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News

New Resource! Lessons from COVID-19: Innovations and Strategies for Farm to ECE Implementation in States and Communities

NFSN Staff Friday, July 23, 2021
By National Farm to School Network and The Policy Equity Group, LLC

The Policy Equity Group and the National Farm to School Network, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, are pleased to jointly release Lessons from the COVID-19 Experience: Innovations and Strategies for Farm to Early Care and Education Implementation in States and Communities. This brief captures how farm to early care and education (ECE) efforts at the state and community levels were initially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Informed by the experiences of food and early childhood partner organizations in five states – Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – the brief documents the systemic impacts of COVID-19 and the federal response from a farm to ECE perspective; describes how farm to ECE partner organizations adapted to the new context during the initial months of the pandemic; and provides recommendations for how states and communities can sustain the successful strategies implemented during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic had profound impacts across food and ECE systems that exacerbated inequities and racial injustices in food, health, and education. This system shock prompted and accelerated emerging education and food access trends, including increased demand for virtual learning and outdoor learning opportunities, like gardening for children and families. The shift to virtual platforms was echoed in demands for online training and professional development for ECE providers and in the food system, where everyone from agricultural producers to consumers moved to online marketplaces. Policy responses included increased flexibility in policy and regulation and increased investments in ECE and food systems through federal stimulus.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis and these emerging themes, farm to ECE stakeholders turned to innovative approaches to navigate challenges and meet the needs of children and families. Existing partnerships across food and ECE systems became vital, and many farm to ECE stakeholders deepened their engagement with emergency food organizations. These partnerships paved the way for farm to ECE initiatives, like family Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, that supported immediate family needs and maintained a market for local producers. Partner organizations met the needs of families, providers, and producers by facilitating online learning, professional development, and facilitating the transition to online food sales and purchase. Farm to ECE stakeholders creatively layered funding coming from multiple sources to support these ongoing efforts.

As many states and ECE sites continue to stabilize and recover, sustaining these innovations could be beneficial in the short and long term. Maintaining relationships across food, early care, and emergency food assistance stakeholders builds community resilience and can increase access to local foods for all families. Continued opportunities for virtual training and building infrastructure for online marketplaces opens the accessibility of education and local foods to more ECE providers and families. Importantly, the flexibility offered in child nutrition programs should be extended or built into a more permanent policy approach to continue increased access to meals and reduced paperwork burden for providers. The figure below provides a snapshot of lessons captured in the brief. These lessons are vital to informing advocacy in child nutrition policy and upcoming stimulus opportunities. For opportunities to put this information into action, learn more about NFSN policy priorities for Child Nutrition Reauthorization here and read about opportunities to leverage stimulus funding, here: Creative Opportunities for Strengthening Farm to ECE through Emerging Federal Funding Streams.



Read the full brief to learn more about these themes of innovation that emerged during COVID-19 and the policy and practice recommendations we can garner from the experience to build more equitable and more resilient ECE and food systems into the future.

Driving Sustainable Farm to School Through the Farm to School Institute Model

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 22, 2021

Photo Credit: Vermont FEED
The Northeast Farm to School Institute model, developed by Vermont FEED, is a unique year-long learning opportunity for schools, districts, and early childhood teams to build robust and sustainable farm to school programs. In June 2021, Vermont FEED Project Director, Betsy Rosenbluth, project evaluator Andrew Powers of PEER Associates, Simca Horowitz of Massachusetts Farm to School, LeBroderick Woods of Mississippi Farm to School, and Sarah Smith of the Nebraska Department of Education joined the National Farm to School Network for a special webinar sharing the Institute model and innovative adaptations of the model happening across the country. The following information summarizes content shared on the June webinar, but you can view the full webinar here.

