Opinion: Student Leader Applauds California's Free School Meals for All

NFSN Staff
December 6, 2022

By Kristie To

Kristie To is a high school student in Orange County. She serves in Student Government, her local Youth Advisory Council, and is on the Board of Directors and Executive Branch of the California Association of Student Councils.

"This school year, California’s new “School Meals for All” program began. As a student leader serving my school, the city of Irvine, and the California Association of Student Councils, I applaud California for being the first state to provide every K–12 student in our public schools with free breakfast and lunch.

My peers and I rely on school breakfast and lunch every day. Many of my closest friends do not have the time and are not in the financial situation to provide themselves with meals to fuel their school day and concentrate in class. My parents and older sister have full-time jobs, and I struggle to prepare meals for myself with my busy schedule. This new program has alleviated the stress of buying and preparing meals that previously strained students and families.

Additionally, the free school meal program brings together the student body as a community. My friends and I often join the lunch line together, and I enjoy making conversation with my peers as we wait to be served our meals. When everyone receives meals for free, students are more likely to eat at school.

Our state grows the most fruits and vegetables in our country. I’d like to see more fresh California produce in our school meals. My school has a neighboring orchard, yet I receive packaged pineapple at school. It’s not local or sustainable. I urge my school to source more local foods, serve a variety of fruits and vegetables, and reduce packaging waste.

California’s free school meal program has changed my life and transformed the school day for six million students in our state. Without the burden of being responsible for buying and creating nutritional meals for myself, I can better focus on my education and positions as a student leader. Therefore, I believe all states should follow in the footsteps of California."

View the full op-ed here.

“Who’s At the Table” Campaign will Bring More Awareness to Values-Aligned Universal Meals

NFSN Staff
November 14, 2022

Media contact:

David Hutabarat, Communications Director, NFSN

david@farmtoschool.org

(Washington, D.C., November 14, 2022)—The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and allied and partner organizations across the United States are launching a “Who’s at The Table” campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of values-aligned universal meals.

The campaign follows important, innovative bills on the issue in states like California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Colorado, to ensure all students benefit from free school meals over the coming years.

NFSN was invited to attend the White House’s recent Hunger, Nutrition and Health Conference, the first of its kind in 50 years. In the wake of this historic event, the campaign aims to encourage broader engagement in such policies from policy makers, school principals, cafeteria managers, students, parents, produce suppliers, farmers, and farm workers.

“We must continue to build on the momentum to make free school meals for all a permanent reality so that millions of children across the country have access to the healthy food they need to keep hunger at bay and to thrive in and out of the classroom,” said Luis Guardia, President of Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), an advisor in the development of the campaign.

A new website and social media influencing campaign will offer tools to understand and communicate the benefits of healthy, equitably produced school meals. Parents, farmers, educators can all ensure this issue is at the top of the policy agenda. NFSN also held listening sessions in the runup to the White House summit to communicate this perspective.

Experts agree that with universal school meals, kids learn better, stay in school longer, and pay closer attention in class. Fresh, farm-to-school meals for all help level the playing field on child hunger. Many child nutrition providers, parents and students agree. Now it’s time to act.

Karen Spangler, Policy Director at NFSN said: “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, school nutrition professionals have worked tirelessly to feed kids under emergency conditions with limited resources and breakdowns in the supply chain. Policies that allow school nutrition professionals to feed all kids are a necessity, one that lets them focus on nourishing kids instead of checking paperwork for each and every student for free or reduced-price meals. At the same time, shortages in key ingredients highlighted the weaknesses in a consolidated, inequitably produced food supply. We can address this and improve our food system for everyone through strategic investments like values-aligned healthy school meals for all kids.”

Maleeka Manurasada, National Organizer at the HEAL Food Alliance, an advisor in the development of the campaign, said: "Over 42 million people nationwide struggle every day to get a meal, let alone one that will truly nourish them. Values-Aligned Universal Meals is a powerful and critical program that will not only truly nourish our children, but also nourish our communities and our environment. Our food and farm system needs radical transformation to one that values health, workers, animals, and the planet, and school meals are a critical place to begin that shift."

About NFSN

National Farm to School Network has a vision of a strong and just food system for all, and we seek deep transformation toward this vision through farm to school – the way kids eat, grow, and learn about food in schools and early care and education settings.

Applications now open for USDA Farm to School Grants

NFSN Staff
November 1, 2022

Schools, farmers, state and tribal governments, and other organizations that help produce or serve meals to kids through USDA’s child nutrition programs can apply now for a USDA Farm to School Grant (deadline: 01/06/2023). Administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Community Food Systems Division (CFSD), the USDA Farm to School Grant is an annual, competitive grant that supports the planning, development, and implementation of farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) programs. Since 2013, USDA's Farm to School grants have helped state, regional, and local organizations as they initiate, expand, and institutionalize their farm to school and farm to ECE efforts. This round will award $12 million in grants organized into Turnkey, Implementation, and State Agency tracks. USDA will again prioritize racial equity, providing bonus points to projects operated by and serving communities that are underserved, marginalized, or adversely affected by poverty and inequality. We applaud USDA’s continued support of racial equity, which aligns with our Call to Action and with the long-term changes that we would like to see through the Farm to School Act. See below for more information on the achievements of the grant since it began, the kinds of projects that Farm to School Grants can support, who is eligible, and resources to apply.

