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October 3, 2022 – Schools and early care and education (ECE) sites across the country are celebrating the twelfth annual National Farm to School Month this October, a 31-day campaign to recognize the benefits farm to school and farm to early care and education bring to youth, families, farmers and communities. National Farm to School Network advocated for the creation of National Farm to School Month in 2010, and it was officially recognized by Congress shortly after.
Farm to school is a movement for building just and equitable food systems through the ways kids eat, grow and learn about food in school and early care and education settings. Farm to school is a win for kids when they eat nourishing food in meals and snacks, participate in hands-on activities and learn about the importance of where our food comes from; a win for farmers when school market opportunities provide reliable and consistent sales and fair pay; and a win for communities when food is grown, distributed, prepared and consumed for the benefit of every community member. To ensure all communities see the benefit of these wins, farm to school activities must be firmly centered in equity.
This year’s National Farm to School Month theme is “Who’s at the Table?” Imagine an ideal school meal—nourishing, cooked from scratch, culturally relevant, purchased from local farmers. How did that meal get to the table? There are so many people who took part in bringing that food to the table—from the farmers and farmworkers who grew the food, to the people who processed and delivered the food, to the school food service staff who purchased and prepared the food.
As National Farm to School Network continues its work of shifting power to cultivate a racially just food system, we envision a food system in which no one is left out, in which everyone can access nourishing food. If we want to build this vision, we must lift up the perspectives of the people at each step of the food value chain, especially being intentional to center those who are not always recognized, despite their vital role in this ecosystem. This year's National Farm to School Month will highlight the valuable contributors across the different parts of the food system. Who are they? What would our food system look like if we valued their contributions, leadership and expertise? And how can the different players within farm to school work together so that individuals and communities can all win?
Throughout the month, National Farm to School Network will be spotlighting leaders from across the country through story sharing activities. This includes its annual Movement Meeting on October 27 from 3-5:00pm ET,Who’s at the Table?, featuring a panel of leaders of color who are working to transform their community by working to build power in their local food system. Additional story sharing will occur on National Farm to School Network’s blog and social media channels.
National Farm to School Network offers dozens of resources for celebrating National Farm to School Month on its website, http://www.farmtoschool.org/month. People can find resources such as a Celebration Toolkit, posters, bookmarks, suggested activities and more. Participants are encouraged to share their excitement through social media with the hashtags #F2SMonth and #farmtoschool. National Farm to School Network thanks its sponsors of this year’s National Farm to School Month campaign: CoBank, Farm Credit, National Co+Op Grocers, Vitamix and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
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: http://farmtoschool.org.
This National Farm to School Month, CoBank celebrates the frontline food industry workers—from farm fields to school cafeterias—and the tremendous hard work, collaboration and innovation that has been especially prominent throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to increase and sustain access to healthy foods in schools.
CoBank is proud to partner with the National Farm to School Network and its mission of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. While the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the inequities in our food system, CoBank remains committed to helping communities access the tools to address their unique needs for building and sustaining a healthy and prosperous community.
In 2021, CoBank—in partnership with Farm Credit Services of America—was pleased to provide a grant to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to reach young people in the Lakota Nation’s efforts to build a stronger local food system. Currently, life expectancy on the reservation is 20 years lower than the national average and the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates unemployment rates at greater than 80 percent.
Leaders from the South Dakota State University Extension and Lakota Nation identified that building a local food system and investing in micro-farming opportunities could help improve quality of life on the reservation. The project began by investing in community gardens to address nutritional needs and soon began small-scale farming to unlock economic opportunities. While the pandemic delayed the program’s extension to youth, the tribe would not be deterred.
The youth program has grown to a team of seven—six of whom are Lakota natives—and created part-time jobs for young people who are building hoop houses and raised garden beds, featuring disability ramps to ensure accessibility for all Tribal members.
The program recently took its next step by introducing a farm to school program at Little Wound School, which serves 900 K-12 Lakota students. Together with Glorianna Under-Baggage, administrator of the school’s extension program, the team is establishing a pilot program with 18 students. A new hoop house is nearing completion and students will plant and maintain the garden. Eventually, additional gardens will feature traditional and medicinal plants.
CoBank is excited to see the ways the Pine Ridge community has invested in agriculture. This investment will increase access to healthy foods, create jobs and economic opportunities and teach the next generation of farmers, while still enabling the Tribal youth to connect with the land and tradition.
