Farm to School advocates have long been at the helm of state-level School Meals for All coalitions. Through study analysis of four successful campaigns, National Farm to School Network illustrated the pivotal role of farm to school initiatives and values-aligned1 policies in driving School Meals for All advocacy. By integrating farm to school principles into both policy language and messaging, advocates have fortified the foundation of School Meals for All initiatives. Incorporating key talking points about the benefits of farm to school such as economic development, workers' rights, and meal quality enhances bipartisan support and diversifies coalition membership to include farm to school advocates and local producers.

In this article, we aim to showcase a selection of graphics employed by state advocates, highlighting the mutual benefits of farm to school programs and School Meals for All policies. These visuals serve as powerful tools in illustrating the symbiotic relationship between farm to school initiatives and the broader goal of ensuring access to nutritious meals for all students.


1 Values-aligned purchases happen when buyers make purchasing decisions based on more than price or even where the product was grown. Values can encompass the characteristics or identities of the producer or business, their business practices, or characteristics about the product itself. These values will also vary by community and context. See National Farm to School Network’s six community values here.


At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government issued meal waivers that made school meals available at no cost to students. However, these waivers expired in June 2022. Seeing the multifaceted benefits School Meals for All had on their communities, state policymakers began introducing bills to codify state-level School Meals for All policies. 

By the end of 2022, three states (California, Maine, and Colorado) had passed permanent policies with several states passing temporary measures. By the end of 2023, more than 30 states introduced School Meals for All legislation and eight states (California, Maine, Colorado, New Mexico, Vermont, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Michigan) passed permanent policies.

Previous policy analysis from the National Farm to School Network in 2022 demonstrates that the prevalence of School Meals for All policies is highly intertwined with policies that support farm to school. This continues to be the case in 2024, where seven of the eight states (88%) with permanent School Meals for All policies also have local food purchasing incentive programs. The eighth state, Massachusetts, has introduced legislation (H.3993) to create a pilot local food purchasing incentive program. Two states, Colorado and New Mexico, expanded their incentive programs through their successful School Meals for All bills. Rhode Island (H.B. 6007) and Illinois (H.B. 2471) have also included local purchasing language in School Meals for All bills they introduced. 

In short, the intertwining success of School Meals for All policies and farm to school initiatives underscores the transformative impact of holistic approaches to nutrition and community well-being. 

Examples of Graphics
Below are examples of graphics developed by state advocates that demonstrate this impact. These graphics have been adapted by coalitions across the country to fit their unique contexts. 

The Virtuous Cycle of Expanding School Meals & Farm to School


Source: Hunger-Free Vermont and the Vermont Farm to School Network

The Vermont Farm to School Network and Hunger Free Vermont developed the “Virtuous Cycle” of farm to school and School Meals for All. Advocates in the state have been sharing iterations of this graphic dating back to at least 2016. The Virtuous Cycle shows how investments in school meals, such as universal school meals, a fully funded grants program, and a local food purchasing incentive program as inputs can create a cycle that continues to elevate school meals. By increasing participation in school meals, the program generates more revenue for schools, which in turn allows for more local purchasing, elevating the quality of meals overall. This improved quality, along with farm to school programming, further increases participation and interest in school meals—thus creating the Virtuous Cycle. The results are improved student outcomes, a strengthened local economy, and the elimination of stigma from eating school meals. Learn more about Vermont’s successful School Meals for All campaign here.


Source: Healthy School Meals for All Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Healthy School Meals for All Coalition, in collaboration with Professor Jennifer Gaddis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, crafted a unique Virtuous Cycle graphic. This iteration sets itself apart from previous models by emphasizing a robust labor dimension. It integrates "workforce development and improved compensation" as foundational elements, highlighting "enhanced capacity to offer high-quality jobs for school nutrition workers" and "elevated culinary skills with the ability to utilize Wisconsin and regionally-grown foods" within its circular framework. By foregrounding labor and support for labor, this approach underlines the essential role that a well-supported workforce plays in sustaining and enhancing the quality and nutritional value of school meals. It asserts that investing in the workforce is pivotal to the success of farm to school programs, ensuring they not only nourish students but also enrich local economies and communities. This topic is explored further in the report Hungry for Good Jobs: The State of the School Nutrition Workforce in Wisconsin.


