Statement from National Farm to School Network Celebrating the Expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision for Improved Access to Healthy School Meals

NFSN Staff
September 27, 2023

From NFSN Co-Executive Directors Jessica Gudmunson and Miguel Villarreal:

“We are thrilled that the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA) has made a groundbreaking decision to implement the proposed rule change to expand the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which provides funding to allow eligible school districts to serve free school meals to all students. Previously, schools qualified for CEP if at least 40% of students identified as low-income (for example, if they are enrolled in SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The rule change will now lower the threshold to 25%, expanding access to free school lunches. According to the Food Research & Action Center, this pivotal decision will provide 9 million students with increased access to nutritious school meals, ensuring they have the fuel to succeed academically and beyond."

"The expansion of the CEP program will lower the threshold for school eligibility, empowering more schools across the nation to serve free, wholesome meals to their students. For the many schools serving local foods, the increased participation in school meals means that benefits of farm to school will ripple out to more students and local farmers alike. The expansion will also make statewide universal meal policies more appealing to state governments by streamlining paperwork and reducing the overall cost of universal meals programs with increased federal reimbursement for school meals.” 

“By prioritizing the health and well-being of our youth, the USDA's decision demonstrates a commitment to fighting hunger and promoting equity in educational environments." 

"We express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who participated in the public comment period, advocating for this transformative change. Together, our voices were instrumental in shaping this outcome, and now we will work together to implement the expanded CEP program. This is a momentous victory for the health and future of our children. Together, we will continue striving to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive in a nurturing, equal, and food-secure environment."

About National Farm to School Network

National Farm to School Network is the leading voice for the U.S. farm to school and farm to early care and education movement, working as an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities to bring local food sourcing, gardens, and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. Learn more at

National Farm to School Network Launches New Project to Expand Farm to School Coordination Nationwide

NFSN Staff
September 22, 2023

National Farm to School Network is proud to announce that we have been selected as one of the recipients of this year’s Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grant Program. We are incredibly excited to launch our Farm to School Coordinators Project with this support from the USDA and the Life Time Foundation.

Our goal with this project is to scale up farm to school implementation nationwide by establishing more dedicated farm to school coordinator positions at school districts. We will be providing unique professional development opportunities, supporting school communities, and developing research-driven resources to help make the case for the farm to school coordinator position. As a result, we envision increased ownership and capacity for farm to school programs at the community level. 

Why Farm to School Coordinators? 

Farm to school requires coordination and relationship-building across many people, including farmers, food service staff, educators, families and students. Implementing farm to school also often comes with certain challenges, including navigating regulations, finding funding sources, and connecting with decision makers at the school district. A dedicated farm to school coordinator role at a school district can address many of these challenges, ultimately forging a stronger connection between the school district and local farms. In addition to increasing the amount of local foods available on school menus, farm to school coordinators may also help increase hands-on nutrition and food education in the classroom or school garden. This can create a ripple effect that not only benefits students but also the entire school and broader community. 

Our Strategy

To accomplish our goal of scaling up farm to school implementation nationwide, our work will include the following components: 

  • A Community of Practice for current Farm to School Coordinators 
  • A Working Group for school districts that don’t currently have a Farm to School Coordinator but desire to implement the position 
  • Develop research-driven resources that can be used to advocate for Farm to School Coordinator positions and set best practices for these positions nationwide. 

We look forward to collaborating with Colorado State University for this project, who will be conducting research and developing material that will be shared with our network partners and the general public. We hope that these resources will help all communities advocate for the creation of Farm to School Coordinator positions.

How to Get Involved 

National Farm to School Network has begun recruitment for our Community of Practice and Working Group! If you are interested in either opportunity, we encourage you to learn more and apply by October 13, 2023. Preference for both opportunities will be given to applicants/school districts that work with/represent a higher percentage of students participating in free or reduced-price lunches from traditionally underserved communities. Visit this page to learn more about each opportunity and apply! 