As communities learn from the hardships of the pandemic and innovate for a more resilient future, a strong farm to school ecosystem can be an important tool for building economic strength. That’s why, in 2017, CoBank was one of the sponsors to the National Farm to School Network’s report, “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case studies and assessment tools.” Through surveys and case studies, this report evaluated the economic impacts of farm to school and the benefits of local procurement, including returning more dollars to the local economy.
CoBank looks forward to continuing these efforts of research and demonstration programs to increase access to local, healthy foods in schools, create new market opportunities for producers, and inform community and elected leaders on the economic and social benefits of a thriving local foods system for generations to come.
National Farm to School Network’s Interim Co-Executive Director Jessica Gudmundson says, “Investing in community-driven solutions that value and benefit all members of a community is an essential component of building racially just food systems. We are grateful for CoBank's continued support of NFSN, which helps us elevate stories like Pine Ridge community and support farm to school programs across the county.”
CoBank is a cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. The bank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. The bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving more than 76,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country. CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture, rural infrastructure and rural communities. Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S.
For more information about CoBank, visit the bank's web site at www.cobank.com
In a recent interview with Chef Jessica Wright, Director of Healthy Food in Institutions at Nourish Colorado, she shares a crucial step to be an advocate and foster others to become advocates with you.
“Anyone can be an advocate,” shares Chef Jessica Wright. That’s right—farmers, farmworkers, food processors and distributors, school food service staff, school administrators, parents and students all have power to make change. “To make farm to school the norm, it’s a big puzzle. We each have a part of this puzzle, a role, and an impact in this bigger picture,” says Wright.
NFSN’s Call to Action reflects this, shifting away from “I’m doing the work for you” or vice-versa to “we each have a part to play.” Even though this sounds simple, we can often feel frustrated seeing inaction. It feels like people aren’t doing their part, and nothing changes. It feels like we’re alone against the world.
Now consider the reverse perspective. Many of us who have worked in the food system, whether on a farm or in a school, know that it can be a thankless job. Wright empathizes with this sentiment, reflecting on her experience working with food service staff: “I’ve worked with teams who’ve been consistently brushed aside or made to feel undervalued, and their mindset can go to ‘everything we’re doing is not good enough.’ It’s easy to feel defeated and feel like their work is not valued or appreciated as it should be.”
Approaching with Curiosity
Have you ever had someone come to you and tell you you’re doing things wrong? That you should do this or do that? It probably didn’t feel great, and even if you changed something in that moment, you probably went back to your normal routine after. Many who have worked in the food system know this well.
Regarding food service staff, Wright says, “It can feel so defeating when people criticize the quality of school meals when they haven’t worked a month in a school kitchen and don’t understand regulatory challenges, budgetary challenges, or staffing shortages.” It’s not a good starting point in any partnership.
How do we make sure we don’t do this ourselves? Wright suggests, “start by educating yourself.” Although she acknowledges that it may not be feasible to work in a school kitchen for a month, she says that you can approach the conversation differently. “Start with listening and learning about the other person. Look at the assets. Understand the realities of their role. Build these relationships. Build people up.”
Wright shares a few questions you can ask:
What are you doing that you’re proud of?
What are some barriers and challenges you’re facing?
What do you wish people in other roles understood about the challenges and realities of your role?
When Wright has asked these questions, she has uncovered many things that may have gone unnoticed before. “I love how you know every student’s name.” “This is an impeccably clean and organized kitchen.” “It’s awesome that this school district bakes their own bread.” “This school buys lettuce from across the street and mixes it in with their salad.”
For people who are unsure of their impact, Wright shares an example that food service staff can consider: “I feed 200 kids every single day. When you add that up to the course of 168 days, that’s over 33,000 meals that I have served to my community.”
Why Does This Matter?
A common saying in community organizing is, “change happens at the speed of trust.” If we want to build a food system where 100% of communities hold power in a racially just food system, trust is required. In order to do this, a crucial first step is listening.
Noticing and celebrating the good that’s already happening can take people out of the day-to-day grind. Rather than shifting blame towards certain people, this acknowledges the inequities of the systems that we all work within and that action and leadership already exist and can be built upon.
Starting from a place of understanding can break down walls and shift the conversation from “us vs. them” to “us together vs. the problem.” This is a powerful first step that can empower each person to be an advocate with a role to play.
