Farm to School Act of 2019 Introduced in Congress

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Farm to school activities have been proven to help students build healthy eating habits and support family farmers by expanding market opportunities. Today, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders demonstrated their support for growing farm to school programming across the country by introducing the Farm to School Act of 2019 (H.R. 3562, S. 2026). The bill, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), David Perdue (R-GA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), will expand funding for and programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, farmers, nonprofits, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods – including fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, dairy and other products – for school meals and to support farm to school activities like farm field trips, hands-on science classes and new food taste tests. Since making its first awards in 2013, the program has received more than 1,900 applications requesting over $141 million in support. With only $5 million in mandatory funding available annually, the Farm to School Grant Program has been forced to turn away roughly 80 percent of qualified applications. The Farm to School Act of 2019 would allow more impactful projects to be realized by:

  • Increasing annual funding to $15 million and increasing the grant award maximum to $250,000.
  • Advancing equity by prioritizing grants that engage diverse farmers and serve high-need schools.
  • Fully including early care and education sites, summer food service sites & after school programs.
  • Increasing access among tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2019 here.

Organizations that have endorsed the Farm to School Act of 2019 include the National Farm to School Network, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Heart Association, FoodCorps, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Education Association, National Farmers Union and Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.

The USDA Farm to School Grant program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 - the last Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR) to pass. This was a major victory for the farm to school movement, as it was the first time federal legislation specifically mandated funding and support for farm to school efforts. Since the creation of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, we’ve seen high interest in participating from communities across the country, and have heard many stories of how the program has helped launch new farm to school activities. We’ve also heard your feedback on how the program can be improved and expanded to continue supporting equitable and sustainable farm to school efforts. Earlier this year, we hosted a CNR Listening Session Series to capture your thoughts on policy issues like this in order to directly inform our CNR priorities. The specific policy changes proposed in the Farm to School Act of 2019 are the results of your shared feedback.

The Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids Eat Local Act (also recently introduced) are two important bills that can strengthen farm to school in the next CNR. Federal policy like CNR is so important because it helps ensure that farm to school efforts aren’t a fad, but a long-term, viable strategy for ensuring the health of our nation’s kids, farms and communities. But federal policymaking can be slow moving. You may recognize that this is not the first time congressional champions have introduced a Farm to School Act - it was also introduced in 2015 and 2017. While there’s no guarantee that CNR and these bills will pass in this Congress, it’s imperative that we’re prepared to advocate for the priorities that are important to the farm to school movement.

We need your help. Policy advocacy takes all of us, and your voice is critical in this process. Here’s what you can do today to help.  

Organizations: If you represent a school, nonprofit organization, business or advocacy group interested in supporting farm to school in the next CNR, please add your organization’s name to our organizational sign-on letter to Congress, expressing your support for the Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids Eat Local Act. Sign-on here.

Individuals: Are you a parent, teacher, farmer, concerned eater? Sign-up to stay up-to-date on important individual action opportunities coming this summer. Add your name to our list and will let you know how you can support these important federal policy opportunities. Sign-up here.

Learn more and stay engaged: Education and engagement are two of the most important factors in making our collective advocacy efforts effective. Help prepare for our big CNR advocacy push coming this summer:

Work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby? You can still make a difference! While you can’t make specific policy asks, you can (and should!) share general information about farm to school in your state and how the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has been successful. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which all of us can do! Any of the educational engagement opportunities above are a great way to be involved in CNR.

Have questions about CNR or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Chloe Marshall, Policy Specialist, at chloe@farmtoschool.org.

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

New Local Food Purchasing Guide from NC Cooperative Extension

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

This post is part of our Farm to ECE Procurement Blog Series, which is devoted to the many ways that early care and education sites connect children and their families to local food and local food producers. Read previous posts in this series here. Have a farm to ECE procurement story to share? Contact Lacy Stephens at lacy@farmtoschool.org.



Guest blog by Dara Bloom and Caroline Stover

Are you ready to purchase local food for your center, but you don’t know where to start?

We are excited to share a new resource from the Kellogg-funded Farm to Early Care and Education project in North Carolina all about local food purchasing! This NC Cooperative Extension publication will be useful for child care centers and technical assistance providers who are trying to figure out the best way to purchase local food for meals and snacks for their centers. We based this publication off of the experiences of the 12 child care centers in 10 counties that participated in the North Carolina Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ Farm to ECE project in 2017. Working with these centers, we found that there was no “one size fits all” answer to how to most easily purchase local food for meals and snacks. Each center completed a self-assessment to determine what was most important to them, and used new or existing partnerships within their community to figure out what local food options were available to them. The result was a variety of different ways to purchase local food, depending on their priorities and local context.

