Take Action: Call your Members of Congress about priorities in the budget reconciliation bill

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Congress is currently negotiating a budget reconciliation package that offers new funding for a broad range of issues important to farm to school and early care and education stakeholders. With a tentative funding level of $3.5 trillion, Congressional committees and leadership are in the process of finalizing details of specific program funding. This bill is a rare opportunity to secure significant new funding and advance equity in child nutrition, education, worker protections, rural communities, and climate-resilient agriculture.

One of the most important provisions, outlined by the House Committee on Education and Labor, would make tremendous progress toward universal school meals by offering a state Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), lowering the threshold of low-income kids for individual districts, and increasing the reimbursement offered through CEP.

See more details on these provisions in our blog post from earlier this week.

We anticipate pressure on Congressional leaders to reduce the overall price of this legislation, forcing cuts to these initiatives. Now is the time for your Members of Congress to hear from you that they need to fight for bold measures to advance equity for our kids, their families, and their communities.

If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Instead of calling your Members of Congress to discuss these specific policy asks, share general information about farm to school experiences and needs in your community. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which we can all do!

Taking action right now, while this reconciliation bill is in discussion, is especially crucial. Make your calls, sign-on to the letter, and forward this message to a friend. THANK YOU for taking a few minutes out of your day to make your voice heard.

Be Our Partner! Announcing NFSN's New Partnership Structure

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Last year, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) issued a bold, new Call to Action for ourselves and for the wider food system: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. We share this Call to Action as a pressing need that none of us can reach alone. It’s going to take all of us, and it’s achievable if we each offer our time, talents, and resources to make it happen. 

As part of our work to get us there, National Farm to School Network is restructuring and broadening our network of partners to ensure that our organization reflects our commitment to shifting power and achieving a racially just food system. Join us! We seek Partner organizations from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., the five U.S. territories, and Native nations to join us in moving on our Call to Action. 

Who can sign-on to be an NFSN Partner? Any organization! We are dedicated to creating space for organizations that align with our core values. And, while we are committed to building authentic relationships and partnerships with organizations owned and led by Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC), NFSN strongly believes we need everybody at the table to dismantle white toxicity and correct the racial inequities in our food system. 

What is the new Partnership structure? Our new structure is now flat - no levels or special categories. There’s also no cap on the number of Partners in our network! We know it takes all of us to achieve our vision of a strong and just food system. All Partner organizations in each place will be given equal recognition by NFSN for their roles in our network. 

Why the new Partner structure? Once we identified our Call to Action, we knew there were a lot of changes we needed to make - both internally and externally - to shift power to those most impacted by inequities in the food system and achieve a racially just food system by 2025. In addition to reassessing and adapting our priorities and projects, building a policy platform centered in racial equity and examining our organizational culture, we knew we needed to diversify and strengthen our Partner network. The voices of those in the most impacted communities, including partners in Native nations, have not always been reflected in our past partnership structures. Moving forward, we strive to prioritize building a multiracial and multicultural movement which means we need both BIPOC leaders as well as white allies and co-conspirators to join us in this work.

What are the benefits of being an NFSN Partner? NFSN commits to creating spaces for collaboration and relationship building across our network and to elevating and amplifying the efforts and voices of our Partners through our network and platform. While NFSN will be hosting regular engagement opportunities like webinars, training and networking events, we’ll be looking to you to determine what those look like to better meet your needs as Partners.

What are the expectations of being an NFSN Partner? We expect our Partners to be actively working toward shifting power and centering racial equity in your work. As partners, we ask that you contribute to community-driven policy and systems change; facilitate diverse and multisectoral networking and movement building; and co-create resources and leadership development opportunities to advance community food systems rooted in justice.

Commit to being an NFSN Partner Organization by completing this form. There is no deadline to sign-up to become a Partner. Still have questions? Check out our FAQs here or email Krystal Oriadha, Senior Director of Programs & Policies, at krystal@farmtoschool.org.