Taking the first step to listen and understand can help us figure out step two together. And interestingly, when we do this, we might notice we’re not so alone in the work.
In celebration of Farm to School Month and this year’s theme, “Who’s at the Table?”, we are highlighting the valuable contributors across the food system. There are many different players. How can we better connect with each other? And what does it look like to value each other's contributions, expertise and leadership? Keep following along with us this month as we envision a food system in which no one is left out, in which everyone can access nourishing food.
About Chef Jessica Wright
Jessica brings a "chef mentality" to school food programs, where she implements workshops, trains and supports staff with their culinary skills, assesses their kitchen operations and helps with community engagement. She also supports the other departments of Nourish Colorado as they work to create sustainable and equitable food systems throughout Colorado and the US. Over the last couple of years, Jessica's work focused on the development, implementation and fine-tuning of the Local Procurement Colorado, Culinary Trainings, and School Food Initiative along with supporting school districts and institutions as they introduce more from-scratch meals and fresh produce into their programs. Her passion lies in supporting school districts as they provide access to healthy meals while playing a larger role in creating systemic changes to our food system.
For the fourth and final week of Farm to School Month, National Farm to School Network is uplifting policymakers as critical players who are "At the Table" championing this movement. We want to thank and highlight Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as a national leader in farm to school as he approaches the end of his final term in office. First elected in 1974, Sen. Leahy has served the state of Vermont for eight consecutive terms. He serves as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and as part of the Senate Rural Health Caucus. At nearly 48 years in congress, he is the current longest-serving senator and the third longest-serving senator in U.S. history.
“Farm to School started in my home state of Vermont and has now spread across the country. I’m proud of that, proud of the work done by Vermont schools, farmers and organizations like Vermont FEED,” said Leahy. “What makes Farm to School such a success is that it does multiple things at once. It gets healthy, local, nutritious foods onto school lunch plates while also supporting local agriculture and local food systems. It’s a win-win for everyone concerned, but most especially the kids.”
“What makes Farm to School such a success is that it does multiple things at once. It gets healthy, local, nutritious foods onto school lunch plates while also supporting local agriculture and local food systems. It’s a win-win for everyone concerned, but most especially the kids.”
Sen. Leahy has sponsored multiple bills that promote farm to school, including the Farm to School Act to expand and improve the Farm to School Grant Program. In 2019, Sen. Leahy introduced a bill that designated October 2019 as National Farm to School Month.
Work across the aisle: Sen. Leahy proved that farm to school is truly a bipartisan issue by co-sponsoring legislation with congressional representatives such as Susan Collins (R-ME), David Perdue (R-GA), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).
Uplift local successes: Earlier this month at an event at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, VT, Sen. Leahy stated in reference to his home state: “We may be the second-smallest state, but we’re number one in good ideas.” Leahy has expanded support for these programs in diverse contexts nationwide. For example, the Farm to Institute model has been successfully replicated in states such as Nebraska and Mississippi.
Build capacity at the grassroots: Leahy used his position and political power to support grassroots initiatives through funding and educational experiences. Both farm to school institute and grant programs help connect producers, cafeteria staff, students, parents, and teachers with each other. They give local-level individuals the time and resources to identify their own shared goals and take action to achieve them.
“Senator Leahy is a national Farm to School champion, having authored the Farm to School Act in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act and repeatedly increased funding to serve more schools nationwide, expanding the benefits of farm to school more equitably to students and communities from coast to coast,” explains Alec Webb, President of Shelburne Farms. “We are so grateful to Senator Leahy for having the vision to see the win-win of farm to school and to helping to secure this funding. Our children, our food systems, and the agricultural economy will be healthier as a result.”
It is evident that Sen. Leahy's long-term and deep commitment to farm to school has paved the way for the growth of this movement throughout the U.S. over the last several decades. Policymakers from a local to a federal level have the power to reduce barriers to implementing farm to school programs and appropriate funds to support this impactful work. Now is a critical time for our partners to share the story of Sen. Leahy and urge their own representatives to continue supporting his political legacy. Sen. Leahy has immense shoes to fill and this dynamic movement can never have enough champions at the table.
Do you need resources to start a conversation with policymakers about this subject?
The Farm to School Benefits Fact Sheet features a compilation of research on the multifaceted and intersectional ways this movement can positively impact communities, farmers, and kids.
