Guest blog by Dan Spatz, Healthy Flavors Arkansas
At Healthy Flavors Arkansas, we are focused on increasing the availability of locally grown vegetables to kids in schools across our state. While we are celebrating National Farm to School Month in October, I want to share all the wonderful farm to school advocacy that happened with our family farm last month.
September was special because the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) invited us to join in an advocacy effort to support farm to school in the upcoming Farm Bill! Congress is now hammering out this massive piece of legislation that lays out the U.S. government’s policy framework for nutrition and agriculture. It is revised only every five years, so having a voice in this process is important. We appreciate the invitation to speak out and be a part of their efforts to rally support for farm to school!
Our collaboration was a “two step” approach. First, we met with Arkansas Senator John Boozman on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Next, we hosted elementary students at our farm and demonstrated the power of farm to school with two of Senator Boozman’s Arkansas staff members.
Sen. Boozman is the ranking member of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, the Senate committee responsible for drafting the Farm Bill. We visited with him about the importance of farm to school, both for school kids and for farmers. We made the point that schools are the largest “restaurant chain” in Arkansas and across our country, and therefore provide an excellent market for farmers.
We also emphasized that infrastructure is lacking for direct supply of local food to school food service programs, and farm to school programs can play an important role with infrastructure both in schools and on farms. We also spoke with the Senator about risk management and the various points in local supply chains where risk plays a role in inhibiting more local food being served to kids.
We heard Sen, Boozman express his concern about the decline in many rural communities across our nation, and we believe investments in farm to school can help revitalize these areas with local markets and local job creation.
In particular, we are supporting policy proposals that address the issues important to the Senator and Arkansas farmers. Opportunities for the Senator to increase this Farm Bill’s direct return on investment for Arkansas’ producers include:
- Local Farms and Food Act (S. 1205): This bill offers program reforms to streamline paperwork and remove barriers for applicants, increase infrastructural investments for the local supply chain, and sustain the impactful nutrition incentives through Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive, and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
- Strengthening Local Processing Act (SLPA) (S. 354): This bipartisan bill promotes competitive agricultural markets and invests in economic development by addressing acute livestock supply chain issues, supporting small meat and poultry processing plants, and promoting training programs that will bolster the resilience of communities and their food systems. It will increase slaughter options for local livestock and poultry producers, assist smaller facilities as they adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, and help farm to school customers access locally raised meat & poultry.
- Whole Farm Revenue Protection Improvement Act (S. 2598): Directs the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) to take specific, targeted actions that will streamline access to Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) and close the coverage gap for our country’s small to mid-sized, beginning, specialty crop, and diversified producers.
Upon return from Capitol Hill, the absolute highlight of this advocacy work was to host some of Arkansas’ farm to school leaders, the Senator's in-state staff and 13 students from Chicot Elementary School in Little Rock. We delighted in watching and hearing this small group of young students wander in amazement and awe through our squash patch at Healthy Flavors in Conway, AR!
“Look at those bugs... what are they doing?” (Pollinating squash flowers!)
“Why are these stems itchy, covered with hair?” (To protect the plant from predators!)
“How could this squash be red and this one brown and this one green?” (Because nature made many varieties of squash!)
“What about this squash with a hole in it, can you eat it?” (Maybe, depends on what kind of damage was done to the fruit!)
These 13 students had a field trip of discovery, engagement and learning organized by Destiny Schlinker, Impact and Partnerships Lead for FoodCorps Arkansas. Destiny had already taught these students about the six parts of a plant through an interpretative dance (which the adults joined in as well!). And she also got them into the act of food preparation by having them make a salad for lunch.
A hundred years ago, most of these students would have grown up on a farm in Arkansas. Unfortunately, our society has allowed kids to become separated from the knowledge and experience of where food comes from, how growing food impacts the environment we all share, how food gets prepared before we consume it and how real, nutrient dense food builds and heals our bodies. Just bringing these kids to a squash patch sparked so many questions.
I’m hopeful that just as this visit to a squash patch encouraged curiosity and exploration, the growth of farm to school programs in Arkansas and across the country will empower more children to nourish their bodies and minds through food. Maybe it will motivate one of the students to become a child nutrition expert and serve better meals in schools. Could yet another find the path to being a farmer themselves one day? Maybe one will go on to work on agricultural policy, and realize that by restoring our community roots, we build a stronger and more stable society for all.
We appreciate the Senator's support for strong family farms in Arkansas and look forward to working with Senator Boozman to increase the economic impact of healthy farms and farmers in Arkansas.
— Dan Spatz, Healthy Flavors Arkansas
The National Farm to School Network and Healthy Flavors AR advocate for increased public investment that supports farmers, catalyzes on-farm economic stability and strengthens the infrastructure of food supply chains.