Looking Forward: 

National Farm to School Network has done previous work to institutionalize farm to school at the federal and state agency levels. We’re excited to now embark on this new journey to expand farm to school at the community level within schools. By convening a national community of practice and working group, we hope to nurture innovation, connection, and knowledge to bring us closer to our vision where farm to school programs are an essential part of resilient and just food systems. 

Blog Series | Journeying through the 2023 Racial Equity Learning Lab

NFSN Staff
September 8, 2023

By Trisha Bautista Larson, NFSN Program Manager

On June 14, 2023, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) publicly launched the Racial Equity Learning Lab (‘the Lab’), a pioneering initiative developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture through a Cooperative Agreement. The Lab is a collaborative space, thoughtfully designed for small groups of farm to school practitioners and advocates to engage in an intensive co-learning and cross-race dialogue. The goals of the Lab aligns with NFSN’s Call to Action and our commitment to advancing racial equity and addressing disparities in access to the benefits of farm to school. 

Prior to its public launch, NFSN convened an Advisory Council to prepare and develop Lab resources, curriculum outline, and equity-centric participatory framework. For nearly seven months, NFSN and the Advisory Council balanced the art of virtual collaboration by strategically blending relational and operational goals and successfully met the deliverables of the Lab. 

Advisory Council members have expressed how much they have enjoyed getting to know one another and seeing the fluidity in the way the collaborative work was designed. This remarkable journey serves as a testament to the Lab’s theoretical foundations—emergence, co-creation, and non-linear processes—all of which came to fruition through our collective work, laying the groundwork for the eagerly awaited Fall 2023 Lab Cohort. 

Reflecting on her experience as part of the Lab Advisory Council, Tina Wong said, “Interpersonal aspects of the meetings made it fun but organized – [I enjoyed] the spirit in which we did the work…” 

NFSN is excited to announce that the first official cohort of the Lab has been formed and will begin engaging in the learning experience starting September 8, 2023. The Lab sessions will be facilitated by two NFSN staff, Trisha Bautista and Tomas Delgado along with Equity Consultant, Alena Paisano. September sessions will serve as foundational for the rest of the learning journey. To jumpstart the dialogue and reflection, NFSN and Lab cohort members will explore Advancing Equity in Farm to School Education, listen to the first chapter of Braiding Sweetgrass, watch Soul Fire Farm’s Uprooting Racism and Seeding Sovereignty, and read through Dismantling Racism’s Workbook

The Fall 2023 Racial Equity Learning Lab Cohort: 

It’s our goal to capture and share this year’s Racial Equity Learning Lab journey and highlight learnings for ways to center racial equity in farm to school efforts. Stay tuned for our next blog for this series, scheduled in October 2023 in conjunction with the upcoming farm to school month celebration.

Local Food Purchasing Incentives: State Program Flash Talks

NFSN Staff
August 1, 2023

In recent years, there has been significant growth in support for local food purchasing incentives (LFPIs). More than a dozen states have established programs that provide direct reimbursement to child nutrition programs in schools and early care and education (ECE) settings to offset the costs of buying local foods. Additional states are in the process of introducing LFPI bills and advocating for broader adoption of these programs.

To explore the current landscape of local food purchasing incentives across states, National Farm to School Network will be hosting a two-part webinar series in August. We will be exploring ten different LFPIs across the nation: 

Session 1: August 9, 2023, 12-1 pm ET

Registration link HERE.

Featured States and Speakers:

  • California: Amy Garfinkel, California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Farm to Fork
  • Connecticut: Cyrena Thibodeau, Connecticut Department of Agriculture and Monica Pacheco, Connecticut Department of Education
  • Maine: Robin Kerber, Full Plates Full Potential
  • New Hampshire: Stacey Purslow, University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute / New Hampshire Farm to School
  • New York: Mikaela Perry, American Farmland Trust / Farm to Institution New York State

Session 2: August 14, 2023, 2:30-3:30 pm ET

Registration link HERE.