State Values-Aligned Working Groups

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

By Tomas Delgado, NFSN Program Manager

National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is excited to share a new project we’re working on to support four state cohorts of grassroots community groups, nonprofits, and farm to school stakeholders in convening across issue areas and identifying shared goals for food justice policies and programs in their communities. This “State Values-Aligned Working Groups” project is in support of  our Call to Action that 100% of communities will hold power in a just food system by 2025. Towards that goal, we will work with these participating state groups to shift power to the most impacted stakeholders in their communities at the nexus of education, nutrition, agriculture, community health, and the environment.

What Do We Mean by “Values-Aligned”?

We believe that farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) can be a vehicle to advance racial equity, economic justice, environmental justice, respect for workers and educators, and health equity for children. (Read more about our six community values here.) We aim to support other groups who are aligned with these same values, both in the farm to school movement and in the wider community. We’re advancing this at the national level through our call for a policy that would provide school meals to all children that promote these values in our food and educational systems.

Where Are We Working?

We have recruited four place-based cohorts to support their capacity for action planning and mobilization for policy and/or program innovations that advance equity. Our cohorts hail from:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • New York City, New York
  • United States Virgin Islands

What We Will Do
By the end of 2021, each group will have formed connections across their disparate sectors to:

  • Identify and share the most pressing barriers to racial equity as experienced by their communities,
  • Explore policy and advocacy solutions for these issues at the local, state, and national level,
  • Identify common goals and values for shared policy and/or programmatic development and mobilization,
  • Create concrete objectives for a cross-sector advocacy campaign or innovative program to advance their shared goals, and  
  • Deliver an action plan for implementation in 2022.

NFNS will support planning through 2021, during which groups will outline fundraising needs to put their campaign or program into action in 2022, and identify where NFSN can support that fundraising capacity. We plan to support participants with a stipend for their time and expertise advancing this work. NFSN has secured funding for $10,000 per cohort through 2021 for action planning, and has offered Year 2 seed funding for implementation. We prioritized stipends for grassroots groups led by people of color and organizations who may not have resources to support dedicated staff time on this work. We thank the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Campbells Soup Foundation for making this funding support possible.

Stay tuned for updates on this project over the coming months. Have questions? Connect with our Programs Team to learn more.

Farm to ECE 10th Anniversary Celebration: The New Leaders

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of National Farm to School Network’s launch into farm to early care and education (farm to ECE), Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow, sat down with the original trailblazers of farm to ECE and the new leaders in the movement. These inspiring women shared their perspectives on the growth, innovations, and successes they’ve seen, what the future holds for farm to ECE, and what is needed to continue building an equitable and sustainable movement. 


Andrea Lopez, Food and Wellness Program Officer, CentroNia  

Caroline Stover, Project Director, Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Brittany Martens, Nutrition Consultant and Farm to ECE Coordinator, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Executive Director, Little Ones Learning Center

This conversation took place with current leaders and innovators in the farm to ECE movement. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sophia: Please give us a general idea of how your organization or department does farm to ECE, what your role entails, and how you got your start in this work? 

Caroline: I run the farm to early care and education initiative in North Carolina. We are an initiative with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, which is a three way partnership between the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and two land grant universities and North Carolina State University. Our initiative really seeks to promote farm to ECE and grow the movement in the state through systems level change. We connect early care and education system leaders at the state level with local food systems leaders. And so we do that through statewide stakeholder engagement, where we listen to folks on the ground who are really doing the work and spread their successes and make it easier for them to do farm to ECE. I've been doing this work since 2016. Before that, I was with FoodCorps, a Farm to School program, for four years. I have just really enjoyed bringing the farm to table movement to younger and younger children as I go on. 