Source: School Meals for All Connecticut / End Hunger CT

School Meals 4 All Connecticut has yet another variation on the Virtuous Cycle graphic. This graphic does not include the three inputs, or arrows going in. In the original version, the three inputs were School Meals for All, a grant program, and a local food purchasing incentive program. Connecticut does have both a local food incentive and a grant program, and the exclusions of these in the graphic are likely for simplicity. However, we present this graphic here to illustrate that the Virtuous Cycle does not require these additional farm to school programs to continue elevating school meals. This concept is discussed in greater detail below.

Michigan’s What’s on Your Plate? Graphic
Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal team takes a different approach by using lunch trays in their graphic. Cheyenne Liberti, Farm to Program Consultant at the Michigan Department of Education, developed the “What’s on Your Plate?” graphic, which offers a striking visual portrayal of how different school meal programs impact meal content, costs, and local economies. Through this comparison chart, we can see the differences in meal compositions under different scenarios: Michigan School Meals program, 10 Cents a Meal initiative, both, or neither. Each plate showcases where the ingredients were sourced, shedding light on the vital role of local food purchasing incentive programs in directing school food budgets toward local economies. Lastly, including dollar amounts sharing the cost to students and income to local farmers per school meal powerfully underscores the symbiotic relationship between school meal programs and local purchasing initiatives. While both policies have their distinct benefits, this graphic shows how the two policies result in the greatest state investment in the community to benefit children and local farmers.

Source: 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan's Kids and Farms

National Farm to School Network’s How School Meals for All Can Improve Meal Quality
National Farm to School Network has developed a timeline that explains the immediate, mid-term, and long-term benefits of School Meals for All. This timeline was developed as part of a two-pager that explains how School Meals for All policies can increase local, values-aligned purchasing and improve meal quality, even without additional farm to school policy supports. It explains how the immediate benefits of School Meals for All – eliminated school lunch stigma, increased participation, elimination of unplanned school meal debt – allow for mid-term benefits such as increased and stable revenue, and more staff time unlocked to connect with local producers, scratch cook, train staff, and more. These benefits, over time, can culminate in more robust farm to school programming and have greater community-wide impacts.

Source: The National Farm to School Network

On Quality and Access

These graphics implicitly highlight a crucial point: both policies are integral investments in enhancing school meal programs, representing two sides to the same coin. On one side, School Meals for All policies significantly improve meal access, ensuring that all students have reliable access to nutritious meals. Conversely, farm to school policies, often manifested as local food purchasing incentive programs, bolster meal quality and contribute to broader community impact. Together, these policies form complementary approaches that not only address immediate food access challenges but also foster a culture of wellness and sustainability within our communities.

Incorporating Values

Through our Who’s At the Table? School Meals campaign, the National Farm to School Network emphasizes the significance of "values-aligned" purchasing within child nutrition programs. This approach transcends mere price considerations, delving into factors such as the identity of farm owners, their business and growing practices, and the intrinsic qualities of the ingredients themselves. While specific values may vary across communities, our organization upholds a set of core values encompassing economic justice, environmental sustainability, health impact, racial equity, workers' rights, and animal welfare. Some graphics above explicitly explore these values while others do so more implicitly. When School Meals for All policies are coupled with farm to school initiatives and values-aligned purchases, they can transform the food system as we know it.


We present these graphics not merely as illustrative tools but as powerful vehicles for transformation. This approach advocates for systemic changes within school food systems, recognizing that improvements in one area can catalyze positive outcomes across the entire system. By adopting a holistic perspective, we can more effectively address the complex challenges facing school nutrition programs, ensuring that they are sustainable, equitable, and capable of providing high-quality meals to all students. We urge advocates to draw upon these visuals for inspiration, adapting and innovating upon them to suit their distinct contexts and needs. There are many ways to illustrate the mutual benefits of farm to school, values-aligned purchasing, and School Meals for All. Advocates with diverse perspectives and backgrounds can continue to leverage the ways these elements mutually benefit one another, paving the way for a healthier, more equitable future.