Federal Budget Reconciliation Includes Wins for Farm to School

NFSN Staff
September 14, 2021

By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

This week, Congress will continue work on a budget reconciliation package that offers new funding for a broad range of issues important to farm to school stakeholders. Last week, the House Committee on Education and Labor advanced their portion of the overall $3.5 trillion budget, covering labor enforcement, employment education and training, school facilities funding, higher ed, child care and pre-K, and child nutrition.

The child nutrition portion, estimated at $35 billion, contains several big wins for equity. Most notably, the bill would widely expand the Community Eligibility Provision -- a big step toward school meals for all! -- and increase funding for meals served under CEP. It also would fund expanded summer EBT, as well as school kitchen modernization and training. 

Finally, it allocates $634 million to Healthy Food Demonstration Incentive grant for schools to improve school nutrition, including hands-on experiential learning, increasing scratch cooking, and procuring local, regional, and culturally appropriate foods and foods produced by “underserved” or “limited resource farmers” (as defined by USDA). The language of the grant program is broad in this legislation, leaving much up to the discretion of the Secretary. If passed, this will be an important opportunity for NFSN partners and impacted communities to give feedback on how grants can be prioritized and administered to increase racial equity. NFSN has signed on to advocate for $1 billion in funding for this grant, as originally proposed in the White House’s Build Back Better plan. 

Other highlights include:

  • A federal and state partnership to help parents cover the cost of child care
  • Support for universal pre-K
  • Funding for states to improve public school facilities 
  • More robust enforcement of labor standards and protections
  • Investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.

The House Agriculture Committee voted Monday to advance a partial proposal of $66 billion in new spending on rural development, agricultural research for climate resiliency, biofuels, and forestry. The Committee is still working on details of conservation program spending and possible producer debt relief that would be added to the final bill. Previous debt relief targeted at producers of color was halted amid legal challenges. Their Senate counterparts must now advance their own versions toward a final negotiation, but the exact timing of this process is unclear.   

We anticipate there will be political pressure on Senate leaders to make cuts to reduce the overall price of the package from the estimated $3.5 billion, or to eliminate “controversial” measures such as debt relief for producers of color. Many high-profile priorities will be competing for their pieces of the funding pie. If you are so moved to contact your legislators this week, particularly your Senators, please do! 

New Edition! Policy Handbook for Farm to School Advocates

NFSN Staff
August 31, 2021

Farm to school legislation is a key strategy for making local food procurement, school gardens, and food education a reality for millions of children, farmers, and communities across the country. We’re excited to share a new resource to help partners and advocates in these efforts: the State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2020.

Co-authored by the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, the State Farm to School Policy Handbook summarizes and analyzes every proposed farm to school bill and resolution introduced between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2020, from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. It enables users to search bills by both jurisdiction and topic, and includes analysis of trends, case studies, advocacy resources and more.

What’s new in this edition?
The State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2020 builds on a survey that was originally released in 2011, and updated in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019. The last update of the Handbook focused on bills that directly advanced the core elements of farm to school – local procurement, school gardens, and food and agriculture education. In this edition, we broadened our scope to also include:

Bills that Support Universal School Meals: One clear takeaway for school nutrition professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the need for universal meals, which allow them to focus more on nourishing kids than on filling out paperwork by eliminating means testing and making all school meals free for all students. This edition of the Handbook highlights bills that support universal meal expansion and implementation through state policies.

Bills that Support BIPOC Producers: Farm to school exists within the broader agricultural economy. Policies addressing the historical and ongoing inequities between Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) farmers and their white counterparts are ultimately necessary for BIPOC producers to experience a level playing field on which to participate in farm to school. This edition of the Handbook highlights bills that support small farmers and producers of color in aims of spurring more of this type of policy. It also includes a comprehensive case study on key strategies to support Native food and Tribal sovereignty through farm to school policy.

Farm to school policy responses to COVID-19: The public health and economic emergency caused by COVID-19 illuminated valuable lessons about the resilience of our food system and farm to school and ECE work. It also showed opportunities for continued advocacy to ensure communities are better supported in future emergency situations. This edition of the Handbook includes a case study highlighting farm to school, child nutrition, and food system policy challenges experienced during the pandemic, as well as innovations and strategies for future resilience.