Brittany:  I work for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for both the Child and Adult Care Food Program as well as the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention unit. We are working to lift farm to ECE with systems thinking since 2016, which is when I got hired and we started our first Team Nutrition farm to ECE grant. That was a three year grant focusing on culinary training, gardening and curriculum. Since then we have focused our programming and funding on trying to overcome barriers and understand them through community based programming. We're also currently working on our farm to ECE coalition, which is two years in, and we have about 25 members and 18 organizations helping to align farm to ECE across the state, bringing diverse voices to the table. We're hoping to increase our membership, helping to represent populations we serve and those historically underserved communities. We’re doing this through an Association of State Public Health Nutrition grant, which is allowing us to implement nine community based mini grants and build a three year Colorado farm ECE roadmap. Additionally, we're going to be releasing our first curriculum that's Colorado specific for our Harvest of the Month program. I’m coming from a background both as a chef and a nutritionist. So I love having the perspective of both fields, trying to connect with the cooks and think about their day in and day out and how to make this programming work for them. 

Wande: I am with Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia. Our organization is actually part of a five group initiative with the WK Kellogg Foundation. We’re all about increasing the quality of early childcare programs and communities, supporting the state, and bringing it to scale. Our program can be considered a model demonstration site. We do a lot of implementation programming here, because it's important to see proof of concept. We've been doing this work for many years but it doesn't mean that we have all the answers. I've also launched a nonprofit that is focused on farm to ECE. It's called the Hand Heart and Soul Project, where we provide children and families access to nutrient dense foods and we develop holistic programming focused on health, wellness, education and nutrition programs. I'm focused on making sure that the voices that are doing this work are elevated. People in policy are absolutely needed, but we also need to hear from the boots on the ground. We say farm to ECE should not be a burden, but without the right supports in place it becomes a burden for teachers and everybody else. 

Andrea: I work in an organization called CentroNia. We're a nonprofit organization providing high quality bilingual, early childhood education in a multicultural environment in Washington DC. We also have a site in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Within our early childhood services, we have the food and wellness department, which is a wraparound service, and that's my role in the organization as program officer. My role entails operating the child nutrition program, so right now that’s the CACFP Summer Meals Program. We also have a central catering company that is specific to ECE centers. We also do CACFP compliant catering to a wide range of centers, they can be small, maybe 25 to 30 children up to other centers who have 100 children throughout the district. 

We also work with food access programs. We partnered with a fresh farm organization that brings pop up markets to ECE centers. We were a pilot center in 2018 and are still doing that with SNAP and WIC eligible families, bringing them fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. I've been with CentroNia for the past three and a half years. My background is in nutrition, so in this position, I've learned a lot about community nutrition. My special interest is in encouraging people to try new foods, and especially at a young age to develop their palate. 

Sophia: Wande, I’d love to hear from your perspective how this movement has changed and grown since you became involved. Either in your center or the movement as a whole?

Wande: It's picked up a lot of interest, but that might be because it's trendy. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Whatever we can do to bring health and wellness to communities. We've seen it branch out with teachers and families now wanting to participate in the movement. Also, now that the government is taking part with federal funding streams that are focused on health and wellness and equity, everybody wants to jump in, which can lead to mission creeping. Not everyone needs to be applying for this funding. So it's great that everybody wants to get involved, but we do need to make sure that money remains for those doing the work and not allow mission creepers to come into our industry.

Sophia: Brittany, from your perspective working in government, what growth have you seen? 

Brittany: With our first grant application, we were pretty much begging people to apply. If they applied, they got a grant, and we had maybe five people who actually applied and got a grant. And this year, in a pandemic, during a time when childcare providers are understaffed, overworked and stressed out, we received 78 applications. I was blown away by the momentum that we have seen, and I think it has to do with our ability to bring in stakeholders. With our coalition, we have grown so much and are expanding as much as we can to bring everyone into farm to ECE, making sure that we're talking to every person who touches childcare or farm or food system work. We hear what they want to do and start speaking the same language. For example, the cultural wellness program is trying to encourage local food in their cultural cooking classes and Cooking Matters knows how to bring us in so that we can provide farmers market education. I really think that that has driven our momentum and has helped us to have a louder voice. I have to agree that it is becoming trendier and people are starting to buy into it. We've been saying forever that we have to step away from the instant gratification, we have to teach children to slow down and to be connected to their food and to step away from processed foods and to take the time to cook for children, and it's starting to catch on. I think that that's what's really been driving Colorado; we're starting to speak with a unified voice. 