It can be hard to provide guidance to centers and technical assistance providers about local food purchasing when it depends so much on their context and what their priorities are, but we took what these centers learned and created a short guide that walks you step-by-step through what to think about as you start to purchase local food. Here are some highlights of the tips and resources that we share:

How do you define “local”?
Since there’s no set definition for local, we encourage centers to first think about what they value most about purchasing local food to help them create a definition. It’s also a good idea to engage parents and staff in determining what will count for local for you. For example, you might want to stick with farmers within your community, or you might feel comfortable with a more regional definition or statewide. Some centers choose to support certain types of farmers with their purchases based on race or gender. Whatever you choose, make sure you communicate your definition to your community and your vendors.

What local food option is best for you?
We’ve developed a decision tree along with a description of several different types of vendors who sell local food to help you decide which vendor works best for you based on your capacity, needs, and preferences. The decision tree asks you to consider whether you need food for meals or just snacks and taste tests, how many children are in your center, what your storage capacity is, and whether you want to have a direct relationship with your farmer or you’re comfortable working through a third party to purchase local food. For centers who don’t want to create a new purchasing account, we encourage them start where they already purchase, whether that’s a distributor or grocery store. But remember, purchasing local food is going to require some relationship-building and investment no matter what vendor you choose!



How can you expand the market for local farmers?
Sometimes centers order very small volumes of produce, especially when they choose to start small and only need enough for snacks or taste tests. While this is a great strategy to help centers get their feet wet with local food purchasing and integrate it into their kitchens and classrooms, these small volumes aren’t enough to support a farmer in the long run. In addition, farmers may not want to go out of their way to deliver a small volume, since it doesn’t make much sense for them economically. However, there are a lot of ways that you can work to help make the market more profitable. For example, if you can work with other centers and place orders together, you can order higher volumes. Don’t forget that you can also advertise to parents and staff as another potential market. This may mean offering your center as a CSA drop-off point (Community Supported Agriculture, see https://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for more information).  It can also help a farmer if you advertise who you purchase from so that parents can look for those farmers in other markets. Finally, consider talking to your local farmer about purchasing “seconds”, or smaller sized products that they might have a hard time selling in other markets.

To see the full guide and the decision tree, as well as other resources, check out: go.ncsu.edu/f2ecelocalfoodpurchasing.

"Kids Eat Local Act" Introduced in Congress

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021


Institutional markets represent some of the most lucrative and dependable options for America’s family farmers and ranchers – unfortunately, they can also be among the most challenging to break into. The Kids Eat Local Act (H.R. 3220, S. 1817), introduced today by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), would help to break down barriers between school food purchasers and family farmers by simplifying local purchasing guidelines for school meal programs.

By including the Kids Eat Local Act in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, schools would be given a new, easier to use local product specification option through which they could specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language, and then make the award to the lowest bidder who can meet that product specification.The addition of local product specification would substantially improve opportunities for local producers by providing more flexibility for school districts. The Kids Eat Local Act would also allow schools flexibility in determining the definition of “local” that best suits their needs.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition thank the bill sponsors in both the Senate and House for introducing the Kids Eat Local Act and paving the way for increased healthy food in schools and new economic opportunities for local farmers. We urge all members of Congress to support this simple, yet significant change and look forward to continue working with our partners and allies as this bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization move forward.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Kids Eat Local Act here.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2019 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.


New Policy Handbook for Farm to School Advocates

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021



Farm to school legislation is a key strategy for making local food procurement, school gardens, and food education a reality for millions of children, farmers, and communities across the country. That’s why state farm to school policy, alongside statewide farm to school networks and state-supported farm to school positions, is one of the three core strategies National Farm to School Network prioritized in our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan to help partners advance and strengthen the farm to school movement in their states. We’re excited to share a new resource to help partners and advocates in these efforts: the State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2018.

Co-authored by the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, the State Farm to School Policy Handbook summarizes and analyzes every proposed farm to school bill and resolution introduced between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2018, from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. It enables users to search bills by both jurisdiction and topic, and includes analysis of trends, case studies, advocacy resources and more.

What’s new in this edition?
The State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2018 builds on a survey that was originally released in 2011, and updated in 2013, 2014 and 2017, and was previously called the State Farm to School Legislative Survey. New features in this edition include: new research, with farm to school policies from the U.S. territories; new scope, taking a targeted look at legislation that explicitly advances the core elements of farm to school; and, a new name, which better describes the robust content – including case studies, best practices, analysis and more – available in this resource.

