USDA Final Rule on Child Nutrition Program Standards Includes Major Wins for Farm to School

NFSN Staff
May 1, 2024

By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

On April 25, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final rule for its updates to the Child Nutrition Program (CNP) standards. This rule will impact meals served in schools and early childhood settings by setting the requirements for important nutrients, meal patterns and types of foods, operations, and purchasing that programs must meet to be reimbursed by USDA. 

Specifically, this update covers the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, summer food programs, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program for early childhood, after-school, and adult care settings. 

National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is proud to see that a number of our longtime policy priorities were adopted in the rule, including buying local, strides in equity, and better career access. This major win is an outcome of many years of NFSN and our movement’s collective advocacy to advance farm to school and an equitable food system, and we are excited to share these updates.  

Below are some top takeaways from this comprehensive update. Over the next few months, NFSN will continue to promote awareness and support our Partners in these important changes.

  • Timing: This rule will be in effect as of July 1, 2024. However, many requirements specifically phase in over time to give child nutrition program operators and vendors time to prepare. Programs will not be required to make new menu changes until School Year 2025-2026.
  • Local Procurement: Starting in July, child nutrition programs will now be able to use “locally grown,” “locally raised,” or “locally caught” as a specification requirement for fresh and minimally processed food items. Under current rules, local food can be preferred in bid scoring criteria but bids cannot specify a food must be local. This change simplifies the geographic preference process for child nutrition programs, making it easier to purchase local foods.
  • Native Foods: USDA strengthens its previous guidance that traditional Indigenous foods may be served in reimbursable school meals by including it in this rule. The regulation’s definition of “traditional” means any food that has traditionally been prepared and consumed by an American Indian Tribe, including wild game meat, fish, seafood, marine animals, plants, and berries. It also finalizes the proposal to allow vegetable substitution for grains in programs serving American Indian or Alaska Native students, and in Guam and Hawai’i.  
  • Nutrient Targets: This rule lowers sodium limits in 2027 (15 percent for lunch and 10 percent for breakfast) and establishes limits on added sugars for the first time in yogurt, cereal, and flavored milk, as well as a weekly limit of no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars in school lunch and school breakfast. This rule does not include their proposed limit on added sugars for grain-based desserts at breakfast in items like pastries or granola bars; USDA will continue to seek input on how to address these items. 
  • School Nutrition Profession: The rule finalizes the proposed flexibility for hiring an individual without a bachelor’s or associate’s degree as a school nutrition program director, if they have at least 10 years of school nutrition program experience. 
  • Buy American: The rule strengthens the requirement for school meals to buy domestic products by providing greater specificity on how product exceptions may be applied, sets documentation and contract requirements, and creates a phased-in limit on non-domestic food purchases.
  • Plant Proteins: It supports flexibility to include plant proteins such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, or prepared foods like hummus, in reimbursable meals and snacks. This change not only supports a healthy variety of protein options, but can also help programs better serve students with religious or dietary needs.

As with the proposed rule, the final regulation covers many detailed areas of Child Nutrition Program compliance. For more information on specific requirements, consult these USDA resources:

This rule is the culmination of a decade-long process to bring the nutrition standards for meal programs in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendations on components like salt, sugar and fat. This alignment has been required by law since 2010 but is only now being fully implemented through this final durable rule (“durable” is a term in regulation to differentiate from a transitional rule that is expected to be replaced). 

We applaud USDA for its careful consideration of the more than 100,000 comments it received in response to the proposed rule during the comment period last year, and appreciate the challenge of crafting an approach that supports children’s health and recognizes the constraints under which programs operate.   

We look forward to hearing from our Partners and other stakeholders in the farm to school movement about how this rule will impact you. If you have a story you would like to share with NFSN to help us communicate how these updates will affect local purchasing, the meal patterns you offer, or the success of Child Nutrition Programs, we would like to hear from you! Please reach out to Policy Director Karen Spangler ( or Policy Specialist Ryan Betz ( to get in touch. 