Sophia: Andrea, I'd love to hear from you what you think your largest contribution to farm to ECE has been?

Andrea: Farm to ECE was really the priority of my past supervisor. She brought nutritious meals to the Columbia Heights area in Washington DC and built an all around program. The meals that we used to serve included processed foods and now we cook from scratch. It's a learning process for our cooks to figure out how to get produce from local sources and try to manipulate that into something doable in our menus. So again, working with families, immigrant communities, and meeting them halfway to not only push this healthy lifestyle, but offer CSA bags with maybe a produce item that they have never tried before and being very aware of their cultural standpoint and where they're coming from. We focus on traditions. We are aware that we work with working parents, but we try to tell parents that they could conserve their traditions and expose children to the home cooked meals they grew up eating. Traditional food is healthier food, but more importantly, that might be their only connection to their culture. 

Sophia: Caroline, what do you think your largest contribution to this movement has been?

Caroline: Our initiative. We have seen a lot of spread here. I also have loved that we've been able to promote the work that folks have been doing for a really long time. There's such great examples of folks that have been doing this work for so long and they have been such great advocates for continuing and spreading the work, speaking with their legislators and the childcare commission, and really just making farm to ECE front row center. I'm just grateful for the opportunity to have met those folks and learn from them.

Sophia: Where do you all see farm to ECE moving as a whole? 

Wande: We had a farm stand that was shut down by the city a couple of years ago and the media interviewed the city manager, and they asked her, “why are you shutting the farm stand down?” The city manager said, if we allow a farmstand at this center, there could be farmstands everywhere. That means she has no idea what access issues are, what transportation issues are, and how health and education correlate. So, for me, the next 10 years looks like people in charge understanding what it means to take care of communities, because if you don't have people supporting communities, then when you have local funding coming through, they're not going to allocate it in ways that are supportive to this movement. So I’m looking for better informed policymakers and other people that are in these positions of power.

Brittany: I want to go off of what you [Wande] just said, because I absolutely agree with that. I want to see less of the higher ups, like the state agency, creating the grant program and more of the communities creating the grant programs, which is what we're working for right now. I don't want to have all the money, I want all the money to go to the communities and I want them to build the programming. Right now our nine community based programs are doing work that I never could have fathomed. They are impacting communities, they are working with children who are separated at the border, and they are trying to mitigate the trauma they've experienced. And they are bringing that to the garden. They're working with autistic children and getting nonverbal children to play with worms and talk to their worm when they haven't spoken that many words in a month. I mean, it's the type of work that I don't say I have to go to work, I say that I get to, I get to do this work. And I can't wait to see more money going to the communities and less people saying make a kale salad, because it's good for you. And that's where I see this going as well. I couldn't agree with you more that we need to get the policy in line with that, and the funding in line with that, so that the people in the communities can tell us what they need, and they can put it out there and meet those needs.

Andrea: You know, sometimes with these grants, they build a framework and it's one size fits all. With diet and nutrition, we're steering away from that individualization but for farm to ECE we need individualization. It's very different in urban settings where there might not be space for a garden and you need to adjust. So when the community speaks to what is relevant to them, what is sustainable to them in the long run, it’s always a good thing. 