What are the other highlights?
Between January 1, 2002 and December 31, 2020:

  • 46 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have introduced 546 bills and resolutions supporting farm to school activities.
  • 43 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed farm to school policies.
  • Between 2019-2020, 26 states proposed 91 farm to school bills and resolutions. Of those, 30 passed.
  • The most common bill type has been one that provides funding for farm to school. These bills include annual appropriations, permanent funds, and other revenue streams.

How can advocates use the Handbook?
The time is ripe to leverage relationships and advocate to expand farm to school through state legislation, and the State Farm to School Policy Handbook is a valuable tool you can use to approach policy in ways that make sense for your state. Whether your state is still working to pass its first farm to school legislation or ready to expand, you can use this Handbook to gain knowledge of the wide variety of farm to school policy options that exist and find inspiration and models that can be adapted to meet your states needs. Be sure to check out the Promising Practices section (starting on page 21) and the Advocacy Strategies (starting on page 23) for ideas to seed, grow, and sustain farm to school in your state. The Bill Summaries (starting on page 41) can be helpful comparing your state’s farm to school laws, policies and programs to those of other states.

State-level farm to school policy work is driving a broader expansion of farm to school across the country. Simply put, strong laws facilitate strong programs. But more work is still needed to ensure equitable access to the opportunities and benefits of these programs. The goal of every state and territory should be to pass comprehensive legislation that supports farm to school activities to advance racial equity and benefit those most impacted in their communities. We hope the Handbook provides a roadmap for advocates and policymakers to dig deeper into developing the laws needed to facilitate strong, equity-centered farm to school programs. Download the resource here to start exploring.

Have questions about this new resource or need a thought partner on how to connect with your state lawmakers? Don’t hesitate to contact our Policy team for support! We look forward to hearing how your advocacy efforts continue to grow the farm to school movement, state by state.

The State Farm to School Handbook: 2002-2020 is co-written by National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School (CAFS). This project is funded by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This blog was originally posted on July 27, 2021.

News Release: Local School Foods Expansion Act Introduced in Senate & House

NFSN Staff
August 31, 2021

When schools purchase locally grown foods for school meals, it is a triple win for kids, family farmers, and local economies. Today, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) took an important step towards providing more schools flexibility in making impactful local food purchases by introducing the Local School Foods Expansion Act, which will expand the successful Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot project to 14 states, while also increasing technical assistance and capacity building to improve access to this valuable program for schools with racially diverse and high-need student populations and for socially disadvantaged farmers. National Farm to School Network applauds the introduction of this bill and encourages all Members of Congress to support its inclusion in the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR).

“This expansion of the Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable pilot program offers participating schools the opportunity to cultivate their own purchasing relationships with local producers, which directly translates to kids eating more local, fresh, and unprocessed or minimally processed foods in school meals. Thanks to leadership from Senator Wyden and Congressman Welch, the Local School Foods Expansion Act will nearly double the number of states with access to this flexibility and increase vital technical assistance to maximize its impact,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director with National Farm to School Network. “National Farm to School Network is proud to endorse this bill because its provisions are directly responsive to what we have learned from schools participating in the existing eight-state pilot. With a renewed focus on equitable capacity building to ensure that small producers, Tribal producers, and schools in every community have the resources to benefit, scaling up this Pilot project so more states can participate is a promising opportunity.”

The Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot project was created as part of the 2014 Farm Bill and currently operates in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. In addition to expanding the project to up to an additional 7 states, the Local School Foods Expansion Act will include $25 million for technical assistance to help schools in participating states build their capacity for local food procurement and to assist new produce vendors in being approved to sell to schools.

National Farm to School Network is advocating that the Local Foods Expansion Act, as well as other important marker bills that will advance farm to school and equity in the food system, be included in the upcoming CNR. National Farm to School Network is committed to supporting policies that build on six shared community values – economic and environmental justice, health, racial equity, workers rights, and animal welfare – which will move the country towards a just, equitable food system that promotes the health of all school children and benefits producers, workers, educators, and our communities.

Read the full press release here.

This was originally posted on May 14, 2021.

News Release: Kids Eat Local Act Introduced in Senate & House

NFSN Staff
August 31, 2021

Today, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders took an important step towards making it easier for schools to source locally grown, locally raised, and locally caught food and farm products for school meals. The Kids Eat Local Act, introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Alma Adams (D-NC), would help break down barriers between school food purchasers and family farmers and food producers by simplifying local purchasing guidelines for school meal programs.