What are the highlights?
Between January 1, 2002 and December 31, 2018:

  • 46 states, DC, and one territory have introduced legislation supporting farm to school activities.
  • 453 bills and resolutions were introduced. Of those, 209 passed.  
  • The most common bill type has been one that provides funding for farm to school - 119 such bills have been introduced. These bills include annual appropriations, permanent funds, and other revenue streams.
  • 25 states have passed comprehensive farm to school legislation, which includes funded grant programs, funded coordinator positions, or funded local procurement incentives.
  • Best practices for structuring strong legislation include securing sustained funding, identifying the motivation behind the bill, and establishing an evaluation process.



How can advocates use the Handbook?
The time is ripe to leverage relationships and advocate to expand farm to school through state legislation, and the State Farm to School Policy Handbook is a valuable tool you can use to approach policy in ways that makes sense for your state. Whether your state is still working to pass its first farm to school legislation or ready to expand, you can use this Handbook to gain knowledge of the wide variety of farm to school policy options that exist and find inspiration and models that can be adapted to meet your states needs. The Handbook also allows you to compare your state’s farm to school laws, policies and programs to those of other states. And, check out the five case studies that analyze successful farm to school advocacy efforts and compare how different states have tackled farm to school policy opportunities with different approaches. These case studies provide a great snapshot of the stories and partnerships behind successful policy efforts – use them as a spark of inspiration to motivate your next policy idea!

State-level farm to school policy work is driving a broader expansion of farm to school across the country. Simply put, strong laws facilitate strong programs. The State Farm to School Policy Handbook is designed to offer farm to school advocates like you a roadmap to learn about and compare existing, potentially replicable state farm to school laws, policies and programs in order to advance new legislation in your state. So dig in, and start exploring the opportunities!

EXPLORE THE HANDBOOK

Have questions about this new resource or need a thought partner on how to connect with your state lawmakers? Don’t hesitate to contact our Policy team for support! We look forward to hearing how your advocacy efforts continue to grow the farm to school movement, state by state.

The State Farm to School Handbook: 2002-2018 is co-written by National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School (CAFS). This project is funded by the National Agricultural Library,
Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.


NCAT and NFSN Awarded USDA Cooperative Agreement

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021


The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and National Farm to School Network (NFSN) are pleased to announce our partnership with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Community Food Systems (OCFS) to develop farm to school trainings for agricultural producers.

The goal of the partnership is to help agricultural producers build their capacity to launch or expand efforts to market to schools.

Gwen Holcomb, director of the project for OCFS, announced the farm to school training and curricula cooperative agreement on May 21. She noted that this is an important project for the agricultural producers who can grow, produce, and distribute food for Child Nutrition Programs in schools and school districts. “With more than 30 million students participating in the National School Lunch Program each day, schools provide a large, stable, long-term market for producers,” said Holcomb.

To assist producers in entering this market, NCAT and NSFN will conduct a needs assessment among agricultural producers in collaboration with state agencies (SAs) and then develop curricula. We will promote and execute trainings that use a tiered, train-the-trainer approach.

This national three-year, $1.8 million project will be co-managed by NCAT and NFSN. NCAT, headquartered in Butte, Montana, has over 40 years of experience providing training, education and technical assistance in sustainable agriculture, local food systems, and energy efficiency and conservation. NSFN is a national information, advocacy, and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing, school gardens, and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. Assisting with the needs assessment and project evaluation are independent evaluators from New York University.

“We are so pleased to be part of this national effort to help producers access and enhance their marketing to schools and to get more healthy, local farm products in school cafeterias,” said Devona Bell, NCAT’s Sustainable Agricultural Program Director.

“Schools across the country are eager to purchase from local producers and put more fresh food on students’ plates,” said Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director. “This project provides a much-needed opportunity to educate and engage more farmers and producers in market opportunities with schools. When schools buy from local producers, it’s a win for kids, farmers and communities.”

Read the full press release here.


Reflections from the Road: Power of Procurement Summit

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director


There could not have been a more invigorating way to spend my first few days as National Farm to School Network’s (NFSN) new Executive Director than with mentors, colleagues, partners and collaborators at the Power of Procurement: Good Food for our Future summit. Hosted by the Center for Good Food Purchasing with the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the summit brought together food systems leaders from across the country to strategize on advancing institutional procurement that supports “good food” economies - ones that are healthy, ecologically sound, socially responsible and humane. While I did some live tweeting in Chicago (find me at @helen_dombalis), I want to share additional thoughts from the summit in a longer form. My mind is bursting with inspiration, and I’m buzzing with new ideas for NFSN’s next phase - which we’ll need your help to make happen. Here are the big picture themes I’ve taken home and my thoughts for how NFSN will continue to leverage its role in this wider “good food” movement to maximize the power of procurement.  

