There Is No Food Justice Without Racial Justice

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

Racism is older than our country, and it’s long past time we change it. I, like many of you, have been grieving over the senseless murders of Black Americans for no other reason than the color of their skin. As a white woman in America, I know I would have walked away with my life while George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black Americans leave in body bags. I also know that I have a responsibility as the Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network and as a white woman in a position of privilege to not just be an ally for equity but an active participant in the fight for justice. We cannot stand by while Black people continue to lose their lives to police violence and racism.

My values and our collective vision at the National Farm to School Network support a food system centered on justice, and we know that we cannot achieve food justice if we're not willing to do racial justice work.

Our current food system is a legacy of exploitation and racism - land stolen from Native people, a US agricultural empire built on the backs of enslaved Africans, today’s farmworkers being predominantly underpaid immigrant and migrant Latinx workers, and many of the school food professionals that feed our kids being Women of Color who earn less than a living wage. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, People of Color and Immigrants are the backbone of our food system and ensure we can eat. They’re also a constant target of racist acts and violence.

If you are White, saying you are not racist is not enough. Institutional racism and structural racism are at play in our communities, destroying the fabric of human good, and we must dismantle this. Children of Color participating in school meal programs have been publicly shamed when they lack the funds to pay for their meals. Black and Latinx youth have substantially higher rates of obesity than their white peers, as do Indigenous youth. Our national policies do not equitably commit resources to feeding our children, our future. People of Color are disproportionately represented on the frontlines of COVID-19 response and in our food system as essential workers, and are dying at higher rates due to the prevalence of underlying health conditions - a direct result of systemic inequities in access to healthy food options, health care and safe working conditions. And in the case of police brutality and murder, People of Color are killed by police at higher per capita rates than White people. Structural racism allows these sobering statistics to become normalized, accepted and perpetuated.

Personally, as a mother, I am constantly fighting cultural racism, where Whiteness is idolized in books, movies, dolls and toys, undervaluing and dehumanizing People of Color. My daughter and I discuss how all people hope for our future, need the same love, and feel the same pain.

I am committed to leading the National Farm to School Network as an anti-racist organization. As a predominantly White-led organization, we cannot be silent allies. There is no food justice without racial justice. The lives of all Black people who have lost their lives to violence and racism matter. National Farm to School Network stands in support of those demanding police reform and justice, and I want you to stand with us. Speak up, act boldly and demand justice.  

On an individual level, here are things we can all do:

Racism will not stop, nor will our children and our future be more peaceful and something we’re proud of, unless we take action. #BlackLivesMatter.#DemandJustice.

Our 2020 National Partner of the Year: FoodCorps

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Though 2020 is anticipated to be a year of uncertainty and significant challenges, the National Farm to School Network continues to look forward. As always, we’re a national organization that is uniquely situated at the intersection of numerous sectors and communities. Networking and partnership building have always been at the core of our efforts, and they will continue to be so long after this crisis ends.

We understand that working together is integral to our success, and is essential to the growth and long-term sustainability of our vision for a just food system. That’s why, in 2017, we launched a “National Partner of the Year” program to strategically align and partner with other national organizations that share our goals of ensuring a nation of healthy kids, thriving family farms, and resilient communities. (Learn more about our 2017, 2018, and 2019 partners.) We know that in order to redesign our food, education, health, and economic systems with justice at the core, we must build a big tent of organizations working multi-sectorally as we do. And in light of the COVID-19 health crisis, we believe partnerships like these are more important than ever. Coordination, collaboration, and working together is key to meeting urgent needs and accelerating our work to ensure a just food system for kids, farmers, families, and communities.  

In 2020, we're pleased to be partnering with FoodCorps as our National Partner of the Year. FoodCorps is a national nonprofit that connects kids to healthy food in school. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced school closures, FoodCorps service members are helping with emergency meal services, remote food, and nutrition lessons that reinforce academic priorities, and garden cultivation for community building and local nourishment. FoodCorps is also mobilizing its nationwide network of partners and allies to advocate for policies that will help schools keep kids nourished through this crisis and beyond.

National Farm to School Network and FoodCorps already have a long history of collaboration. In 2010, National Farm to School Network was a founding partner of FoodCorps. NFSN had been founded several years earlier in 2007 to serve as a movement building, systems change, and advocacy organization, and recognized that it was also important to invest in direct service of farm to school efforts in communities through FoodCorps. Over the past 10 years, both organizations have naturally evolved and adapted to pressing needs and strategies towards our long-term visions: for National Farm to School Network, a just food system, and for FoodCorps, healthy food for all kids. What’s remained constant is partnership on many activities and projects - from advocacy days on Capitol Hill to story sharing during National Farm to School Month. So why focus on more intentional and coordinated partnership in 2020? Because we know that the visions of our organizations are urgent: we must act immediately and strategically to ensure that all kids - across all races, places, and classes - are connected to a just food system.

We are joining forces to bolster our advocacy and programming so that we can better serve our communities, especially those most impacted by an unjust food system. And while we didn’t start 2020 anticipating it, our work now is also focusing on how to meet the urgent needs of the school food community in the face of a global pandemic. Read here a post we’ve co-authored about how the COVID-19 pandemic has shown school nutrition to be essential to kids’ health and well-being, and why USDA must uphold strong nutrition standards and build on the progress schools across the country have made to serve healthy school meals.