Featured States and Speakers:

  • Colorado: Justin Carter, Colorado Department of Education
  • Utah: Kate Wheeler, Utah State Board of Education
  • Michigan: Wendy Crowley, Michigan Department of Education
  • Vermont: Conor Floyd, Vermont Agency of Education
  • Pennsylvania: Samantha Gibb, The Food Trust

Speakers will share their experiences with their respective established programs, pilot initiatives, or introduced LFPI bills. These webinars aim to provide insights into each program's history, design, impact, and more.

This webinar series is part of a collaborative project between the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems and the National Farm to School Network. Participants can expect more LFPI resources and additional webinar opportunities in 2023. Stay tuned for updates!

Please contact with any questions.

National Farm to School Network Announces 2023 Farm Bill Policy Priorities

NFSN Staff
June 5, 2023

National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is proud to announce its policy priorities for the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill. The House Committee on Agriculture is taking public input on the Farm Bill through June 9, 2023.

Karen Spangler, Director of Policy at NFSN said: “Rather than annual budget uncertainty, the Farm Bill offers an opportunity to solidify funding for the kind of long-term food system that America needs. The Farm Bill, a package of federal legislation renewed by Congress every five years, sets agriculture and food assistance policies that touch every aspect of farm to school and early care activity. But we know that this is just one piece of change needed for a truly just food system. We need to shift the economic, cultural, and decision-making power governing our food system.”

Representing organizations across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., the U.S. Territories, and Native nations, NFSN is dedicated to creating a strong and just food system for all through farm to school activities in schools and early care and education (ECE) settings.

In the Fall of 2020, NFSN released a Call to Action for a racially just food system, guiding all aspects of our work, from policy advocacy to resource design and partnership cultivation. The 2023 Farm Bill offers an opportunity to put these values into action through coordinated advocacy efforts.

NFSN's 2023 Farm Bill Priorities are based on six shared community values: economic and environmental justice, health, racial equity, workers’ rights, and animal welfare. These priorities include:

1.  Build on Ten Years of Success in Farm to School: Expand and improve the successful Farm to School Grant Program to ensure more communities have access to support for farm to school activities. Incorporate measures from the Farm to School Act, such as ensuring a mandatory budget of $15 million per year, raising the grant cap to $500,000 for projects that need it, and reducing barriers to Farm to School Grants.

2. Support Farm to School and Farm to ECE in Agriculture and Nutrition Programs: Maintain or expand the budget of SNAP-Ed to support farm to school and farm to ECE work. Encourage culturally responsive and racially equitable approaches to nutrition education. Maintain or expand support for Specialty Crop Block Grants to increase farm to school market access for specialty crop producers.

3. Support Opportunity in Local Food Systems: Increase investment in local food infrastructure and ensure market opportunities are available to all producers. Focus on refining successful programs based on producer and stakeholder feedback and expanding investments. Direct USDA to center small- and mid-sized producers, particularly producers of color, in their own purchasing programs.

4. Ensure Equity and Resilience in Agriculture and Nutrition as a Whole: Address historic and ongoing barriers to racial equity in agricultural production. Invest in opportunities for land access, land ownership, and tenure for communities of color, and support technical assistance, research, and outreach through funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal colleges and universities.

NFSN seeks to ensure that the 2023 Farm Bill brings us closer to wins for all communities. We are committed to working with our partners and members to advocate for these policy changes, which will move us toward a just, equitable food system that promotes the health of all school children and benefits producers, workers, educators, and their communities.

Read more about our full Farm Bill platform at

About the National Farm to School Network

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is a hub for networking, information, and advocacy to grow the farm to school movement, which connects students in schools and early care and education settings to healthy, local food and hands-on learning through gardening, food education, and support for local food procurement.

Opinion | Pennsylvania children need free lunch at school as well as free breakfast

NFSN Staff
May 24, 2023

By Nicole Melia and Melissa Froelich

Advocates for free breakfast for Pennsylvania school children went to the state capitol earlier this month to ask the legislature to consider a new bill for universal school meals including lunch.

What we feed our children makes a huge difference. It’s why there’s a diversity of voices speaking up. From food service directors to farmers and manufacturers. From parents to representatives of school districts. We all want to engage with legislators over the future of the way our young people eat in school.