The Northeast Farm to School Institute
The Farm to School Institute uses a three C’s model of change, connecting the classroom, cafeteria, and community. They aim to connect these three essential areas through integrating food education, improving nutrition and food access, and building relationships between students, families, and schools. A key component of the program is action planning, during which schools meet at a summer intensive with their collaborative teams to develop an action plan ready to implement at the start of the new school year. The teams are paired with a coach - an experienced practitioner at the Institute that supports them throughout the year as they plan and implement their action plan. By bringing schools into a shared space for learning, the Institute facilitates peer learning and a sense of shared purpose among participants, with dedicated time to explore the innovations and feedback of the teams’ peers. The Institute builds cross collaborative school teams as well, with teams made of administrators, teachers, school nutrition staff, and other key players needed to create a robust and sustainable program. These teams also receive professional development and role-specific communities to help build capacity.



A recent retrospective evaluation conducted with members of ten Institute alumni teams found that their participation influenced sustainability of the farm to school programs developed and accelerated through the Institute. The study found that attending the summer intensive fostered time to connect and build strong inter-team relationships, making it easier to strategize, plan, and coordinate the program later on. They also found the action plan to be integral to the success of the program and the coach’s guidance and coordination very beneficial. Having paid coordination after the year of coaching also greatly helped sustainability. Another way the Institute fostered success was through its ability to create school commitment through teacher buy-in, building champions, and gaining administrative support, whose support is an essential piece to program sustainability. Finally, by participating in the Institute, schools made farm to school a priority and learned the value of the program. In order to build a sustainable program, farm to school must align with school priorities and goals, it has to be visible, and it has to be prioritized. The Institute helped teams achieve these requirements, effectively embedding farm to school into the school culture.



The Farm to School Institute Community of Practice
The Institute has been so impactful since its start in 2010 that, after five years of supporting Vermont schools with their integrated model of change, Vermont FEED opened the Institute to schools throughout the seven Northeast states, with the goal of supporting states as they replicate and adapt the model. States and communities across the nation have been adapting their model to support sustainable development of farm to school in their own communities. This year there are seven Farm to School Institute adaptations across the country with 2-3 more planned for 2022, a community of practice representing 18 states, and planning tools and guides available on the Vermont FEED website. Three of these states share their approaches to replicating the Institute and customizing the approach for their state.

Massachusetts: Massachusetts Farm to School, an organization that supports local food sourcing and education across the state, participated in the Northeast Farm to School Institute and has been providing schools with their own adaptation of the model since 2017. According to Simca Horowitz, Massachusetts’ Farm to School Co-director, having the opportunity to participate was a learning experience that shifted their programming to a more integrated, holistic approach that includes all three elements of the model, whereas previously they focused primarily on the cafeteria component. They started by sending 1-2 school districts per year to the Northeast Institute. Looking to create a more accessible program, they launched their first Massachusetts Farm to School Institute in 2017 as a pilot with three school districts, building over time to eight teams per year. Massachusetts kept most of the same components as the original model as they found the time tested tools catered to the northeast a substantial foundation to build from. Simca explained the lessons they’ve learned over the years on how to get schools excited about joining.“ We realized how important it was to have a time and place for people to come together in an environment different from their school really was.” According to Simca, the atmosphere at the Summer intensive plays a critical role in drawing schools to the Institute and creating a promising start for their farm to school programs.

By hosting summer intensives at educational farms, they are able to create a space that’s inspiring, connects attendees to the purpose of the work, and allows for experiential learning opportunities. The atmosphere also creates the feeling of a retreat more than a professional development workshop, helping the Institute stand out. Massachusetts has also been able to make their Institute more attractive to schools with financial support for implementation. Thanks to a private funding source, if a district participates in the Institute, they are eligible for funding that is otherwise provided competitively. The Institute also opens doors for funding opportunities, in part because of the action planning and strong whole school teams. Many schools go on to apply for and receive USDA farm to school grants. Simca believes the Institute helps support participant’s applications by helping them create clear goals and articulated plans.