Farm to School Grant Achievements and Projects

  • In 2010, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition - along with our network of supporters from across the country - successfully advocated for the creation of the USDA Farm to School Grant Program as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, as well as subsequent funding increases through the Farm to School Act.  
  • Nationally, the Farm to School Grant Program has awarded nearly $75 million in farm to school grants since 2013, funding more than 1,000 projects that have reached over 25 million students in nearly 60,000 schools. This program has grown over time, with more than $10 million to support 123 projects in 2022 alone
  • Policymakers on both sides of the aisle, including farm to school champion and retiring Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have sponsored multiple, bipartisan bills that promote farm to school, including the Farm to School Act to expand and improve the Farm to School Grant Program.
  • Farm to School grant projects include local procurement, agricultural education, edible gardening, and farm to school action planning objectives that improve access to local foods. Check out these links to learn more about the specific projects awarded to past grantees: 

2023 Grant Details

Release Date: October 6, 2022 

Application Due Date: 11:59 PM, Eastern Standard Time (EST), January 6, 2023 

Anticipated Award Date: July 2023 

Anticipated number of awards: 150 

Estimated Total Program Funding: $12,000,000

Award Ceiling: $100,000/$500,000* 

Award Floor: $10,000

*The USDA notes in the Request for Applications (RFA) that in anticipation of authority to provide grants of up to $500,000 in the FY 2023 agriculture appropriations, USDA will consider proposals of up to $500,000 from State agencies or other eligible organizations proposing projects that are multi-state or national in scope. Other selected grantees are limited to $100,000.

Eligible Applicants:

  • Eligible schools, including nonprofit private and charter schools, which operate the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and/or School Breakfast Program; 
  • Eligible Child Care Institutions, including non-school based institutions that have an agreement with the State agency to operate the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP); 
  • Eligible Summer Institutions, including non-school based institutions that have an agreement with the State agency to operate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP); 
  • State agencies; 
  • Local agencies; 
  • Indian Tribal organizations (ITOs) 
  • Agricultural producer 

Resources and Next steps‍ 

To learn more about the USDA F2S grants, review the RFA, see Frequently Asked Questions, read about previous awardees, and more, please visit the below links. 

For more information on USDA’s many farm to school initiatives, or to access resources associated with farm to school, please visit USDA’s Farm to School Program webpage.

Be sure to share these opportunities and resources with school, producers, community organizations, and institutions in your network!

Press Release - Celebrating National Farm to School Month 2022

NFSN Staff
October 3, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRESS CONTACT:

David Hutabarat

National Farm to School Network

david@farmtoschool.org

This Year’s Theme is “Who’s at the Table?”

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.

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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.

National Farm to School Network Applauds the Biden-Harris Administration for Recognizing Crucial Role of School Meals in Improving Child Nutrition and Hunger

NFSN Staff
September 28, 2022

By Miguel Villarreal and Karen Spangler

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

NFSN Welcomes Interim Co-Executive Directors Jessica Gudmundson and Miguel Villarreal

NFSN Staff
September 19, 2022

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(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.

Opinion: Nutrition waivers are needed to keep feeding hungry students in South Bay this fall

NFSN Staff
July 27, 2022

By Eric Span

Eric Span is the Director of Nutrition Services at Sweetwater Union High School District and lives in Chula Vista.

"Running the second largest secondary school district nutrition program in California during a pandemic — impacted by supply and staffing shortages — has had its challenges and its wins. The last two years stretched everyone across the nation and world, but despite many challenges, here in the Sweetwater Union High School District, located in Chula Vista, the seventh-largest city in Southern California, we successfully served 8.74 million meals to our students.

During the pandemic, Congress provided relief by passing special child nutrition waivers, which allowed schools more flexibility in service and meal preparation, in addition to reducing the administrative paperwork that comes with distributing meals to millions of students. We are hopeful Congress will extend the waivers that expire this week as the food supply chain is still experiencing challenges.

Last year in California, the Healthy School Meals for All legislation was passed. This means the state will cover the cost of two nutritious meals each day for all children beginning in the 2022-23 school year. Just as every child receives a textbook, each will receive a meal as well with hopes to reduce hunger and remove stigma for students in accessing meals. It is my dream that this becomes a national initiative. Our children are worth it!

There is no better way to unify than around a lunch table. And, in a country as great as America, there should be no barriers for students to learning. Those include at the lunch table."

Read the full op-ed at The San Diego Tribune

Opinion: The cost of a lunch should not stand in the way of Colorado schoolchildren

NFSN Staff
June 20, 2022

By Tanna Schut

Tanna Schut is a parent and advocate located in Pueblo, Colorado

"Here’s why we should cover the costs of school lunch for all children. Right now, kids who do qualify for free school lunches would, once again, face stigma in the lunch line. Healthy School Meals for All will remove that stigma and make sure more students get the food they need. It also will mean more students do better in school. Schools could spend less money on meal administrative costs and spend more money on nutritional and kitchen staffing.

Groups like the National Farm to School Network have been campaigning to ensure that our school meals are aligned with values like economic justice and respecting workers and educators. The measures in Colorado will lead the way, nationally, on these issues, and inspire states across the country to follow suit. Schools will be able to provide healthy meals and do more scratch cooking.

They’ll also get money to train their canteen staff in how to do it, which is an important step. I like the idea of our schools working with local farmers to source local ingredients. It will help strengthen Colorado’s economy as well as student health.

I’m glad schools are shifting their thinking about the lunches we serve our children. There’s more parent and student input, and we’re raising our voices to say healthy, local food is important to us.

Assuring healthy meals for all schoolchildren will mean one less thing standing in the way of our children’s future, so all our children can succeed."

Read the full op-ed at The Colorado Sun