Happy National Farm to School Month! As this year’s theme, we are reflecting on the valuable perspectives of the various contributors involved in the farm to school ecosystem. Needless to say, one of the most vital contributors, not only in farm to school but in our entire food system, are farmers and farmworkers.
Small-scale farmers and farmworkers are stewards of our land, experts in caring for our soil and crops to deliver nourishing meals to our tables. But despite their essential roles in feeding the world, farmworkers are often the ones most affected by the disparities and injustices entrenched into our food system.
These deeply-rooted injustices in the food system undermine the agriculture sector itself. The sector contributes about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, mainly due to large-scale animal agriculture and improper manure storage, over-application of nitrogen-based fertilizers, large-scale single crop agriculture, and other practices like irrigation and soil drainage. Such practices contribute to climate change and deplete soil health—this negatively affects crop yield, especially for fruits and vegetables, requiring even more fertilizer and pesticides that fuel this negative feedback loop. Mainstream agricultural practices are damaging our ability to nourish future generations for the sake of short-term profits.
This is an equity issue—although white farmers own 98% of the land in America, many farmworkers tend to be low-income BIPOC populations, who are already most vulnerable to climate emergencies and air pollution. As the stewards of the land, farmers and farmworkers are acutely aware of the solutions needed to heal our land through regenerative agricultural practices and Indigenous knowledge. However, their freedom and agency to practice these sustainable models are undercut by a host of factors, including the lack of access to resources and funding, unjust policies, and corporate control over land and resources.
How Can We Collectively Work Toward a Radically Just Food System?
A just food system would equitably compensate, celebrate, and empower farmers and farmworkers as vital leaders of our food system. Society cannot survive without farmworkers, yet they are systematically excluded from decision making, access to financial resources, and worker safety protections. Working toward a just food system starts with redistributing power to allow farmers, farmworkers, and BIPOC communities to lead the change.
At NFSN, we see farmworkers and small farmers as vital to the farm to school work we do and to the larger food system as a whole. For this year’s Farm to School Month campaign, we are asking the question, “Who’s at the table?” to highlight the cross-sector community benefits of equitably sourced and nourishing food. Schools have immense purchasing power for food, and we are advocating to channel those dollars toward local procurement, smaller-scale and BIPOC farms, and the redistribution of decision-making and power back to communities and workers. Join in on the movement and celebrate with us with our resources for Farm to School Month!
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) was put into place in 1992. Since then, it has aided many SNAP-eligible and low-income communities in increasing access to healthy food, food education, physical activity and more through farm to school initiatives. SNAP-Ed dollars are typically distributed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to state Department of Human Services (DHS), who then distribute funds to implementing agencies in their state. These can be state or county agencies, but can also include tribal or community organizations. In Hawai‘i, the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s (DOH) Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division (CDPHPD) is one of two SNAP-Ed implementing agencies.
In partnership with the Hawai‘i Public Health Institute (HIPHI), CDPHPD is leveraging their state’s SNAP-Ed funding in a new and unique way—they have used the funds to hire a part-time statewide Farm to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECE) Coordinator, David Seegal. David brings a wide range of experience working directly with children as a primary educator and a cook—this firsthand knowledge allows him to bring a rich perspective to the work.
As a staff member dedicated to policy, systems, and environmental change in farm to ECE, David Seegal will be able to increase capacity to grow Hawai‘i's farm to ECE work. Farm to ECE programming in Hawai‘i has been ongoing informally for many years, thanks to ECE champions across the state, county, and community levels. In 2017, the inaugural Hawai‘i Farm to ECE Coalition formed to better coordinate and expand the existing statewide farm to ECE work. Until now, the coalition has been led by various passionate volunteers, in addition to their full-time staff.
Hawai‘i’s Farm to ECE Landscape
Like many states, Hawai‘i's farm to ECE movement has grown in the shadow of a robust farm to school movement, which promotes three core elements in K-12 schools: local procurement, school gardens, and nutrition education. However, Hawai‘i faces unique challenges due to its complex ECE mixed delivery system and island make-up—these features make it harder to break down silos, establish partnerships with ECE providers, and identify sustainable funding for farm to ECE programming and implementation.