Other key ways that Massachusetts has adapted the Institute to their own needs includes their coaches-in-training program. In an effort to build diverse leadership in the Farm to School movement, they provide an opportunity for those with less experience in farm to school to observe the Institute for one year, and then move into a paid coaching role the second year. They also accept both schools and districts, with districts needing to identify 1-2 schools that are the focus of their activities. Massachusetts requires districts to encourage school administrative participation, as farm to school involves many decisions which benefits from having individual school administrators present.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Farm to School Network has also created an Institute adapted from Vermont FEED’s model. Since their start in 2019, they’ve successfully built interest from potential participants by inspiring schools with the stories of teams that have graduated the program. They also build interest and decrease barriers for their participants by emphasising small steps towards big goals and showing schools how farm to school applies to their mission. Their approach to the Institute during COVID has reflected their focus. Instead of inviting new schools, they made the 2020 Farm to School Institute a celebration of teams that had graduated from the Institute, sharing their wins over the years and highlighting the small steps they made along the way, motivating both current and potential farm to school program teams.

LeBroderick Woods, Mississippi Farm to School Network’s Program Coordinator, emphasized the importance of taking into account turnover by making sure to teach specific participants how to implement farm to school for their specific position and not for the specific person. According to LeBroderick, team collaboration is also key to building sustainable programs. “Getting the whole team involved and not working in silos is so beneficial,” he explained. Mississippi has also embedded equity into their Institute, as Massachusetts and Vermont have, by considering demographics when selecting schools and including early care programs in the Institute to reach an impactful and often under prioritized setting. Mississippi also offers stipends to each team with few restrictions as well as technical assistance. When offering technical assistance, LeBroderick believes in always having a face to the Institute to keep teams invested, making sure to be available and present at all times.

Nebraska: Recognizing a need to further capacity and better organize farm to school work in Nebraska, the Nebraska Extension program decided to start their own Farm to School Institute. Using USDA Farm to School grant funding, they spent one year building their community of practice and leveraged the connections and conversations built in that space to promote the 2021 Institute. They also promoted and built interest in the Institute by requiring schools to include an extension educator on their team. “By having an extension educator on the team, schools heard about it from more than one source, they were hearing it from their own local level as well.” Explained Sarah Smith, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable and Local Foods Consultant for the Nebraska Department of Education. They are also incentivizing the Institute by offering mini-grants for the eight schools participating to put towards projects and travel reimbursement. On top of the week-long intensive, they are also offering technical assistance through the coaches supporting each team. As Sarah explained, Nebraska didn’t originally intend to have coaches, but recognized the value, both for the teams, and for the opportunity to train practitioners and build more awareness around farm to school.

Resources

Creative Opportunities For Strengthening Farm to ECE Through Emerging Federal Funding Streams

NFSN Staff Tuesday, June 22, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, Programs Intern

The latest round of federal stimulus funding - the American Rescue Plan (ARP) - will be infusing billions of dollars through the early care and education sector and food and agriculture systems in the coming months. While severely devastated by the COVID-19 emergency and subsequent economic crisis, both of these sectors are ripe with opportunity to build back with greater equity and resiliency. Farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) can be a component of building back better. States will soon be making decisions about how this funding will be used and now is the time to provide information to and build relationships with decision makers to convey the needs and desires of your community, influence equitable use of funds, and elevate opportunities for farm to ECE. The following information summarizes content shared on the May webinar (recording available here) through a partnership with the Policy Equity Group, the Food Research and Action Center, and the National Farm to School Network. These emerging funding streams and the immediate opportunities are also highlighted in this infographic.

Early Care and Education
There are two key funding streams in early care and education to note, the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG), also known as the Child Care Subsidy Program, and Head Start & Early Head Start (HS/EHS). CCDBG provides federal funding to states, territories, and tribes to be used for financial assistance to help eligible families to afford and access childcare. States are required to use a portion of funds to improve program quality or supply and quality of infant and toddler care, as well as provide professional development to providers. HS/EHS provides federal funding directly to local programs through a competitive grant process, with a focus on early learning and development, health and nutrition, and family engagement.

The ARP has created a huge opportunity via ample funding for early care and education. In addition, the funding is flexible and is meant for stabilization efforts, meaning it must be disseminated quickly.