By including the Kids Eat Local Act in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, schools would be given a new, easier to use local product specification option through which they could specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language, and then make the award to the lowest bidder who can meet that product specification. The addition of local product specification would substantially improve opportunities for local producers by providing more flexibility for school districts. The Kids Eat Local Act would also allow schools flexibility in determining the definition of “local” that best suits their needs.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition thank the bill sponsors in both the Senate and House for introducing the Kids Eat Local Act and paving the way for increased healthy food in schools and new economic opportunities for local farmers. We urge all members of Congress to support this simple, yet significant change and look forward to continue working with our partners and allies as this bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization move forward.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Kids Eat Local Act here.

Have questions about the Kids Eat Local Act or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, our Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

The was originally posted on April 28, 2021.

News Release: Farm to School Act of 2021 Introduced in Senate

NFSN Staff
August 31, 2021

Today, a bipartisan group of Senate leaders introduced the Farm to School Act of 2021 which will support our nation’s schools, farmers and communities in building back equitably from the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Susan Collins (R-ME), will expand funding for and programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, while also ensuring that more communities – specifically those serving racially diverse and high-need student populations, as well as engaging with beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers – have a competitive opportunity to benefit from this valuable program.

A similar bill (H.R. 1768) was introduced in the House by Representatives Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Alma Adams (D-NC) in March.

"The Farm to School Act of 2021 couldn’t come at a more necessary time,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director with National Farm to School Network. “When the pandemic began, school nutrition professionals, educators, and local food producers – the people who make farm to school work – were some of the very first community members to step up and ensure the ongoing care and support of children and families. The measures included in the Farm to School Act will give them much-needed resources to continue their work as we emerge from the pandemic, while helping our country build a more resilient and equitable food system."

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, farmers, nonprofits, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods for school meals and to support activities like school gardens, hands-on science lessons, and new food taste tests. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and includes $5 million in annual mandatory funding.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools. In recent years, the program has benefited from temporary funding boosts through annual appropriations. The Farm to School Act of 2021 would increase annual mandatory funding to $15 million to permanently allow more of these impactful projects to be realized. The proposed legislation, as introduced in the Senate, will also:

  • Increase the maximum grant award to $500,000,
  • Prioritize grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools,
  • Fully include early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs; and,
  • Increase access among Native and tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2021 here.

Have questions about the Farm to School Act of 2021 or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, our Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

This was originally posted on April 22, 2021.

News Release: Farm to School Act of 2021 Introduced in House

NFSN Staff
August 31, 2021

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders introduced the Farm to School Act of 2021 (H.R. 1768) which will support our nation’s schools, farmers and communities in building back equitably from the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill, sponsored by Representative Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Representative Alma Adams (D-NC), will expand funding for and programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, while also ensuring that more communities – specifically those serving racially diverse and high-need student populations, as well as engaging with beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers – have a competitive opportunity to benefit from this valuable program.

When the pandemic began, school nutrition professionals, educators and local food producers – the people who make farm to school work – were some of the very first community members to step up and ensure the ongoing care and support of children and families. The measures included in the Farm to School Act of 2021 will give them much-needed resources to continue their work as we emerge from the pandemic. Furthermore, the bill’s emphasis on ensuring equitable access to this important grant program will help those who have been most impacted by the pandemic, including Native and tribal communities, racially diverse communities, and early care and education sites. There has never been a better time to build on the successes of this program.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, farmers, nonprofits, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods for school meals and to support activities like school gardens, hands-on science lessons, and new food taste tests. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and includes $5 million in annual mandatory funding.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools. In recent years, the program has benefited from temporary funding boosts through annual appropriations. The Farm to School Act of 2021 would allow more of these impactful projects to be realized by:

  • Increasing annual mandatory funding to $15 million and increase the maximum grant award to $250,000,
  • Prioritizing grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools,
  • Fully including early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs, and
  • Increasing access among Native and tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.


Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2021 here.