Caroline: Pragmatically speaking, thinking about local food procurement, we often say that there’s a benefit for farmers with the increased market for them. But when we look at local food procurement, we're talking about tablespoons as serving sizes, we're talking about centers that serve very few children. It definitely benefits the children, but how can we make it more beneficial for farmers? So that's something that we started looking into, and we're excited to tap more into that by networking centers, coordinating menus, working with head starts a little more, and maybe combining sarm to school and farm to ECE efforts. Some of the folks that we work with throughout the state are already trying to do some of those really cool methods. Also, I know folks on this call have also mentioned working with infants and toddlers and that just gets me really excited. Having consistency from birth to preschool to the school cafeteria. We've been working with local cooperative extension agents, and they have done a fabulous job with folks that are new to gardening and new to cooking fresh food. They've gotten right on board going into the centers and helping with that gardening piece, recruiting volunteers for folks and doing some family engagements and parent training, things like that. I think there's just such an opportunity for sustainability using systems that already exist and making sure that this work continues.

Farm to ECE 10th Anniversary Celebration: The Early Leaders

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of National Farm to School Network’s launch into farm to early care and education (farm to ECE), Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow, sat down with the original trailblazers of farm to ECE and the new leaders in the movement. These inspiring women shared their perspectives on the growth, innovations, and successes they’ve seen, what the future holds for farm to ECE, and what is needed to continue building an equitable and sustainable movement. 


Emily Jackson, Program Director, Growing Minds Farm to School, ASAP  

Zoe Phillips, Director of Administration, Office of Women’s Health, LA County Department of Public Health 

Stacey Sobell, Director of People & Culture, Ecotrust 

This conversation took place with the original leaders in farm to ECE and Co-Leads of the original NFSN Farm to Preschool Subcommittee. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sophia: Please tell us briefly where you were in your career during your time on the subcommittee and why you decided to invest time into supporting the start of farm to ECE? 

Zoe: 10 years ago I was with UEPI, the Urban Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, working under Bob Gottlieb. I started back in 2009 as a volunteer. I received my Masters in Public Health in the Spring of 2008. While I was looking for jobs, I bugged him until he gave me an internship. He gave me a set of different projects that he thought could show some promise. At the time I had a preschooler, and he mentioned what we were calling farm to preschool as a potential project. I started immediately writing grants and doing some program planning and development. The grants were awarded and that was the start of my baby. Around April 2009, I created a pilot program for farm to preschool.

Emily: I work with the Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project in Asheville, North Carolina. 10 years ago, I was the Program Director for Growing Minds and today, I'm still the Program Director, but I'm retiring this year. We started doing farm to preschool back in 2007. When we first started the subcommittee I was serving as the Southeast Regional lead for the National Farm to School Network, Stacey was the Northwest lead with Ecotrust, and Zoe's organization was one of the core institutions housing the network. So, I was lucky enough to work with them and push this movement into fruition. 

Stacey: 10 years ago I was at Ecotrust, where I still work. I'm in a different role now, doing more people oriented human resources work, but I was in the Farm to School program in our Food and Farms team for about a decade. When I first started, my boss was really excited about getting farm to preschool going, so we did a pilot. After we did that pilot, we received a lot of inquiries, just because there wasn't much information online except from Emily, Zoey, and myself. 

Sophia: What did participating on the farm to preschool subcommittee involve for each of you? 

Emily: Our overarching goal was to grow this movement, since it was nascent at that time. Each of us also spearheaded different work with our own work groups. I was really interested in taking this upstream and embedding this in the community college programs so we could train providers while they're in school - and happy update - it's been a long journey, but we now are working with 22 of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina and hopefully we'll see that number grow even more in the next couple of years. But, the experience of working nationally and getting input from people really helped me see what was needed and how to best navigate that work. 