National Farm to School Network Announces Nationwide Cohort of Farm to School Coordinators and School Districts

NFSN Staff
February 5, 2024

National Farm to School Network launches a new project, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and Life Time Foundation, to enhance the well-being of children, fortify family-run farms, and foster thriving communities.

National Farm to School Network is excited to announce the first cohorts for the Farm to School Coordinators Project. Last fall, National Farm to School Network announced the launch of this new project, made possible by the support from USDA and Life Time Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit created by Life Time Inc. (NYSE: LTH), with a mission to inspire Healthy People, a Healthy Planet, and a Healthy Way of Life. 

National Farm to School Network’s goal with this project is to increase the number of dedicated farm to school coordinator positions in school districts across the country—which will result in expanded capacity for locally sourced food items and scratch cooking in schools. This project will also help boost the incorporation of hands-on nutrition education in classroom curriculum and raise participation in farm and garden-based agricultural education activities. 

National Farm to School Network is grateful for the support of Life Time Foundation for this project. This partnership is one way in which Life Time Foundation addresses the elimination of ultra-processed foods as per the Ingredient Guide for Better School Food Purchasing. By promoting the use of locally sourced ingredients in schools, it helps reduce the amount of unnecessary ingredients that are commonly found in highly processed school meals. In line with this, a key finding from the Sapien Labs Consumption of ultra-processed food and mental wellbeing outcomes October 2023 report was, “Mental wellbeing decreases sharply with higher frequency of ultra-processed food consumption.”  

“We are delighted to get started on this work to grow capacity for school district communities to participate in farm to school,” said Sunny Baker, Senior Director of Programs and Policy at National Farm to School Network. “The Life Time Foundation is a wonderful partner for this work and we’re grateful for their support for this generative work.”  

This project includes two groups, one of which is a Community of Practice for current farm to school coordinators. Representing school districts of various sizes from across the country, the following cohort members will come together to share best practices, problem solve, and develop resources that can help others in similar roles succeed: 

  • Allison Pfaff Harris, REAP Food Group, WI 
  • Brianna Jackson, Chicopee Public Schools, MA 
  • Dory Cooper, Wylde Center, GA  
  • Janelle Manzano, San Diego Unified School District, CA  
  • Jennifer Lynn Lewis, East Jordan Public Schools, MI 
  • Kirsten Weigle, Minneapolis Public Schools, MN
  • Maryssa Wilson, Sidney Central School District, NY
  • Rebecca Rodriguez, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, OH 

Likewise, we are also thrilled to announce the School District Working Group, which will convene with the intent to build the case to create a farm to school coordinator role in their school district as well as others across the country: 

  • Amanda Warren, Staunton City Schools, VA
  • Cedra Milton, Jackson Public Schools, MS
  • Emily Becker, Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. (RurAL CAP), AK
  • Erica Biagetti, Cheshire Public Schools, CT
  • Lynne Short, Willamina School District, OR
  • Margaret Zelenka, West New York School District, NJ
  • Monica Fleisher, Portland Public Schools, OR
  • Nicole Chandler, Little Rock School District, AR
  • Rhonda L. Barlow, Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, GA
  • Samantha Goyret, Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network, TN

The impact of this project will be far-reaching—collectively, the Community of Practice and Working Group cohort members represent 21 school districts and 433,950 students.

Together, National Farm to School Network and Life Time Foundation envision a future where fresh, locally sourced produce becomes a staple in school cafeterias nationwide, fostering better physical health and deeper connection between communities and their local food systems. By focusing on locally grown food, it allows communities to engage in sustainable food systems that not only support health but also mitigate environmental harm. This partnership underscores a shared commitment to improving the overall well-being of students and transforming the landscape of school nutrition, addressing not only the immediate health needs of students but also providing the foundation for healthy lifelong habits and environmental conservation.  