Child Care Stabilization Funding ($24 Billion) and Child Care Assistance Funding ($15 Billion) 
Child care stabilization funding, made available by the ARP, will go to both centers and family child care providers with the purpose of supporting ongoing operations and promoting stability. Funding can be used for a range of pandemic related needs such as operating expenses, personnel costs, rent, facility improvements, etc. States must obligate funds by Sept 30, 2022 and make payments by Sept 30 2023. Child Care Assistance Funding is flexible and will flow through CCDBG. Funds can be used to support quality, training and professional development, or infant care. States must obligate funds by Sept 30, 2022 and make payments by Sept 30, 2024. 

There are multiple uses for stabilization funds that align with farm to ECE. Namely rent, including facilities maintenance and improvements through minor renovations (major renovations are not allowable), goods and services necessary to maintain or resume childcare including anything that will be necessary to a childcare program, and mental health supports for children and employees. For example, facility maintenance and improvements can mean better kitchen and food storage equipment and mental health support can mean investing in gardens and green spaces due to farm to ECE’s social emotional benefits. Additionally, it is encouraged to treat goods and services as a broad term to meet grantees’ needs, specifically shared services, food services, and other learning and eating specific activities. 

When considering these funds, make sure to: 
  • Learn about your state’s process for distributing CARES Act stimulus funding and check for ways to improve upon equitable design and distribution of funds. 
  • Collaborate with partners on strategy development. Staying informed on what advocates in your state are already doing can help in this process. 
  • Serve as an information resource for providers on allowable funding uses that align with farm to ECE goals. 
  • Provide input on your state’s 2022-2024 child care plan, which outlines how childcare dollars will be spent, as this is an opportunity to institutionalize farm to ECE in the state childcare plan by showcasing coordination and partnerships. 

Head Start and Early Head Start ($1 Billion) 
Head Start also received additional funding through the ARP, translating to $400 more per Early Head Start child and $300 more per Head Start child. There is a great amount of flexibility with this funding, with goals to reach more families, prepare facilities for in-person services, and support Head Start employees. Community needs are a determining factor in the application and budgeting process so it is important to be informed on the perspectives of families and providers. 

Opportunities for alignment with farm to ECE include purchase of kitchen equipment and supplies to support in-person meal service, enhancement of outdoor learning spaces, professional development on farm to ECE related topics, and other locally determined actions necessary to resume full in-person operations, which allows a case for farm to ECE by providing evidence of impact.

Make sure to locate your local HS/EHS grantees and your Head Start Collaboration office and begin to build relationships. Engage HS/EHS program directors and advocate for farm to ECE’s alignment with Head Start Program Performance Standards and the Early Learning Outcomes Framework via training, materials, and expertise. National Farm to School Network’s Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education highlights how farm to ECE elements can address these domains and standards. 

Food and Agriculture
There are also opportunities specific to food and agriculture that can be utilized for farm to ECE, namely the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) and the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). These two programs are paired together as part of the local agricultural markets program that was created by the 2018 Farm Bill and have received additional funding through the ARP. 

Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmer’s Market Promotion Program ($47 Million)
Both the LFPP and the FMPP can provide funding for organizations and programs that are looking to build their capacity to source locally and support the local food system. The FMPP provides support for projects like farmers markets, direct to consumer opportunities, and direct producer to institutional marketing. The LFPP funds projects that expand the capacity of regional food business enterprises that engage intermediaries for local products, such as food hubs. Due to relief funding, there is $47 million extra available on top of normal annual funding. These funds do not have to be used for COVID specific projects, leading to a high degree of flexibility for allowable projects.The additional funding most benefits early phase projects and organizations that purchase on a smaller scale as there is a reduced cost share of the normal 25% down to 10%. However, if organizations want to apply for a larger tranche of funding, they can still do so with a 25% match. The deadline for grant applications is June 21st.  

