Magic is Growing in Maine

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021



By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Less than ten miles from the US-Canada boarder in far eastern Maine, sits the Indian Township school garden and greenhouse. Against the odds of the region’s short growing season, coupled with torrential rains this past spring, and followed by a drought in late summer, magic is growing. Donna Meader-York, the school’s librarian and farm to school champion, shared that this year’s squash harvest from their Three Sisters Garden has been a point of pride for all involved. Additionally, Donna was excited to tell us that the bountiful squash harvest has had an unexpected but positive impact. “Weeds and insects are down with tons of bees. Tons of bees buzzing around the squash blossoms!”

The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops - winter squash, maize (corn), and runner beans - of several Native American groups in North America. Traditionally, the Three Sisters are planted together as companion crops. As the plants grow, they support and benefit from each other. The maize grows tall which gives the beans a structure to climb, and the squash vines out along the ground which blocks weeds and holds moisture in the soil. All the while, the beans add nitrogen into the soil, which the corn and squash use to grow. Delicious cooperation!

During the summer months, the produce from the Three Sisters Garden at Indian Township was donated to a local food pantry. Now that school is in session, each school garden harvest heads to the school kitchen. Donna told us that the spring rains delayed their corn and bean plantings, and that there is not much of a harvest from those crops this season. “There is a lot we learned with this garden, and we hope to get it right next growing season. Meanwhile, this winter, we are going to try to grow lettuce and spinach for our school salad bar in our newly repaired greenhouse!” The National Farm to School Network sees that the health of the soil, students, and entire community is growing in Indian Township, and we think that is pretty magical.


Indian Township School is the recipient of a National Farm to School Network
Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School mini-grant. Seed Change in Native Communities is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.

Farm to School Act of 2017 Introduced in Congress

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021


By Maximilian Merrill, Policy Director

Yesterday, members of Congress took the first step toward a major win for local economies, farm families and the health of our nation’s children. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2017.

The two identical bills, originally introduced in the last Congress, build on the progress of the farm to school movement by expanding the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofits, farmers, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods and to support farm to school activities in cafeterias, classrooms and communities. In its first five years, the program has received more than 1,600 applications totaling more than $120 million in requests. With only $5 million available annually, the program has only been able to fund 365 awards. In other words, demand for the program is nearly 5 times higher than available funding. The Farm to School Act proposes an increase in funding to $15 million annually to level this disproportionate ratio of demand to supply. In addition, the bill will also ensure that the grant program fully includes early care and education sites, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers, while improving program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  

We know that farm to school activities have proven to be an economic driver for local farms across the country. In the most recent USDA Farm to School Census, schools reported purchasing nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors in just one school year. Every dollar spent on local food generates up to an additional $1.60 in economic activity, indicating school districts’ local food purchases are driving over $1 billion in local economic activity. The Farm to School Act will expand these efforts by supporting the growth of farm to school activities in schools, while also ensuring that more farmers and local food producers can reap the benefits of these new market opportunities.

In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition - along with our network of supporters from across the country - successfully advocated for the creation of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. In 2015, we teamed up again to advance farm to school priorities in the reauthorization process of the Child Nutrition Act, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. While CNR was not completed in the last Congress, we scored major victories with key Republicans and Democrats supporting farm to school priorities through the process (see more here). This puts us in a strong position for federal policy wins with the reintroduction of this marker bill.

“Farmers have been struggling for years with a weak agricultural economy,” says Wes King, NSAC Policy Specialist. “One of the many benefits of farm to school programs is that they open up new, lucrative marketing channels to American producers. The Farm to School Act would create opportunities across the board – children win by gaining access to delicious local food and agricultural programming that is both fun and educational, schools and families win by helping children to maintain and/or improve their health, and farmers win by gaining new customers for their products.”

This grant program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Help us champion the Farm to School Act of 2017 and grow farm to school across the country. Here are five ways to get involved:

TAKE ACTION

  • Tell Congress you support the Farm to School Act of 2017 by signing a letter of support as an individual or on behalf of your organization. (Note: individuals who signed on to support the previous Farm to School Act are still signed on – no need to submit your info again! Organizations, please re-sign on to show your support!)
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest Farm to School Act of 2017 news and opportunities to take action by signing up for our action alerts.
  • Help spread the word about this important bill and the importance of farm to school activities in your community by posting to social media with the hashtag #F2SAct. Download our campaign graphics and sample messages here.
  • Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2017 in this fact sheet.
  • As Congress considers the Farm to School Act of 2017 over the coming months, expect to hear more from us about steps you can take to encourage your legislators to support the bill.


