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

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

NFSN’s Comments on Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Proposed Scientific Questions

NFSN Staff
June 2, 2022

In April, the US Department of Health and Human Services published its proposed list of scientific questions for the next update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The DGA, reviewed and updated every five years, provides the foundation for the federal government’s recommendations to the public about eating patterns that lead to better health outcomes. Federal child nutrition program standards, like school breakfast and lunch, are required by law to align to the DGA recommendations for kids. So this process of examining scientific evidence on diet underpins the work that farm to school and farm to ECE stakeholders are doing every day. 

NFSN commended the Advisory Committee for its proposed examination of the health effects of ultra-processed foods, the negative impact of added sugars, evidence on effects of saturated fat, and a lifespan approach that recognizes that a diversity of culturally relevant meal pattern approaches can support health. We also commend the commitment to examining all findings through a health equity lens. 

We were dismayed at what seemed to be an increased emphasis on weight, weight management, and obesity as the primary marker of health and main goal of the DGA. body-mass index (BMI), the most common measure of obesity, is a flawed and racially biased way to measure body composition for individuals and diverse populations, and of questionable value as a primary predictor of health. The purpose of Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to review evidence and make recommendations to help Americans avoid chronic disease and enjoy longer, healthier lives. An increased emphasis on weight as a primary goal is, in both substance and implementation, likely to increase racial harms, for instance in medical settings where Black and Brown patients are already at risk of delayed or denied care. Similarly, we worry about the health impact for children of emphasizing weight management as a primary goal of diet quality, rather than nourishing and supporting them for the healthiest and most empowered lives. We encourage the Advisory Committee to focus on the evidence that improves specific chronic disease and well-being outcomes for children and youth, regardless of their weight. 

Finally, NFSN shares the sentiments of many nutrition advocates in calling on the DGA to recognize that sustainability and health are interdependent. The proposed questions would remove questions of the healthiest sustainable diet for examination in a separate process at a later date. NFSN stakeholders work closely with producers and communities who provide child nutrition programs with whole, fresh, and unprocessed foods that nourish kids. Therefore they know that the ability to consume a healthy diet depends on whether our planet can continue to support its production, and the two questions are not exclusive. 

In our comments on the 2020 Dietary Guidelines, NFSN highlighted how farm to school and farm to ECE activities offer proven strategies and tools to help kids learn about the food system, gain lifelong food skills, and shift power within their own food environment. As the process of updating and implementing the DGA continues, NFSN will continue to monitor opportunities for NFSN stakeholder and community comment. 

See NFSN’s full comments here

Schools should avail of state funding to serve more freshly prepared and locally grown food

NFSN Staff
May 25, 2022

By Brandy Dreibelbis

Brandy Dreibelbis is the Senior Director of School Operations at Chef Ann Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting whole-ingredient, scratch-cooking in schools. This approach enables schools to serve the healthiest, tastiest meals so that kids are well-fed and ready to learn.

Through the pandemic, we’ve learned how crucial school food is to America’s food supply. We’ve also learned how many school-age children and families depend on these meals. And we’ve learned how important our school food professionals are. Scratch cooking makes staff feel appreciated for their effort, and children are well-nourished and ready to learn. The kitchen staff are proud of what they’ve made. There’s a connection with the local farms. Supply chains are shorter and more crisis-proof — schools are less vulnerable to rising prices as food gets more difficult to source. Labor costs go to local folks because they are paid to cook in-house.

Read the full op-ed at EdSource

Opinion: Congress Should Act Now to Extend School Food Waivers

NFSN Staff
April 22, 2022

By Nausher Khan

Nausher Khan is an advisory board member of the National Farm to School Network and director of strategic business partnerships at Red Rabbit, LLC, USA’s largest Black-owned school food management company celebrating food from all cultures in the cafeteria.

Food is also a huge part of how we make kids feel. Our food matters not only because it’s integral to good health. It matters because what we eat is an essential part of our cultural identity and sense of self. Likewise, school districts have long used food to reinforce cultural hierarchy. That is why it’s a step towards social justice to acknowledge the cultural heritage of the food you serve. Yes, you can put a price on good food. But aspects of this equation are also priceless. They function on a deeper and more humane plane.

