By Nausher Khan, National Farm to School Network Board Member
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.
“Millions of American children could go hungry this summer unless Congress acts soon. That’s because an end looms on June 30 for a series of special COVID-era waivers. Among other things, they allow schools to serve free meals to all students. But eliminating the waivers risks more than hunger, it also jeopardizes other gains made in child nutrition programs under the waivers.
There are more than two dozen waivers, tackling everything from easing the congregate-feeding requirement, which requires children to travel to a central location and eat their meals together at the site, to eliminating the need for household income verification. New York and Illinois are two states which have announced they are extending the emergency contract option for food service into next year, and other states can follow their lead.
The overall intent of the waivers is reasonably simple: Allow school systems to have more flexible conversations with food service management companies and feed more children without administrative red tape. When it comes to feeding kids, these conversations are not only focused on price. They also focus on the values schools are communicating when they make food choices. They allow decision-makers to broaden relationships with suppliers in the communities they serve and use food service to signal the importance of culture and community to their children.
Many food management companies and producers of color are small to mid-sized, and we have benefited from the added flexibility in the way schools negotiate. The waivers have allowed us to retain staff and pay an honest living wage and continue buying fresh produce while serving scratch-made meals to a larger student body. The end of the waivers jeopardizes our success, and the success of others like us around the country and here in New York.”