Creative Opportunities For Strengthening Farm to ECE Through Emerging Federal Funding Streams

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

By Sophia Riemer, Programs Intern

The latest round of federal stimulus funding - the American Rescue Plan (ARP) - will be infusing billions of dollars through the early care and education sector and food and agriculture systems in the coming months. While severely devastated by the COVID-19 emergency and subsequent economic crisis, both of these sectors are ripe with opportunity to build back with greater equity and resiliency. Farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) can be a component of building back better. States will soon be making decisions about how this funding will be used and now is the time to provide information to and build relationships with decision makers to convey the needs and desires of your community, influence equitable use of funds, and elevate opportunities for farm to ECE. The following information summarizes content shared on the May webinar (recording available here) through a partnership with the Policy Equity Group, the Food Research and Action Center, and the National Farm to School Network. These emerging funding streams and the immediate opportunities are also highlighted in this infographic.

Early Care and Education
There are two key funding streams in early care and education to note, the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG), also known as the Child Care Subsidy Program, and Head Start & Early Head Start (HS/EHS). CCDBG provides federal funding to states, territories, and tribes to be used for financial assistance to help eligible families to afford and access childcare. States are required to use a portion of funds to improve program quality or supply and quality of infant and toddler care, as well as provide professional development to providers. HS/EHS provides federal funding directly to local programs through a competitive grant process, with a focus on early learning and development, health and nutrition, and family engagement.

The ARP has created a huge opportunity via ample funding for early care and education. In addition, the funding is flexible and is meant for stabilization efforts, meaning it must be disseminated quickly.

Child Care Stabilization Funding ($24 Billion) and Child Care Assistance Funding ($15 Billion)
Child care stabilization funding, made available by the ARP, will go to both centers and family child care providers with the purpose of supporting ongoing operations and promoting stability. Funding can be used for a range of pandemic related needs such as operating expenses, personnel costs, rent, facility improvements, etc. States must obligate funds by Sept 30, 2022 and make payments by Sept 30 2023. Child Care Assistance Funding is flexible and will flow through CCDBG. Funds can be used to support quality, training and professional development, or infant care. States must obligate funds by Sept 30, 2022 and make payments by Sept 30, 2024.

There are multiple uses for stabilization funds that align with farm to ECE. Namely rent, including facilities maintenance and improvements through minor renovations (major renovations are not allowable), goods and services necessary to maintain or resume childcare including anything that will be necessary to a childcare program, and mental health supports for children and employees. For example, facility maintenance and improvements can mean better kitchen and food storage equipment and mental health support can mean investing in gardens and green spaces due to farm to ECE’s social emotional benefits. Additionally, it is encouraged to treat goods and services as a broad term to meet grantees’ needs, specifically shared services, food services, and other learning and eating specific activities.

When considering these funds, make sure to:

  • Learn about your state’s process for distributing CARES Act stimulus funding and check for ways to improve upon equitable design and distribution of funds.
  • Collaborate with partners on strategy development. Staying informed on what advocates in your state are already doing can help in this process.
  • Serve as an information resource for providers on allowable funding uses that align with farm to ECE goals.
  • Provide input on your state’s 2022-2024 child care plan, which outlines how childcare dollars will be spent, as this is an opportunity to institutionalize farm to ECE in the state childcare plan by showcasing coordination and partnerships.


Head Start and Early Head Start ($1 Billion)
Head Start also received additional funding through the ARP, translating to $400 more per Early Head Start child and $300 more per Head Start child. There is a great amount of flexibility with this funding, with goals to reach more families, prepare facilities for in-person services, and support Head Start employees. Community needs are a determining factor in the application and budgeting process so it is important to be informed on the perspectives of families and providers.

Opportunities for alignment with farm to ECE include purchase of kitchen equipment and supplies to support in-person meal service, enhancement of outdoor learning spaces, professional development on farm to ECE related topics, and other locally determined actions necessary to resume full in-person operations, which allows a case for farm to ECE by providing evidence of impact.

Make sure to locate your local HS/EHS grantees and your Head Start Collaboration office and begin to build relationships. Engage HS/EHS program directors and advocate for farm to ECE’s alignment with Head Start Program Performance Standards and the Early Learning Outcomes Framework via training, materials, and expertise. National Farm to School Network’s Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education highlights how farm to ECE elements can address these domains and standards.

Food and Agriculture
There are also opportunities specific to food and agriculture that can be utilized for farm to ECE, namely the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) and the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). These two programs are paired together as part of the local agricultural markets program that was created by the 2018 Farm Bill and have received additional funding through the ARP.

Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmer’s Market Promotion Program ($47 Million)
Both the LFPP and the FMPP can provide funding for organizations and programs that are looking to build their capacity to source locally and support the local food system. The FMPP provides support for projects like farmers markets, direct to consumer opportunities, and direct producer to institutional marketing. The LFPP funds projects that expand the capacity of regional food business enterprises that engage intermediaries for local products, such as food hubs. Due to relief funding, there is $47 million extra available on top of normal annual funding. These funds do not have to be used for COVID specific projects, leading to a high degree of flexibility for allowable projects.The additional funding most benefits early phase projects and organizations that purchase on a smaller scale as there is a reduced cost share of the normal 25% down to 10%. However, if organizations want to apply for a larger tranche of funding, they can still do so with a 25% match. The deadline for grant applications is June 21st.  