Read the full op-ed at City Limits

Applications Now Open for Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program

NFSN Staff
April 5, 2022

On March 17, USDA opened applications for the Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program (LFS). The program will make $200 million available to state governments to purchase local food for school meal programs. The program has three overarching goals:

  • Provide opportunities for states to strengthen their local and regional food system,
  • Support socially disadvantaged farmers/producers and small businesses, and  
  • Establish and broaden relationships between schools and fresh, nutritious food. 

Program details: 

With LFS funding, state agencies will procure domestic, local, unprocessed or minimally processed foods from local farmers and ranchers. Purchases should target socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as small businesses. State agencies will then distribute food to schools in their state that participate in the National School Lunch Program and/or the School Breakfast program. In addition to purchasing food, funds may also be used to cover storage and transportation costs. 

Eligible applicants for LFS are state agencies or departments responsible for agriculture, procurement, food distribution, emergency response, administration of the National School Lunch Program, or similar activities within the state. Only one award per state/territory is available, so agencies within the same state wanting to implement this program should coordinate with one another. The applicant may partner or collaborate with non-profit, for-profit, public, and/or private entities. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis but the final deadline is June 17, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. 

Funding background and complementary opportunities:

The Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement is part of a larger package of money from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation intended to help school food authorities cope with increased food costs and supply chain issues. Other recent funding from USDA through the Local Agriculture Markets Program (LAMP) Farm to Institution tracks offers complementary opportunities for increasing infrastructure, coordination, and technical assistance to facilitate farm to institution purchasing (see our recent blog post here for more details). Additionally, the Local Food Purchase Cooperative Agreement (LFPA) infuses an additional $400 million in funding for state agencies to purchase and distribute food from small and “socially disadvantaged producers” to increase equity in market opportunities. While these models each have their own constraints, it is gratifying for federal support to recognize the crucial role of building more resilient food systems that begin to shift opportunities for producers and communities. Pursuing and learning from these first-of-a-kind opportunities will offer important lessons to build on as we advance our call to action to shift power toward a racially just food system.

Next steps: 

To read the LFS Request for Application and learn more about the program, visit the USDA’s website: https://www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food-to-usda/lfs 

Share this announcement with relevant state agencies in your area. Review the RFA to determine if your organization would like to be a partner or collaborator on this cooperative agreement. 

Advocate to your state agency for the involvement of socially disadvantaged farmers/producers and small businesses in the creation of the application.

See other open federal funding opportunities relevant to NFSN partners by following this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/145zNQ4W-ZfI2HQpZo-g87uzmIU1xJqKc62kTtFvUZdw/edit?usp=sharing 

Despite Lack of Funding for USDA School Meal Waivers Extension, Wins Present for Children, Farmers, and Communities in Congress’s Latest Spending Bill

NFSN Staff
March 24, 2022

Congress recently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package. While the demand for nutritious, equitably procured school meals far exceeds the scope of funding provided, this bill nevertheless contains a handful of wins for farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) and much-needed funds for our farmers and communities.

School Meal Funding

This bill provides $26.9 billion for child nutrition programs. This is an increase of $1.77 billion above the FY21 enacted level to meet forecasted participation needs in the programs. As kids return to the classroom, this funding will support more than 5.2 billion school lunches and snacks. Unfortunately, this bill did not include an extension of USDA waiver authority, a temporary pandemic program that has provided millions of schools, children, and families with crucial support amid ongoing economic, supply chain, and labor challenges. As the June 30, 2022, expiration date quickly approaches, NFSN urges Congress to extend USDA waiver authority. NFSN will continue to advocate for this as schools, youth-serving and community-based organizations, and child care providers face the challenge of effectively providing meals to millions of hungry children. 

  • School Lunch Program - $14.67 billion
  • School Breakfast Program - $5.19 billion
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) - $4.31 billion
  • Summer Food Service Program - $5.81 million

Farm to School and Scratch Cooking

  • Farm to School Grants - $12 million; language to increase grant size max to $500,000, and includes funding for a national Farm to School Institute to build capacity among farm to school and farm to ECE practitioners. (See our series on the success of the Farm to School Institute model here).
  • School Meals Equipment grants - $30 million 

Farm to ECE and Child Care - Grant programs through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize the vital and interconnected role of nutrition, physical activity, and racial equity in addressing public health. Dedicated funding for Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) supports the unique needs of ECE providers with comprehensive, state-based initiatives to increase the number of successful Farm to ECE initiatives. CDC REACH (Racial and Ethnic Aspects of Community Health) Grants provide another source of funding for locally targeted, culturally relevant programs to improve nutrition in child care settings and the community. The Committee includes over $20 billion for early childhood education programs through the Child Care Development Block grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Preschool Development Grants - an increase of $3.08 billion over the FY21 enacted level. 