"We want all children to live healthier, happier lives and that starts with the food they eat," said Megan Flynn, MPH, RD Life Time Foundation Nutrition Program Manager. "That's why we are proud to collaborate with National Farm to School Network to support all school food professionals in their efforts to eliminate ultra-processed foods and educate students on the importance of local, fresh foods for their health and wellbeing." 

About Life Time Foundation 

Life Time Foundation, a 501c(3) nonprofit created by Life Time, Inc. is dedicated to inspiring Healthy People, a Healthy Planet, and a Healthy Way of Life. Through its work, the Foundation supports schools in their efforts to serve healthy, nutritious meals to students; physical movement programs and events that get children active and healthy; and initiatives that promote a healthy planet, including programs supporting forestation and conservation. For more information, visit

About National Farm to School Network 
The National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing, school gardens and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. The National Farm to School Network provides vision, leadership and support at the state, regional and national levels to connect and expand the farm to school movement, which has grown from a handful of schools in the late 1990s to approximately 67,300 schools in all 50 states as of 2019. Our network includes partner organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. Territories, thousands of farm to school supporters, a national advisory board and staff. Learn more at

Apply for These Great Farm to School Funding Opportunities—Deadlines Coming Up in January 2024!

NFSN Staff
December 14, 2023

By Jiyoon Chon, NFSN Communications Manager

Are you currently working to increase local procurement in school meals, expand scratch cooking, or build relationships with community stakeholders? If so, and you’ve been looking for additional funding to support your project, you may be eligible for one of the USDA Healthy Meals Incentives: School Food System Transformation Challenge Grants

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is honored to directly support three of these grants: PLANTS, Project SCALES, and the Innovation Hub!

Out of these three grants, two are currently accepting applications, with deadlines coming up in about six weeks. Here’s a quick summary of the two active grant opportunities, which are open nationally: 

Partnerships for Local Agriculture & Nutrition Transformation in Schools (PLANTS)

  • Administered by the Chef Ann Foundation 
  • Deadline: January 22, 2024
  • 8 projects will be awarded grants between $500,000 - $600,000. No Matching requirement.
  • Funds collaborative projects administered by a group of 3-5 local partners, one of which must be a School Food Authority (SFA).
  • Projects must aim to transform school food supply chains and/or build relationships among community-based food system stakeholders and SFAs. For example, this can look like expanding local procurement or scratch cooking in schools. 
  • Visit the PLANTS grant webpage here to learn more and apply. 

Supporting Community Agriculture & Local Education Systems (SCALES)

  • Administered by Boise State University 
  • Deadline: January 26, 2024 
  • Up to 35 rural SFAs will be awarded up to $150,000 grants, along with technical assistance.
  • Only rural School Food Authorities are eligible to apply during this round of applications.
  • SFAs must be engaging in projects to increase local procurement.
  • Visit the SCALES grant webpage here to learn more and apply. 

If these two grant opportunities are not a good match for you, a third grant opportunity is opening up on February 1, 2024. These grants are specifically for those in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. 

The Lake Michigan School Food System Innovation Hub Grants: Spark Awards and Innovation Collaborative Awards 

  • Administered by the Institute for Public Health Innovation, Illinois 
  • Launches February 1, 2024, closes on April 30, 2024 
  • Spark Awards fund projects that need a short-term infusion of funds for school food system and marketplace improvements, such as capacity-building, planning, and product testing projects. One year grant cycle, with $10,000 - $75,000 award range. 
  • Innovation Collaborative Awards fund projects that promote systems-level change of the school food system and marketplace, such as scaling up of programs, regional partnerships, or new program or product development and integration. Two and a half years grant cycle, with $250,000 awards. 
  • Visit the Innovation Hub page here to learn more and stay updated about the upcoming launch. En español

And finally, Full Plates Full Potential is administering the fourth USDA Transformation Grant—you can learn more about the organization here. They will be opening their grant soon, so stay tuned!

Want to make sure you are updated on the latest farm to school grant opportunities? Make sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter—this is where we share a curated list of the latest events, grant opportunities, policy updates, and job opportunities! 

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 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.