Have a vision and set a direction.
Visioning makes all the difference in realizing change. This was a theme shared over and over during the summit. Linda Jo Doctor (W.K. Kellogg Foundation) offered that through the process of visioning, we build “an awareness of what’s not working…but it doesn’t get caught there.” Visioning allows us to identify a direction to move in to create change. At NFSN, we envision a nation in which farm to school programs are an essential component of strong and just local and regional food systems, ensuring the health of all school children, farms, environment, economy and communities. It’s a vision that we work towards every day with support from people like you. And as we’re developing our next Strategic Plan for 2020 and beyond, it continues to be our goal to turn this vision into reality.

Back up your vision with data.
Good data helps prove that our vision matters, and illustrates the need for others to join and invest in our work. At NFSN, we know this is true: data helps tell the story of the opportunities and impacts of farm to school. But in order to create the systems change we seek, we need to keep pushing for more proof of concept across the movement. For example, I’m dreaming of the day we can say with data: Invest $5 million in farm to school now, and in two decades, we’ll see billions in savings in healthcare costs. Anecdotally, this is something that we already know is true. As Gary Cohen (Health Care Without Harm) noted at the summit, “Our food system is bankrupting our healthcare system.” Let me know if you want to invest in my data dream.

Words matter.
We were convened by the Center for Good Food Purchasing to talk about “good food” procurement. As Marion Kalb (Jefferson County Public Health Department and Co-Founder of NFSN) pointed out, when a producer or distributor is approached about getting involved, what does the language of “good food” convey to them? This is similar to a question that our NFSN team has been pondering. Just as there are underlying values in the phrase “good food”, what are the underlying values in “farm to school”? We recognize that the words we use (as well as the words we don’t use) signal our values, and we have to be more intentional about making sure our words match our values. For example, NFSN’s equity commitment statement is not embedded in our mission statement and is less-than explicitly included in our core values. This is something I’m eager to change. NFSN is committed to equity. Our mission and core values must express this without reservation.

Programming matters, too.
Another big takeaway for me at this summit came from Ricardo Salvador (Union of Concerned Scientists and NFSN Advisory Board member). In his keynote, Ricardo used an example of how programming efforts can flounder if they don’t go as far as possible to acknowledge injustices and work to address them. NFSN’s Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy is a great way to check ourselves on maximizing impact to advance equity. For example, it’s one thing to kick off a meeting with a land acknowledgment, recognizing the traditional inhabitants of this place, who stewarded the land for generations before European contact and colonization. But the acknowledgment falls short if we don’t also tell the history of unjust structures and policies behind the land we meet on, such as the forced removal of Native peoples. (The policy was literally called the Indian Removal Act.) Janie Hipp (Native American Agriculture Fund) also reminded us that “we have to stop asking who’s missing and start inviting them to be here.” I’m committed to channeling these actions into future NFSN convenings. (Speaking of, save the date! We’ll be gathering in Albuquerque, NM, April 20-24, 2020.) Actions can speak louder than words, and that’s especially true in program design. As a movement builder, NFSN's actions serve as an important model for our state partners, and this extends into addressing racism and inequities in farm to school and the food system.

Investment spurs innovation.
Shifting the food system means shifting the spending. NFSN will continue working with schools and in early childhood settings to shift their purchasing power, but should also work with our partners at USDA to shift theirs. Envision with me: what could we accomplish if we embed good food values into the federal government’s commodity program purchases? As Haile Johnston (The Common Market and NFSN Advisory Board Vice Chair) challenged, “This is our money. So how do we hold decision-makers accountable [to spend that money in ways that] nourish our communities?” Here are a few more ideas: what if we regionalize USDA Foods so that school and other participating institutions aren’t just purchasing 100% American-grown, but 100% American-grown within their geographic region, from farms that support and invest in the land, the laborers and the local community? And, what if we leverage the public-private financial investment strategies of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to go a step further than just healthy food access, to ensuring that this healthy food is also “good food”? How can NFSN and the farm to school movement work with others in this space to shift the demand and change the food system together? This kind of big-picture, systems-change visioning is one of the ways that I’m excited to contribute and lead as NFSN’s Executive Director. Your investment in our work helps spur the innovation and action needed to make big change like this happen.

Vision → Action
Paula Daniels (Center for Good Food Purchasing) elevated the importance of putting vision into action by quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt: “To reach a port we must set sail. Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift...We’re all in this boat together, so let’s set sail.” This sentiment perfectly aligns with NFSN’s tagline - growing stronger together - and encapsulates why I’m excited about NFSN’s future. I may be at the helm of NFSN, but I honor and appreciate those who set the course (like our Co-Founder and former Executive Director Anupama Joshi) and those who are in this boat with me. It takes all of us! We’re serious about the “Network” part of our name. Get to know our incredible partners, advisors and staff, and if you haven’t already, join our network. I hope that you’ll hop on board and join us in this important work - your voice, perspective and support are needed here! Check out what we accomplished together in 2018 and stay engaged as we continue growing stronger together!