  • Farm to ECE - The committee includes $2 million within Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity to continue research and education related to farm-to-school programs that result in promoting healthy eating habits for students. 
  • CDC REACH Grants -  $65.95 million & SDOH funding - $8 million
  • CCDBG - $7.37 billion (FY21 level was $5.9B) 
  • Head Start - $12.18 billion
  • Preschool Development Grants - $450 million
  • Early Child Care Collaborative - $4 million

Local Markets Access

Farm to school and farm to ECE couldn’t exist without work to build vibrant and equitable local food networks. Kids, producers, and communities benefit from investments in local and regional food infrastructure, marketing, and technical assistance. The Local Agriculture Markets Program (LAMP) provides support for overall local and regional food systems projects, increasing the viability of local producers and organizations that make farm to school activities possible. Small and very small meat processors are an essential part of local and regional food systems. Fighting the consolidation of poultry and livestock infrastructure is essential to shifting power to producers and to creating a more crisis-resilient food system. Relief of overtime fees for food safety inspectors are one way to support increased capacity. 

  • Local Agriculture Market Program - $20.4 million
  • FSIS Small Plant Overtime Fee Relief - $5 million

Producer Support and Equity

Issues of racial inequity pervade the foundations of our food system and of the government programs meant to support producers. Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program coordinates outreach to beginning farmers and to farmers who have been excluded by USDA programs because of race. The Office of Urban Agriculture, created by the 2018 Farm Bill, serves to connect urban producers to USDA programs and meet their unique needs. This program is not guaranteed mandatory funding, so an increase in discretionary funding is a hopeful victory for serving urban producers.

  • USDA Farmer Outreach Training and Opportunity (FOTO) (2501) - $24 million
  • Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production - $8.5 million

Health and Economic Gains of School Meals at Risk as Child Nutrition Program Waivers Expire

NFSN Staff
March 18, 2022

National Farm to School Network’s Statement 

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress granted the USDA the authority to issue child nutrition waivers, which have given schools the funding and resources necessary to keep school meals programs afloat while providing free meals to an additional 10 million students each day. This past week, we were deeply disappointed to hear that Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that did not include funding to extend these waivers. Without an extension, the waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022, even though the challenges school meals programs are facing won’t be over by then. This will push millions of kids and families into food insecurity while greatly disrupting school meals programs and the many stakeholders involved. 

The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the supply chain, caused labor shortages, and pushed the cost of food higher and higher. According to a recent USDA survey of school nutrition departments, 92% of schools reported experiencing challenges due to supply chain disruptions, 73% reported experiencing staffing challenges, and 67% of schools struggled to procure food due to higher average food prices. These challenges will persist into the 2022-2023 school year. Therefore, continued investment into our school nutrition programs is crucial to help schools navigate these disruptions while transitioning back to in-person learning. 

The waivers not only allowed schools to maintain their school meals programs, but also allowed many schools to make notable strides in their meals services, such as more local procurement and scratch cooking. With the end of the waivers, schools will now face financial pressure to cut back on these improvements, including local and healthy food procurement, investment into staff, and resources for scratch cooking such as equipment. 

As farm to school advocates, we know that successful farm to school initiatives must be built on a foundation of a thriving school meals program that is valued and invested in. In the years since the implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which updated school nutrition standards for the first time in decades and increased access for low-income districts with the Community Eligibility Provision, child nutrition program providers made tremendous strides toward meeting these more stringent standards. This has included increasing kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables and investing in scratch cooking and local ingredients. Now more than ever, students and their communities will need consistent access to nutrition programs that make the most of opportunities to invest in workers and the local economy. 

National Farm to School Network will continue to press Congress to ensure that child nutrition providers have the flexibility and funding to meet kids’ needs in the coming summer and school year.