National Farm to School Network and FoodCorps share a goal for the future where every child is able to be nourished by healthy food because their community food systems are thriving. We recognize that our collaboration at both the community and systems change levels towards this goal is what will accelerate our collective vision. It’s what the National Partner of the Year program is all about: leveraging our unique ideas, strategies, and resources towards a more just food system for all.

Learn more about FoodCorps on their website and social media channels:

And, stay tuned for opportunities to dig into this partnership with us throughout the rest of 2020!

FoodCorps and National Farm to School Network friends at the White House Vegetable Garden in 2016. From Left to Right: Cecily Upton (FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Strategist), Michelle Markesteyn (Rootopia and former NFSN Advisor), Curt Ellis (FoodCorps Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer), Linda Jo Doctor (W.K. Kellogg Foundation), Ricardo Salvador (Union of Concerned Scientists and NFSN Advisor), Anupama Joshi (National Farm to School Network Co-Founder and former Executive Director), and Jerusha Klemperer (FoodCorps Co-Founder).

Farm to School Without Borders: U.S. and Canada Movements

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Guest blog by Katie Kennedy, Farm to Cafeteria Canada contributor

On February 24, 2020, it was announced that Joanne Bays is transitioning out of her role as National Director of Farm to Cafeteria Canada. The organization has been an important driver of the farm to school movement in Canada, with a mission “to bring local, healthy and sustainable foods into all public institutions”. As co-founder of Farm to Cafeteria Canada, Bays has been in this role since its inception in 2011.
Being about a decade behind the U.S. farm to school movement, Bays has often looked to the U.S. National Farm to School Network for inspiration and guidance on how to navigate the movement in Canada. In doing so, a strong relationship was developed between Bays and Anupuma Joshi, the former Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network, as the two shared similar roles across borders. Today, the relationship between organizations continues to grow under new leadership, with Helen Dombalis as the current Executive Director in the U.S., and the soon to be determined National Director in Canada.

The key to this relationship has been that both organizations view farm to school as being without borders; meaning that these movements work with one another despite occurring in two separate countries, each with their own unique contexts and challenges. Still, the connection between the organizations has certainly played an important role in continuing to shape farm to school in each country. Bays mentioned how valuable it has been for her having someone out there doing similar work and leading the same kind of national movement, as they can mentor each other and share insights, expertise and strategies. Dombalis similarly spoke to the benefits of their working relationship wherein the two share metrics and evaluation methods, capacity building efforts and discuss the ways in which they embed all the values of farm to school into their roles, such as equity and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Despite the Canadian movement being the younger of the two, Dombalis mentioned a number of ways she has been inspired by Bays and farm to school in Canada.

She appreciates “[Bays’] visionary style of the number of people to include in the movement and illuminating conversations about messaging and strategies to involve new people in the movement.” She also applauds Farm to Cafeteria Canada’s work administering direct-to-school grant programs in Canada, and cites the organization’s successful partnership with the Government of Canada, as well as efforts to encourage embedding Indigenous ways of knowing into farm to school best practices, as sources of inspiration to the U.S. movement.

In turn, there is a great deal of work that has been done in the U.S. that has directly inspired Bays and the Canadian movement.

“I see the strength of the US network, the way they communicate and share information, ideas and resources. The way they track and evaluate impact and – importantly – I see advocacy efforts with positive results, even in the most challenging political and economic contexts. These efforts serve as inspiration we can apply here in Canada.”

Specifically, Bays and the Farm to Cafeteria Canada team have been able to look at the tools, information and resources available in the U.S. to inform their own activities. For example, Bays appreciated coming to understand the governance models of the US National Farm to School Network – particularly a national network of regional leads to inspire the movement in communities across the country. A similar model is now evolving in Canada to support a national community of practice for farm to school. Additionally, when Bays saw that the U.S. had created a map that illuminated national farm to school trends, and that it was catching the attention of policy makers, she was inspired to develop a similar map to reflect relevant activity in Canada.

Looking to the next chapter of farm to school in both countries, both Dombalis and Bays are encouraged by the strength of their organizations’ relationship and look to the future with positivity.

Dombalis spoke with admiration when reflecting on Bays’ announcement. “Her retirement is another example of how [Bays] demonstrates her leadership… [it] sends a signal that there are future generations that can contribute positively to the movement.” Dombalis hopes that the future leader embodies three main values that Bays stands for: 1) the value of partnership between Canada and the U.S. and a focus on connections; 2) being centered around equity and social justice; and 3) the importance of a whole-system approach, and the potential to use policy and advocacy as ways to transform systems for the better.

Likewise, while moving on to pursue a new chapter in her own path, Bays is excited to see the relationship continue between the Canadian and U.S. farm to school movements. She reflects that the two organizations have worked so well together on various events, such as conferences and linking their respective National Farm to School Month celebrations, and they share many common goals and values.

When asked why now is the right time to transition from her role, Bays responded, "You know the time is right when you can see the vision that was articulated by a group of brilliant and driven individuals coming to life. You know the time is right when thousands are rolling up their sleeves to close the distance between field and tray. You know the time is right when both the leadership and resources are in place to see this activity continue to blossom in the sun for years to come.”

It seems clear that despite a coming change in leadership within the Canadian movement, we can expect to see continued collaboration between Canada and the U.S. to support the future health of both people and planet, as the two countries embody “Farm to School Without Borders”.

Learn more about Farm to Cafeteria Canada at

This article was written by Katie Kennedy, BSc Food, Nutrition and Health – UBC. Katie has a strong interest in sustainable food systems and farm to school programs. She is passionate about food security, nutrition and the health of the planet. She is a contributor to Farm to Cafeteria Canada.