Specialty Crop Block Grant ($100 Million)
Specialty Crop Block Grant opportunities are administered directly to the state. These grants are able to fund development, promotion, infrastructure, and capacity for speciality production, research, and marketing in states. Normally, this funding cannot benefit individual businesses, producers, and organizations. However, this year there is significantly more flexibility in allowable projects than normal. Apply through your state by the June 11th deadline.

Health and Nutrition Programs
There are two funding opportunities within the federal food programs, one in the Child and  Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and one in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

CACFP ($42 Billion)
CACFP is a program that provides reimbursements to early learning program providers for nutritious meals and snacks to enrolled children. CACFP operators can procure local food directly from producers through avenues such as food hubs, farmers markets, and CSA models. Funds can be used for gardening items such as seeds, fertilizer, watering cans, rakes, etc. as long as the produce that is grown in the garden is part of reimbursable CACFP meals and snacks. State administrative funding can also be used to provide technical assistance and coordination of farm to ECE activities.

The USDA has issued a waiver that extends higher Tier 1 meal reimbursement rates to all family childcare homes. To be eligible for the higher reimbursement rate prior to the waiver, a program had to be in a neighborhood with 50% or more low income or free and reduced price meal enrollment at the neighborhood school. This eligibility waiver will lead to a significant increase in reimbursement, translating to an extra $53 per child per month, assuming breakfast, lunch, and snack are served in the program. This extra reimbursement can support efforts to improve quality food in early learning programs through farm to ECE.  

Enhanced WIC Produce Benefits ($490 Million)
WIC is a federal nutrition program that provides low income nutritionally at-risk pregnant women, infants, and children with vouchers for food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and health care referrals. There will be a four month fruit and vegetable benefit increase starting in June 2021. Benefits will rise from $9 a month for children and $11 a month for women to $35 a month for each woman and child. Benefits can be used at all WIC approved vendors, including farmer’s markets and roadside stands in some states. This benefit increase introduces opportunities for action as it may incentivize those who did not use their benefits at the farmer’s market previously because of time, cost, or other barriers.

To take advantage of this opportunity, learn more about the benefit increase and advocate to your state WIC agency to create and disseminate an outreach plan to increase WIC enrollment and perform outreach to early learning programs, parents, farmers markets and roadside stands.

Advocacy Opportunities
There are additional advocacy opportunities available with the ARP due to the funding’s allocation flexibility and broad goals which are highly applicable to stakeholders in the early care community. Upcoming opportunities include the ARP’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which presents $350 billion for local, territorial, and Tribal governments. Specific goals for the funding include assistance to households, small businesses, or nonprofits; premium pay for essential workers; and mitigation of pandemic-related budget shortfalls. Much will be left up to state and local governments on how to use these funds. There is also the State and Small Business Credit Initiative, which provides $1.5 billion to states to support businesses owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged people”, $1 billion for an incentive program to boost funding tranches for states that show robust support for such businesses, and $500 million to support very small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

There is opportunity for influence and advocacy as decisions are made around the funding by identifying goals that can support the childcare sector. Specifically, because this funding can address budgetary shortfalls, look for items that have been cut in budget cycles this year or last year due to the pandemic. There is also a large focus on how these funds can stimulate the economy, which aligns well with messaging around jobs and business ownership in the early care sector. Make sure to leverage existing relationships and the multiple avenues for advocacy outside of the nutrition space, communicating through state departments focused on small business and economic development.

Resources

This blog was originally posted on June 22, 2021.

Celebrating Pride Month: Recognizing Our (Chosen) Families

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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

By Sophia Rodriguez, NFSN Communications Intern

Happy Pride Month from National Farm to School Network! As we celebrate the global contributions of our LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two Spirit) family members, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and ancestors, this month and always, we want to highlight the importance of holding our communities in love and working together to inspire deeper connection. As an organization and network committed to cultivating an equitable and just food system, National Farm to School Network acknowledges and celebrates the vital influences that all families, chosen or otherwise, have on the work we do.

Whether your family is meeting on the couch to watch the Pride docuseries, gathering at the table to discuss your queer advocacy, cozying by the bookshelf to read books with positive and accurate queer representation, or mingling at the farmers’ market expanding your chosen family, there are so many ways to make celebrating Pride an ongoing tradition that lasts beyond the month of June.

It is fitting that the farm to school community – with our diversity of experiences, passions and expertise – will gather together in the coming weeks to blend our collective efforts in championing a more equitable food system for all folks, across all gender identities, sexual orientations, races and ethnicities, and the other multiplicities we each embody. National Farm to School Network’s Community Gathering will take place during this year’s Pride Month on June 23rd, and we hope that you and your family choose to participate! Happy Pride Month!

This blog was originally posted on June 14, 2021.