According to Kristy Sakai, the Administrator at Chaminade University Montessori Lab School, less than 10% of Hawai‘i's ECE settings are public. This leads to a high demand for, but low access to, affordable, high-quality child care. The privatization of ECE also means that it can be difficult to embed farm to ECE programming statewide without the central point of contact that many K-12 schools have. Additionally, each of Hawai‘i’s seven inhabited island’s ECE system functions differently because of the unique political structure, available resources, and staff capacity on each island. Kristy explained that “the system is so fragmented…which means not just different sites, [but] different training…the training levels for early childhood providers goes from no formal training all the way up to advanced degrees.”
Hawai‘i is also unique because of the rich culture of Indigenous Peoples. Kristy acknowledges that all farm to school and ECE work must respect and be rooted in the culture and customs of Native communities. As the Farm to ECE Coordinator, David will help enhance the equity work already being done in each community. “Land usage issues, fighting bureaucratic red tape, and grappling with the forces that otherwise affect Hawai‘i make it difficult for local communities to have agency and sovereignty over how they feed themselves,” David expressed. Despite this, David hopes to create partnerships, leverage information, and show people how they fit into the bigger picture, ultimately creating a better system and environment for farm to ECE initiatives.
Bringing on David will allow for increased capacity for strategic planning about how to address these barriers, while supporting each island’s farm to ECE needs and advancing policy, systems, and environmental change from the ground up.
Hawai‘i’s First Farm to ECE Coordinator
The decision to hire a staff member dedicated to coordinating the farm to ECE work in Hawai‘i was crucial in ensuring that the work will be sufficiently prioritized. Early childhood care and education work, in general, is often inadvertently neglected. Many mistakenly assume that young children are included when discussing issues around schools and school meals, when in fact, they often fall under a different administering authority and child nutrition program than K-12 children. Early education is just as important as K-12 education—David will serve as an important advocate that will make sure all young children have access to nourishing food and food education.
Starting a new job is difficult for anyone, but the absence of a roadmap has made the process even more challenging for Hawai‘i’s first Farm to ECE Coordinator. David, along with the help of many others, will have to face the challenge of figuring out what his position means and where to focus his efforts. The vision of the role is a coordinator between ECE settings and programs, farm to school programs, non-profits, food producers, and government agencies to improve communication, strengthen partnerships, and increase farm to ECE programming in Hawai‘i.
Despite the inevitable challenges with setting up a position for the first time, Hawai‘i ECE stakeholders are excited to have David’s passionate, people-centered, and inclusive leadership at the helm, guiding the work of the Hawai‘i Farm to ECE coalition.
Implementing Farm to ECE with SNAP-Ed Funding
SNAP-Ed funding has been critical to growing the farm to ECE work in Hawai‘i. Farm to School & ECE and ECE settings are recognized by SNAP-Ed as evidence-based interventions and settings to increase opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity for young children. This alignment with SNAP-Ed makes farm to ECE programming and staffing an ideal project to be included in a state’s SNAP-Ed plan and budget.
Jordan Smith, SNAP-Ed Coordinator TA at the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, provides insight on how she helped secure funding for this new role and advice for those looking to do the same.
First, Jordan encourages establishing a relationship with your state’s SNAP-Ed coordinator(s) and/or implementing agencies. Each state’s coordinator can be found on the USDA SNAP-Ed Connection website. Reach out to your state’s coordinator to learn more about your state’s SNAP-Ed needs assessment, SNAP-Ed State Plan, or the SNAP-Ed administration goals to “get a better sense if ECE is on their radar or a priority activity.” She clarifies that each state will be very different when it comes to forming this relationship. She was lucky to share an office with DOH’s SNAP-Ed Coordinator at the time and have ECE already included as a priority area and community in Hawai‘i’s SNAP-Ed plan. In areas without the same situation, intentional networking will be required to build a relationship with the coordinator. Conversations with SNAP-Ed coordinators and/or implementing agencies to learn about their motives and goals will help to gain buy-in and build needed relationships.
For states looking to create their own Farm to ECE Coordinator role, it’s also helpful to get acquainted with SNAP-Ed plans and coordinator goals. This can assist in building a vision for the role by identifying the specific needs in your state that a Farm to ECE Coordinator can address. Jordan suggests considering whether the role needs to be part-time or full time, what the coordinator will be able to improve, whether additional funding for activities will be needed, the time frame for the position, and where the position should be housed (a state agency, a non-profit, etc.). All of these considerations help clarify the kind of commitment being made by the implementing agencies when hiring.