Zoe: It was very exciting to discover that we had these three different programs in different parts of the country that had been developed somewhat around the same time. Once the three of us got together, we were able to look forward and pool our resources, the best practices we had developed, and the challenges that we had gone through to lead the subcommittee. It was a really special point in time and we got along really well. We shared leading responsibilities for the subcommittee, we were able to help grow the members of the subcommittee so that it was far ranging, from small community based organizations to academia to the CDC. Eventually our program at UEPI moved into other states in the West and we even partnered with a Montessori school with the Navajo Nation. But together, the three of us were able to help build the movement on a national level. 

Sophia: What do you think was your greatest accomplishment while working to bring together the Farm to Preschool movement? Or, in your own farm to Preschool work?

Zoe: I came into this having no gardening experience. I had a health education background and nutrition background, but learning how to garden, how to teach preschool aged kids and their teachers how to garden, and how to find ways to make it economical was so great. Watching the kids dig in the dirt in an urban setting was also incredible to see. I remember one time, we had asked the nutrition director who oversaw a set of preschools if she would start introducing more vegetables, and she said, “well, if I see the kids eat it, then yes, I'll bring them in.” So we had a cauliflower taste test with a lesson plan and we collected the data to show that kids were actually eating it, enjoying it, and wanting more of it, so they put it on the menu. So that was gratifying to see. Also, the building of our website. We were able to bring in partners from all over the country and share their resources and tools on the website, which was special. 

Emily: The three of us showed the network what great promise there was in this and why the network should invest resources and time. So the years that we all spent together trying to build this movement just really paid off in that way. I think that was a great accomplishment. We grew it to where it needed to be and then the network took it over, which was fabulous. The other thing that I'm proud of is creating those critical resources with my organization to make things easy. We have a farm to preschool toolkit that is now being sold all across the country. And in that toolkit is something that the North Carolina Network created together, which we call reach for the stars, which takes the star rating and aligns it to preschool activities. Another piece of the toolkit is the crosswalk between our lesson plans, which are very experiential, and CACFP guidelines. So the children are not only getting a local, healthy snack, but they're also getting the education associated with that product. 

Sophia: Can you speak to the growth that you’ve seen overtime? Is the state of the movement today where you thought it would be 10 years ago? 

Emily: The Association of State Public Health Nutritionists, or ASPHN, pulled down CDC money and were able to distribute that to states for farm to ECE work. North Carolina, along with 10 other states and the District of Columbia received funding. To me, that shows some strength, that there is a lot of infrastructure out there for this, and that it’s growing. It’s a lot harder than K12. They're so much more underfunded and there's a lot of entrenched problems with early care and education. So I think it's even more of a success that we've been able to build out the infrastructure that exists now, with the leadership of the National Farm to School Network, of course. This ASPHN grant is an example of the success of the movement. 

Zoe: I have been a little more removed from it for a while, but have kept in touch with what's happening, particularly in Los Angeles. So it's exciting to hear the developments for the movement, and that it's happening at a local level, state level and national level. 10 years ago, it was our dream that it could develop to that point. There's also been improvements in offering funding at the national level but if there could be even more, that would be better, because funding is really what supports this work. 

Sophia: What do you see as the future of farm to ECE? What do you envision? Any promising opportunities? 

Stacey: I'm thinking about a lot of what my work is focused on right now. We’re putting more of a racial justice focus and anti racist kind of lens to that work, and I know that Farm School Network is also doing a lot of work around that. 

Emily: I hope with the current administration that we're going to see more funding. I think the pandemic showed a lot of things about our country, and one is that our infrastructure for early care and education is just vastly underfunded. So, hopefully, we're going to see more universal child care. That'll also raise up racial equity issues while making room for things like farm to preschool, because people hopefully won't be struggling so much with the funding issue.

Zoe: I think it is hugely important that this movement can find a role in helping decrease structural racism, improve disparities, and move towards improving food insecurity. Having a farm to preschool program in any type of early care setting as a default would be incredible. If it became the norm it would be fantastic, where they're getting food, and bolstering the farmers. 
Emily: Just think of all the joy and wonder out there if every kid could be exposed to a garden. That could be a beautiful thing.