Seed Change is Sprouting in Native Communities

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Launched in April 2017, the National Farm to School Network's Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School project aims to expand farm to school activities in Native communities and leverage community-wide initiatives towards building food security and food sovereignty and revitalizing use of traditional foods. Five Native schools have been awarded Seed Change mini-grants to expand and promote farm to school in their communities in 2017. Here are brief updates about what the school have been working on:

Hardin School District 17H&1 – Crow Reservation: Crow Nation (Montana): From bringing local food into the cafeteria with a Harvest of the Month program, to a farmer visiting classrooms to teach students about local grains, farm to school is taking root in the Hardin School District. Work is being done to prep an unused school field for transformation into an orchard and outdoor learning space with native shrubs, berries bushes, and fruit trees. Students are sure to be harvesting farm to school goodness for years to come!

Hydaburg City School – Hydaburg, Prince of Wales Island: Haida Nation (Alaska): The school's new garden and greenhouse have been running for less than a year, and already student-grown raspberries and sugar snap peas are being incorporated into the school's lunch program. YUM!

Indian Township School – Indian Township Reservation: Passamaquoddy Tribe (Maine): This farm to school team is led by the school's librarian and after school coordinator. Following an ample harvest of squash from their new three sister's garden this summer, they're already looking forward to planning next season's garden.

Mala`ai Kula: Kaua`i Farm-to-School Pilot – Kaua`i Island: Native Hawaiians (Hawaii): This farm to school pilot program on the island of Kaua'i aims to connect students to culturally relevant foods, such as taro and sweet potatoes, while also encouraging farmers to grow more of these foods to better align with a native diet. Read more about Mala`ai Kula's commitment to serve culturally relevant foods here.

Warm Springs K8 Academy – Warm Springs Reservation: Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs (Oregon): Warm Springs K8 Academy is creating a community-wide culture of wellness by engage students and their families in farm to school activities. In June, the school year's final family night, attended by over 1,000 students and family members, was a Powwow and dinner that served traditional and fresh foods including salmon and root vegetables.

Seed Change in Native Communities with Farm to School is made possible with generous support from the Aetna Foundation, a national foundation based in Hartford, Conn. that supports projects to promote wellness, health and access to high-quality health care for everyone.


Team Nutrition Helps Grow Farm to School

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The National Farm to School Network would like to congratulate the recipients of the 2017 Team Nutrition Training Grants. Team Nutrition Training Grants are competitive three-year grants of up to $500,000 per state awarded annually as part of USDA's Team Nutrition initiative, which provides resources, training, and nutrition education lessons for schools and child care providers. Eleven states were awarded grants this year. Several of these awardees are NFSN Core or Supporting Partners and many of the grants will be used to expand farm to school and ECE activities across the states!

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will provide nutrition education and gardening activities at 40 child care centers and family child care homes using Team Nutrition’s Grow It, Try It, Like It! materials. Child care providers will also receive training on planning meals to meet the updated Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern requirements and including more Missouri-grown fruits and vegetables. Participants will receive technical assistance and sub-grants to assist with taste testing activities, family engagement and nutrition education and will also have the opportunity to participate in the Culinary Skills Institute that will provide hands-on learning experiences with menu planning and food preparation to enhance child care providers’ abilities to implement the updated CACFP meal pattern requirements with local foods.

The Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Nutrition Programs (VDOE SNP) will use their grant to support “Cultivating a Healthy School Environment: Nourish and Flourish through Training and Technical Assistance” focusing on: 1) appealing and nutritious school meals, 2) nutrition education, and 3) school environments that promote healthy eating. Eight garden-themed regional workshops for school nutrition professionals and will be conducted using peer-mentors (Cultivators) and subject matter experts (Tillers) to focus on culinary skills with farm fresh produce. Participants will also learn how to implement Team Nutrition’s Dig In! and The Great Garden Detective Adventure lessons. Participants in pilot workshops have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the approach, calling the pilot training the “best workshop in 10 years!”

Other states using 2017 Team Nutrition Grant Funding to support farm to school and ECE efforts include Montana, Rhode Island and Iowa. The Montana Office of Public Instruction will expand connections between school and local farmers in order to promote student consumption of ten Harvest of the Month Montana-grown products in the school cafeteria. TheRhode Island Department of Education will provide nutrition education in the child care setting using Team Nutrition’s Grow It, Try It, Like It! materials. They will train child care providers to prepare meals that meet the updated Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern requirements and utilize Rhode Island-grown products in the meals and plan to collaborate with community nutrition partners to host events that provide recipes and cooking demonstrations for parents, caregivers and the community. Iowa Department of Education will support and improve healthy child care environments by delivering training to 30 child care centers and approximately 400 family day care homes on updated Child and Adult Care Food Program meal pattern requirements and ways to incorporate locally-grown foods on menus. They will also use Team Nutrition’s Grow It, Try It, Like It! nutrition education kit to encourage children to try new foods and grow healthy habits from the start.

Team Nutrition Training Grants offer valuable opportunity to expand and institutionalize farm to school and ECE into state training and outreach. Learn more about USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative and the innovative resources and opportunities the program offers here. We congratulate these awardees and look forward to watching farm to school and ECE flourish thanks to Team Nutrition Grants and the great work and innovation of these state agencies.