Research shows that school meals provide the best diet quality of all major food sources in the United States, without disparities for those of lower household income.

It’s about more than breakfast. According to the National Farm to School Network, nine states have now enacted universal meals policies, which provide free meals to all students regardless of household income. Additionally, 16 states have enacted policies that support local food purchasing in schools, such as local food incentive programs or grants for local food procurement.

Here in Pennsylvania, we have the chance to be at the forefront of this new movement. Despite the success of the free breakfast program, there is still hunger in Pennsylvania that needs to be addressed.

Read the full article at PennLive.

The Time for Nationwide Healthy School Meals for All Is Now

NFSN Staff
May 9, 2023

National Farm to School Network is excited to announce that we have joined the National Healthy School Meals for All Coalition to call on Congress to make nationwide free school meals for all students a reality.

We know that school meals play an important role in reducing childhood hunger, supporting good nutrition, and ensuring that  students are well nourished and ready to get the most out of their school day.  

Research links participation in school meals to positive educational and health outcomes for our nation’s children. School meals are just as important to academic success as textbooks, computers, and transportation, and all children should have access to  them every school day. 

As vital as the school nutrition programs are to ensuring children’s access to healthy, nutritious meals, too many children in need  miss out on school meals because of the programs’ current structure. Many struggling families do not meet the eligibility threshold  for free meals, which requires a family of four to earn less than $37,000 annually. The current structure with some children being  offered free meals or meals at a reduced price, and others paying for their meals, also leads many children who are eligible for free  or reduced-price school meals, particularly those in middle and high school, to choose not to participate because of stigma.  

Providing free meals to all students, regardless of household income, would reduce stigma and ensure that all students have the  nutrition they need during the school day. It would ease the pressure on families’ household food budgets, allowing them to count on a nutritious school breakfast and lunch each school day to help make ends meet. It would reduce administrative work for school staff, allowing them to focus on preparing nutritious and appealing meals instead of processing paperwork. And it would eliminate  unpaid school meal fees, helping to ensure that the cafeteria is a positive place for all students and ending the financial burden that  school meal debt creates for school districts.  

Providing school meals to all students is also critical for advancing racial equity and justice, helping to ensure that Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students can access the key nutrition they need to thrive in the classroom and beyond.  

“National Farm to School Network represents organizations, professionals, and community members committed to a future where all communities hold power in a racially just food system. We support Healthy School Meals for All to ensure that no child misses the nutrition they need to learn and thrive, or experiences stigma. Our partners in the cafeterias, classrooms, gardens, and farms know that how children eat, grow, and learn about food sets them up for future health and success.”
— Miguel Villarreal, Interim Co-Executive Director

Read our full statement of support here.

Advocates Push Pennsylvania to Continue Free Breakfast for School Children and Consider Universal School Meal Bill

NFSN Staff
April 28, 2023

[Harrisburg, PA] - On May 1, a group of school meals advocates will gather at the Pennsylvania State Capitol to call for the continuation of free breakfast for Pennsylvania school children and to urge the state to consider a new bill for universal school meals including lunch.

Pennsylvania’s farm to school grants provide funds to buy locally and build connections between children and the people who get food to the school meal table. Integrating policies that expand healthy school meals can do even more to benefit kids, farmers, and communities. National Farm to School Network’s “Who’s At The Table” campaign aims to raise awareness on the importance of school meal policies that value kids and value each person who gets it to the cafeteria table, and broaden public engagement to ensure this issue is at the top of the policy agenda.

The advocates—from food service directors to farmers, and from parents to representatives of school districts—will be available for interviews and photo opportunities between 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 pm. At the East Wing Rotunda, 500 Commonwealth Ave. Harrisburg, PA 17120.

The advocates will be citing the success of the current free breakfast program. They will also be highlighting the need for universal school meals, which would help to ensure that all students have access to healthy meals throughout the school day. Across the nation, 9 states have now enacted universal meals policies, which provide free meals to all students regardless of household income.

For more information, please contact Ryan Betz at the National Farm to School Network on 601 832 2785. Or Matt Davis Communications on 917 526 9530.