Finally, researching state SNAP-Ed plans and speaking with a SNAP-Ed Coordinator helps to ensure that hiring a Farm to ECE Coordinator fits into your state’s priorities. Jordan explains that the Fiscal Year ‘23 SNAP-Ed guide provides a helpful “overview of SNAP-Ed, what activities are approved under SNAP-Ed, and the requirements for a project or position to be funded by SNAP-Ed.” Pitches should include evidence-based research that supports the implementation of the position and how the position will align with SNAP-Ed’s overarching goals. The SNAP-Ed toolkit can help align farm to ECE language with SNAP-Ed language. Jordan also advises being strategic about the timing of the proposal. SNAP-Ed plans are written every 3 years and submitted in the spring, so one of the best times to bring this up is before a new plan is written.
Though this was an interesting and difficult experience, Kristy, Jordan, and David have all learned a few things. David mentions that early childhood education is unique, and we must recognize the intricacies of teaching kids at such a young age. He emphasizes that farm to ECE is deeper than putting on a “puppet show about carrots”—it’s about “creating a foundation for a healthy society.” It is vital to recognize the importance of ECE, which is often pushed aside. Jordan agreed, saying that we have to “root for farm to ECE in the bigger picture. [Farm to ECE can often be viewed as] ‘trivial’ or ‘additional’, but there is only a small window to impact a child’s lifelong behavior and eating habits.”
Jordan also gives great advice when it comes to starting new projects: “You should not sacrifice progress for perfection. You just have to go for it and adapt and change as you go.” And finally, Kristy underscores the importance of recognizing your own value and the value in the voices of others. “[We must all strive to] pull up a seat to the table for yourself and others to be able to accomplish great things.”
For the first time in 50 years, the White House is leading a summit on hunger, nutrition, and health to tackle hunger and diet-related diseases in America. National Farm to School Network is excited and grateful to be at this summit to discuss transformative change, which will include topics like food as medicine, promoting physical activity, childhood nutrition, public-private partnerships, and equity.
Yesterday, the Biden-Harris administration released its National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. We were delighted to see that school meals are prioritized in this strategy: “The Biden-Harris administration will advance a pathway to free healthy school meals for all, working with Congress to expand access to healthy, free school meals for 9 million more children by 2032.” The strategy also calls for farm to school activities such as local purchasing, nutrition education, and scratch cooking as “essential components” of the effort.
“The Biden-Harris administration will advance a pathway to free healthy school meals for all, working with Congress to expand access to healthy, free school meals for 9 million more children by 2032.”
On behalf of the National Farm to School Network, we applaud and thank the administration for recognizing the crucial role of school meals in improving child nutrition and hunger. This strategy of farm to school and child nutrition hits multiple values and returns on investment for hunger, nutrition, and health with one government program that already exists. It is straightforward and effective.
However, just days after the conference concludes, schools and families across the nation will still be faced with the unfortunate reality: the special child nutrition waivers that have kept hundreds of thousands of students out of hunger through the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire on September 30.
The child nutrition waivers introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic offered every child, regardless of economic status, the ability to receive a meal at no charge throughout the pandemic. The program also allowed schools greater flexibility to prepare and serve meals and reduced the lengthy administrative paperwork required for distributing millions of school meals.
School districts across the country are still facing challenges in keeping their programs viable as we “return to normal” after the pandemic. Record inflation, higher than at any point since the early 1980s, has impacted prices across the board and the supply chain continues to experience unprecedented challenges. Right now, in America, too many families are choosing between feeding their children nutritious food and paying for other vital expenses. The most recent national data estimates 12 percent of households with children—that’s 1 in 8 kids—experience food insecurity.
If we can’t act on extending the waivers—and the signs are not good—then there’s still another big opportunity to do the right thing by hungry children: improve and strengthen child nutrition and school meal programs by acting on Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). The CNR process usually happens every five years. But the last time Congress acted on this was more than a decade ago. This means schools and meal providers are working with outdated regulations that don’t reflect the current needs of children and families. Thankfully, the recent version of the CNR passed by the House Education and Labor Committee is extremely promising.
Following this week’s Summit, Congress has an opportunity to act on behalf of school food service programs. If Congress advances the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, we have an important opportunity—the first in a decade—to leverage federal farm-to-school and other child nutrition policies to shift power towards a more just food system. We are hopeful that the Biden-Harris administration’s national strategy will begin to tackle this issue, and we urge Congress to work closely with the administration to recognize the urgency and importance of a national free healthy school meals for all policy.