Statements from the Farm to School Act of 2021's Cosponsors:

Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI): “Millions of students are eating healthier and engaged in food and agriculture education because of the Farm to School Program. It is a commonsense program that benefits children and their families while providing economic opportunities to our farmers. The increased demand for Farm to School programming tells us that more people are beginning to understand the connection between local foods and healthy young minds. I’m proud to introduce this legislation in support of our nation’s schools and local farmers who help improve classroom diets and local economies.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA): “The Farm to School program feeds kids, teaches kids, inspires kids. What an impactful, nutritious way to connect the farm to the family, enhance regional economic benefit, and promote good health. I am happy to lead the development of the program.”

Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Vice Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture: “The Farm to School Grant Program supports healthy students and strengthens our local food systems. The Farm to School Act of 2021 expands participation in this critical program and increases its funding, which is more important than ever as our students, schools and farmers face difficult challenges due to the global pandemic. Teachers, parents, and farmers all know that healthy students are successful students, so I am proud to support the introduction this important legislation.”

Have questions about the Farm to School Act of 2021 or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

This was originally posted on March 11, 2021.

Racial Healing & Our Call for a Racially Just Food System

NFSN Staff
February 2, 2021

January 19 is the 5th Annual National Day of Racial Healing, a time for contemplation and collective action on how we heal from the effects of racism. Racial healing is a process that restores individuals and communities to wholeness, repairs the damage caused by racism, and transforms societal structures into ones that affirm the inherent value of all people.

Helen Dombalis, Executive Director of National Farm to School Network, shares her reflections on how racial healing is part of our work towards our new call to action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system.

Video Transcript:

"This is Helen Dombalis, I serve as Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network. At the end of 2020, we released a call to action for our food system that by 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially justice food system. In other words, were making a commitment to shifting power in order to achieve a racially justice food system. In the process leading up to that call to action's finalization we kept coming back to the fact that if you don't work differently the gap between our vision and our current reality will continue to widen. We can't keep working on local procurement, gardens, and food and food and agriculture education in the same ways and expect different results. We have to be intentional about shifting power in order to achieve a racially just food system.

We know that our call to action takes all of us at the National Farm to School Network and through farm to school activities, but also across our food system. So, today being January 19th, the Annual National Day of Racial Healing is an important day and in our ongoing work to recognize that we can't make progress without also healing.

In our nation and communities, and in our food system there is a deep history in intentionality of racism including the foundation on which our American agricultural system was built from enslavement of African peoples to settler colonialism and stolen land from Indigenous peoples. We're not just working against that history, we're also saying that there's a history and it continues today in the real and destructive ways that are current unjust food system impacts communities of color.

For example, during the pandemic with food workers having higher rates of Covid and not being given due protections during the pandemic. So as we do this work, we have to acknowledge what got us here and how racism is continuing today to harm all of us.

We're all people with families, with communities, with hopes with challenges, and regardless of our skin color, racism is fueling divisiveness, not unity, difference, not inclusion, and bias, not trust.

So, as National Farm to School Network Executive Director, and on a personal level, as a mother, I'm committed to a world and a food system where all people are valued and respected equally regardless of skin color, income, immigration status, job, or any other criteria. But I also know that it's not enough to just hold that commitment, to have that value system. Action is necessary.

With the National Day of Racial Healing, it's a moment to making a commitment to learning more and taking action, including in the food system and looking at our own contributions to racism and ending it. So, I'm committed to learning more about the history of school meal and child nutrition programs being rooted in survival and power building in Black communities and also looking at and acknowledging that farm to school very much predates the founding of the Network Farm to School Network, when you look at Indigenous communities, for example, and the connection and honoring of land and food and integrating that into learning.

I'm also committed to shifting power, recognizing that there's a spectrum and ultimately we have to defer and ensure that those who are impacted by decisions are actually the one who is making the decision. So, for example, producers of color showing up and working with school districts and their purchasing and the producer saying,"Here's what we have available here. Here's what we will have available," and integrating that in the school meal programs and meeting a price point that's a living wage for those producers. It's not enough to have the school districts be the ones to say, "Okay, we'll buy this from these producers of color." At the furthest end of the spectrum, it's the farmers of color that are making those decisions themselves.

So with that example, I will leave you all with my firm commitment to learning, and also to action, and ask you all to join me in contributing to understanding that we need to heal from our past and in our current reality, in order to move forward and achieve a more racially just food system. Thank you."