Specialty Crop Block Grant ($100 Million) 
Specialty Crop Block Grant opportunities are administered directly to the state. These grants are able to fund development, promotion, infrastructure, and capacity for speciality production, research, and marketing in states. Normally, this funding cannot benefit individual businesses, producers, and organizations. However, this year there is significantly more flexibility in allowable projects than normal. Apply through your state by the June 11th deadline. 

Health and Nutrition Programs
There are two funding opportunities within the federal food programs, one in the Child and  Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and one in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 

CACFP ($42 Billion)
CACFP is a program that provides reimbursements to early learning program providers for nutritious meals and snacks to enrolled children. CACFP operators can procure local food directly from producers through avenues such as food hubs, farmers markets, and CSA models. Funds can be used for gardening items such as seeds, fertilizer, watering cans, rakes, etc. as long as the produce that is grown in the garden is part of reimbursable CACFP meals and snacks. State administrative funding can also be used to provide technical assistance and coordination of farm to ECE activities. 

The USDA has issued a waiver that extends higher Tier 1 meal reimbursement rates to all family childcare homes. To be eligible for the higher reimbursement rate prior to the waiver, a program had to be in a neighborhood with 50% or more low income or free and reduced price meal enrollment at the neighborhood school. This eligibility waiver will lead to a significant increase in reimbursement, translating to an extra $53 per child per month, assuming breakfast, lunch, and snack are served in the program. This extra reimbursement can support efforts to improve quality food in early learning programs through farm to ECE.  

Enhanced WIC Produce Benefits ($490 Million) 
WIC is a federal nutrition program that provides low income nutritionally at-risk pregnant women, infants, and children with vouchers for food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and health care referrals. There will be a four month fruit and vegetable benefit increase starting in June 2021. Benefits will rise from $9 a month for children and $11 a month for women to $35 a month for each woman and child. Benefits can be used at all WIC approved vendors, including farmer’s markets and roadside stands in some states. This benefit increase introduces opportunities for action as it may incentivize those who did not use their benefits at the farmer’s market previously because of time, cost, or other barriers.

To take advantage of this opportunity, learn more about the benefit increase and advocate to your state WIC agency to create and disseminate an outreach plan to increase WIC enrollment and perform outreach to early learning programs, parents, farmers markets and roadside stands. 

Advocacy Opportunities 
There are additional advocacy opportunities available with the ARP due to the funding’s allocation flexibility and broad goals which are highly applicable to stakeholders in the early care community. Upcoming opportunities include the ARP’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which presents $350 billion for local, territorial, and Tribal governments. Specific goals for the funding include assistance to households, small businesses, or nonprofits; premium pay for essential workers; and mitigation of pandemic-related budget shortfalls. Much will be left up to state and local governments on how to use these funds. There is also the State and Small Business Credit Initiative, which provides $1.5 billion to states to support businesses owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged people”, $1 billion for an incentive program to boost funding tranches for states that show robust support for such businesses, and $500 million to support very small businesses with fewer than 10 employees. 

There is opportunity for influence and advocacy as decisions are made around the funding by identifying goals that can support the childcare sector. Specifically, because this funding can address budgetary shortfalls, look for items that have been cut in budget cycles this year or last year due to the pandemic. There is also a large focus on how these funds can stimulate the economy, which aligns well with messaging around jobs and business ownership in the early care sector. Make sure to leverage existing relationships and the multiple avenues for advocacy outside of the nutrition space, communicating through state departments focused on small business and economic development. 

Resources

Celebrating Pride Month: Recognizing Our (Chosen) Families

NFSN Staff Monday, June 14, 2021

By Sophia Rodriguez, NFSN Communications Intern

Happy Pride Month from National Farm to School Network! As we celebrate the global contributions of our LGBTQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, Two Spirit) family members, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and ancestors, this month and always, we want to highlight the importance of holding our communities in love and working together to inspire deeper connection. As an organization and network committed to cultivating an equitable and just food system, National Farm to School Network acknowledges and celebrates the vital influences that all families, chosen or otherwise, have on the work we do.

