guide aims to help stakeholders strategically advocate for the creation of more state farm to school positions in state agencies and university Extension programs. The guide includes an extensive list of all known farm to school positions, both full- and part-time, in state agencies and university Extension; case studies highlighting the development, evolution, successes, and challenges of positions in four states; analysis of trends in developing state positions; and several example farm to school position descriptions.

Across the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories, there are 157 farm to school positions (part-time and full-time), with 98 housed in state agencies and 59 in university Extension offices. The majority of state agency positions are based in Departments of Agriculture and Departments of Education. Positions based in Departments of Health, Social Services, and Environment also exist, though are not as common. The total full-time equivalent of all farm to school positions adds up to 86.975, a significant increase from 28 FTE documented in 2015. Although the majority of states and territories have at least one position focused on farm to school, more often than not, positions are only dedicated part-time to farm to school. The cases studies, analysis of trends, and example position descriptions in this guide give stakeholders the tools and information they need to advocate for the creation of new and expansion of existing farm to school positions in their states and territories. Explore the full guide here.

Together, the State Farm to School Networks Toolkit, State Farm to School Positions Guide, and State Farm to School Legislative Survey work as a trio of resources to support states and territories in growing and institutionalizing the farm to school movement. The strategies outlined in these three resources are also mutually supportive: state networks can be instrumental in helping shape goals for state farm to school policies; state policies can dedicate funding for farm to school programs and positions; and state agency and Extension positions are important stakeholders in state networks.

Currently, there are 29 state farm to school networks, 29 states with at least one full-time farm to school position, and 33 states with funded farm to school legislation. Preliminary data analysis suggests that states that have at least one of these strategies have higher state-wide participation in farm to school. That’s good news for the farm to school movement, and a good reason for farm to school advocates in every state and territory work towards these impactful strategies. Whether your state is already implementing these strategies or just looking to get started, we hope you’ll find new and useful information in these new resources to keep your state and territory farm to school efforts going. As the National Farm to School Network's tagline encourages, let’s employ these strategies to continue growing stronger together!

Evaluating Oregon’s Farm to School Policy

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

As the farm to school movement has taken root in communities across the country over the past 20 years, so have efforts by U.S. state and territory legislatures to propose policies that support local procurement, school gardens and food and agriculture education in their states. In the last 3 years alone, over 200 farm to school policies have been proposed in state legislature and territories, which represents an important move toward the institutionalization of farm to school by generating awareness, building coalitions, and taking ownership of farm to school growth and implementation. But how do we know what makes state farm to school policies effective in programmatic implementation?  

To build on existing information about policy best practices, we partnered with RTI International to document and analyze one of the country’s most ambitious state farm to school policies. Oregon has been a pioneer in institutionalizing farm to school programs, and their legislative efforts to support local procurement have resulted in a total of $4.5 million in grants to 124 school districts. Our new report, State Policy Development for Oregon’s Farm to School Grant Program: Successes and Lessons Learned, examines the ins-and-outs of Oregon’s procurement policy efforts to provide an analysis of successes, challenges and lessons learned for future farm to school policy in both Oregon and other states and territories.

The study finds that Oregon’s farm to school legislation has been overwhelmingly successful in meeting its intended impacts, especially as they related to the effectiveness of the farm to school grants in providing access to locally grown, nutritious foods to school districts, principally low income. However, the process of conducting the study also revealed some challenges with the legislation, such as with logistics, purchasing strategies and grant administration. Farm to school policy advocates in other states and territories can learn from these findings to support their own policy efforts. The four overarching lessons from this study include:

  • Importance of Inclusion: Not all school districts were able to participate in the Oregon Farm to School grant program when it was a competitive grant program. When the program was converted to an opt-in program and distributed grants to schools based on their number of school lunches served, participation increased among low-income school districts, distributors, and farmers.
  • Importance of Training: Although school districts may be somewhat familiar with administrative processes related to grants, the claim process for accessing the reimbursements through this grant program was significantly different, and districts would have benefited from additional training.
  • Preparation of Implementing State Agencies: State agencies that will be implementing the state policies must be on board and adequately staffed to ensure timely processing of claims and provision of technical assistance.
  • Clarity in Bill Language: The language of any farm to school legislation must specifically target the intent of the farm to school policy. For example, through this study, we learned that during the early implementation phase school districts were purchasing milk and bread produced in the state using grant funds. Although these were local products, schools were already purchasing them before the grant was available. Evolution of the policy resulted in new language that restricts “prior purchased processed or produced foods,” which now fully ensures that the grant funds go toward purchasing new locally grown and produced Oregon products, thereby stimulating the state’s economy.

Evaluating the effect of policies on program implementation is important for understanding policy successes and areas for improvement. This analysis of Oregon’s legislative efforts helps provide new information about the effectiveness of state policies that support healthy eating activities through a combination of targeted funding streams and state agency support. We hope its findings serve as a useful tool for policy advocates nationwide, as we together continue to strengthen state and territory legislative support of important farm to school efforts. Read the full report here.

This project was funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on RTI International’s website.