Policy change happens because people dedicate their time and attention to educating and urging legislators to recognize needs in order to make critical changes for the people within their communities. Everyone, not just lobbyists, can advocate for fairness in the food system. National Farm to School Network is proud to be one of many organizations in this endeavor. We will take this opportunity to advocate for positive and sustainable change on behalf of our nation’s children and families and hope to do this together with you.
Miguel Villarreal is the Interim Co-Executive Director at National Farm to School Network.
Karen Spangler is the Policy Director at National Farm to School Network
(September 19, 2022, Petaluma, CA and Atlanta, GA) — National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is excited to introduce its new Interim Co-Executive Directors. Jessica Gudmundson, who has been part of NFSN since its inception, and Miguel Villarreal, who previously served as Chair for NFSN's Advisory Board, are taking the mantle as co-leaders at NFSN.
Why a Co-Leadership Model?
NFSN identified its Call to Action in 2019 and has since been taking action to move this call forward. NFSN recognizes its own power and influence and is taking the necessary steps to do power-shifting work both externally and internally. The model of leadership is one crucial part of this and NFSN has been interested in implementing it. With the opportunity for an Interim Executive Director, it is the right time to bring this model into practice to decentralize decision-making, make more capacity for leadership by drawing on the strengths of the co-leaders and live the Call to Action.
The vision behind co-leadership is to increase the ability to be responsive to stakeholders through centering relationships/collaboration in the way that we work and what we value. With a vast network across the country already doing amazing work, NFSN has made strides to build this collective action, and this is the next step for what NFSN wants to accomplish. Villarreal says, "we hope to model this for staff and partners because at its core, farm to school is all about collaboration."
While NFSN does not claim to be an authority or expert on all things equity-related, NFSN is committed to the work to reduce harm and shift power. Through its experiences, NFSN is continually shifting internal practices to better reflect its Call to Action. Through the team's relationships with people, NFSN holds firm to its accountability to others, and the team is humbled to support and lift the power held in communities.
Advisory Board Chair Sommer Sibilly says, "as we work to shift and share power we need to become comfortable building relationships and leading together. I personally see this as a demonstration of our commitment to that." The Advisory Board is excited to welcome the two Interim Co-EDs knowing they have the experience and care necessary to move NFSN forward and build this collective work with partners.
About Jessica Gudmundson
Gudmundson brings 17+ years of experience running organizational finance, policy and operations. Regarding her personal connection to the work, she shares, "as someone who grew up in a home that didn't always have food, making sure kids are fed and valued through food is important to me." Villarreal shares his excitement to work with Gudmundson, "I cannot think of someone more capable to work alongside as Co-ED than Jessica."
About Miguel Villarreal
Villarreal brings 30+ years of experience as a Food Service Director. During his tenure, he implemented farm to school initiatives while building a vast network of local, state and national stakeholders to advance those efforts. Gudmundson shares, "When the idea of co-leadership was discussed, I was excited at the opportunity to work with Miguel again. We balance each other very well and bring different perspectives and skills that allow both of us the freedom and support to make real and helpful impacts in our roles."
Looking Ahead. Working Together.
Gudmundson and Villarreal shared that their vision is to create the conditions where all the incredible leaders in this work can be successful and make sure their impact is realized, valued, supported and encouraged. Gudmundson says, "I'm always inspired by the people in this work: Staff members, our network partners, and other individuals and organizations who are in this work. I see so much value in the people and the work that's already happening."
Advisory Board Vice-Chair Laura Edwards-Orr says, "I'm so pleased to welcome Jessica and Miguel as Interim Co-Executive Directors of the Network. As long-time leaders in the movement in their own rights, this partnership weaves together decades of complementary experience within a structure that is grounded in our desire to shift power and uplift the tremendous talents of the entire National Farm to School Network team. I look forward to working with both Jessica and Miguel in the months to come."
Together, Gudmundson and Villarreal will join together with staff and partners to implement the Call to Action. They will work together with the Advisory Board in the Executive Director Search, making sure that the vision is carried forward. Through partnering with the many incredible leaders in this work, building community power and taking collective action, NFSN looks forward to seeing this work come to fruition.