Whether your family is meeting on the couch to watch the Pride docuseries, gathering at the table to discuss your queer advocacy, cozying by the bookshelf to read books with positive and accurate queer representation, or mingling at the farmers’ market expanding your chosen family, there are so many ways to make celebrating Pride an ongoing tradition that lasts beyond the month of June.

It is fitting that the farm to school community – with our diversity of experiences, passions and expertise – will gather together in the coming weeks to blend our collective efforts in championing a more equitable food system for all folks, across all gender identities, sexual orientations, races and ethnicities, and the other multiplicities we each embody. National Farm to School Network’s Community Gathering will take place during this year’s Pride Month on June 23rd, and we hope that you and your family choose to participate! Happy Pride Month!

Remembering George Floyd & The Work of Becoming An Anti-Racist Organization

NFSN Staff Tuesday, May 25, 2021


By Krystal Oriadha, NFSN Senior Director of Programs and Policy

No murder is without strong impact to a community, but the murder of George Floyd impacted not only the community of Minneapolis, but our nation and the world at large. On the tragic anniversary of his murder, I am reflecting on National Farm to School Network’s year of growth and challenges as we move to operate more fully within our vision for a just food system.

Last year we made a statement to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and declared our commitment to ensuring that National Farm to School Network will be an anti-racist organization. As a white-led organization, we knew we could not just be silent allies. We needed to speak up on these injustices within our communities with not only our words, but with our actions. We must be an organization that is actively – not passively – working to dismantle racism and to shift power whenever and however we can. That commitment aligns with the Call to Action for the food system we launched in October 2020: By 2025, 100% of communities would hold power in a racially just food system. This bold call to action is what is needed and what the movement calls for. If we do not shift who holds power in our food system, we will never achieve our vision for a just food system.

We also went through some challenges as we examined white toxicity in our own organization. This led to us to have very honest conversations about our organizational culture. As the only person of color in staff leadership and as a Black woman, I felt a strong need to push ourselves to not only talk about transforming the work we do externally but also look at how we can create an anti-racist workplace culture internally. To do this, we had to take an honest look at ourselves – as individuals and as a collective – and be willing to transform our own perspectives. This ongoing journey has not been easy, and it is not over, but we are committed to going on this journey, and to sharing it publicly. Over the last year, we’ve had to name and call out harsh truths as well as create space for uncomfortable conversations around issues of anti-Blackness in our own organization.

We are calling for other white-led organizations to do as National Farm to School Network has done. Do not just put out a statement in memory of George Floyd; make a public commitment to action both internally and externally, and then do that work. There are many staff of color suffering prolonged emotional trauma within organizations that put out statements of solidarity with communities of color while still creating and maintaining a toxic work environment for staff of color, showing that diversity is not truly welcomed. I am personally calling on organizations to think about the emotional tax paid by staff of color and to begin to work on addressing this within your organization’s culture.

How Schools and Early Care Sites Served as Hubs for Food Access During COVID-19

NFSN Staff Tuesday, May 18, 2021
By Sade Collins, NFSN Program Fellow

The COVID-19 emergency exacerbated inequities and activated new crises for the farming sector and for consumers across the food system. The pandemic led to shifting demands in the food system and prompted the government and communities to respond quickly to provide emergency support for actors across the food system. With food insecurity heightened, operators around the country demonstrated their ability to innovate and develop practices for fulfilling essential needs in communities across the country. Mitigating this crisis came with innovative approaches to supplying communities with fresh, local products through Community Supported Agriculture and emergency food operations. Community food organizations mobilized quickly to support local farmers and communities. In many communities, schools and early care sites became vital access points for local food through emergency food distribution.

As part of the Local Food Systems Response to COVID-19 project funded by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) partnered with Farm to Institution New England and researchers from the University of Kentucky to develop an Innovation Brief: Pre-K and K-12 Schools as Access Points for Local Food to elevate examples from across the country of this innovation. However, we heard so many inspirational examples of schools and early care sites becoming hubs for food access, we could not fit them all into a single brief. Below, you’ll find even more innovation and inspiration from NFSN partners across the country. Thank you to all the organizations who shared their stories with us!

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project-ASAP (Asheville, North Carolina): ASAP launched the Appalachian Farms Feeding Families program to connect local farmers with food pantries/relief sites as well as with child care providers that have continued to operate as essential businesses throughout the pandemic. ASAP raised funds for this program from both corporate foundations and individual donors. ASAP staff acted as “matchmakers,” connecting small farmers in the region and nearby feeding sites, including child care locations. ASAP awarded the feeding sites a monthly budget to be used to order local products on a weekly basis directly from their “matched” producer. Farmers are compensated directly for the products they grow and deliver to these sites. 

Project GROWS (Staunton, Virginia and Waynesboro, Virginia): Project GROWS worked closely with Staunton City Schools (SCS), Waynesboro Public Schools (WPS), after school programs, various food pantries and farmers markets to continue to provide local food to families in the Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County community throughout the COVID-19 emergency. Using connections with farmers in the community, Project GROWS was able to help facilitate sales to the schools directly through the Harvest of the Month (HOM) program. Each month  a different local farm was featured in  virtual HOM videos and Project GROWS facilitated a sale of the featured HOM product to the schools from those farms to create  HOM produce samples. According to Project GROWS, participation in the school meal program in their partner districts has actually grown amid the pandemic. With this increase in demand for food, produce sales to schools increased both from the Project GROWS own on-site farm and other local farms. The organization worked also worked with partners to create new pathways for local food to reach families during a time when access is very limited. This included participating in a fresh food box initiative through the local hospital, establishing an online farmers market for producers, creating a fresh food donation program at markets, facilitating a curbside pick up at market, accepting and doubling SNAP/P-EBT, and routinely donating food to food pantries, homeless shelters, and senior centers.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island (Rhode Island): Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Farm Fresh Rhode Island's local foods distribution platform, Market Mobile, connected farms exclusively to wholesale accounts such as restaurants, small grocers, Co-ops, food service management companies, and schools. When restaurants closed dine-in services, Market Mobile leveraged this existing infrastructure to launch direct to consumer food distribution, both to provide local food to residential communities, and to mitigate supply chain disruptions for farmers. Rhode Island worked with USDA Food Nutrition Services to obtain clearance to accept SNAP-EBT and to deliver food to SNAP recipients. Farm Fresh Rhode Island also developed a guide for farmers on how to obtain an FNS number and EBT card reader to accept SNAP sales directly.

REAP Food Group (Madison, WI): For over 10 years, REAP Food Group, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School Districts (MMSD) Food and Nutrition, has processed local fruits and vegetables for elementary schools enrolled in the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) as part of the MMSD Farm to School Project, which focuses on increasing local food accessibility for preK-12 students. To ensure continued access to FFVP to all students, MMSD began distributing unprocessed items to FFVP schools in late September. School staff prepared and bagged local fresh fruit and vegetable snack items to be distributed for students learning at home. MMSD Food and Nutrition altered their entire service model to cater to the mostly virtual model for the district, packing over 50,000 meals weekly for a district with over 50% of 28,000 students receiving free or reduced lunch. REAP worked closely with MMSD to create a modified snack schedule that allowed for the local, seasonal component of the program to really stand out and gave REAP a chance to continue the program despite also having reduced capacity to safely receive and pack food. 

Fairfax Public Schools (Fairfax County, Virginia): Fairfax Public Schools (FPS) started serving meals to families at the start of the pandemic. USDA waivers allowed breakfast and lunch meals to be served to children throughout the summer through the Summer Food Service Food Program and continued during the school year. CACFP meals and snacks waiver has helped provide meals to families. Additionally, the district continued the Food for Education Program (FFEP), which creates an additional opportunity to offer local foods to families. Funding from the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) COVID Relief Grant allowed for the continuation of FFEP through the summer by offering supplemental fruit at four school feeding sites. FPS distributed over 4,000 pieces of fruit to children through Summer 2020. NFSN COVID relief funding also provided support for Fairfax tp provide “Grow at Home” seed growing kits with printed activity cards, education and enrichment information for distribution at 65 meal sites. FPS hopes to expand the program through another grant in the spring.

From these examples, it is clear that many early care and education sites and schools involved in farm to school and farm to ECE leveraged their existing partnerships, resources, and infrastructure to shift their priorities and address the critical needs of families amid the COVID crisis. Schools and early care sites became a critical access point for Child Nutrition Program meals as well as local food boxes, food shares, and gardening resources and education. In many communities, local food organizations and aggregators have acted as key connectors across local food systems and emergency food systems. Now is a vital time to consider what we have learned from this experience and ensure that local and regional food systems as well as schools and early care sites are well supported and sufficiently funded so they can continue to be a bridge to good food for children and families. 

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

NFSN Staff Friday, May 14, 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.

What We’re Advocating for in 2021 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization

Anna Mullen Friday, May 14, 2021

By Anna Mullen, NFSN Communications Director

This spring, National Farm to School Network is keeping a close eye on Washington, D.C. as Congressional leaders begin to build momentum for Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization ("CNR") – the package of bills that authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs. For the farm to school community, CNR is an especially important piece of legislation as it sets the standards and parameters of meals served to nearly 30 million children every school day. 

A strong CNR built on our shared community values (read more about these below) can be a win for our kids by ensuring nourishing food is served in meals and snacks; a win for farmers by creating school market opportunities that provide reliable and consistent sales and fair pay; and a win for our communities by creating conditions for school food to be grown, distributed, prepared and consumed in ways that benefit everyone along the way. But for these wins to become reality, we must advocate for a CNR that is firmly centered in equity – and that’s what National Farm to School Network is doing. 

What is CNR? The Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, among others. The package of bills that make up CNR is meant to be reauthorized every five years, but the last CNR to pass was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. That makes this upcoming CNR a once-in-a-decade opportunity to strengthen the programs that feed our nation's kids.

CNR and Farm to School: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was groundbreaking for the farm to school movement. For the first time, this legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. This was a major victory for National Farm to School Network and farm to school partners across the country, funding competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. Since its inception, 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. 

While policies like this can and have helped more schools across the nation create a pathway to practicing farm to school, there’s more work that needs to be done to ensure equitable access to the resources, opportunities and benefits of these activities. Many of the systems and sectors that intersect with CNR’s provisions – including the food system, education system and economic system, among others – are deeply racialized and have in the past and continue in the present to exclude, disadvantage, and cause harm to Black, Indigenous, Latino and other people of colors in our communities. Systems like these that are failing any of us are failing all of us, and we can not engage in farm to school effectively without changing them. That’s why as CNR ramps up in 2021, National Farm to School Network is focusing intentionally on provisions that address systemic barriers in farm to school and create racial equity in the food system. 

Equity at the Center: We believe that building the next CNR on six shared community values will help move us closer to the just, equitable food system, education system, and farm to school movement that we seek. You can read more about each of these values here

These values can be realized in the next CNR through well-thought-out and equity-conscious marker bills, such as the Farm to School Act of 2021, the Kids Eat Local Act, the Universal School Meals Program Act, the Local School Foods Expansion Act, and others. You can read more about the marker bills we are endorsing and the CNR priorities we're advocating for here. A more just, equitable and community-centered CNR is possible and we must encourage and hold our Members of Congress accountable to making it so. 

What Can You Do to Prepare for CNR? As the National Farm to School Network prepares for the likely return of CNR this summer we want to hear from you! As our name implies, we are truly a national network of stakeholders, and our policy agenda is driven by advocates like you. To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, you can: 

Right now:
In the near future:
  • Prepare your asks - as a constituent, what actions do you want to see from your legislators as CNR is debated?
  • Cultivate your legislative champions - find your Members of Congress here
If and when the Reauthorization takes place:

Have questions about CNR or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact our Policy Team.

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