In January, National Farm to School Network’s Policy Director Karen Spangler and Policy Specialist Ryan Betz joined organizations from across the country in Washington, D.C., for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) 2024 Winter Meeting. While Congress considers its overdue Farm Bill reauthorization, grassroots organizations gathered to learn, connect, and strategize on how we can best keep pushing for a Farm Bill that makes our food system more resilient, healthier, and more equitable. 

NFSN's Policy Specialist, Ryan Betz, and Policy Director, Karen Spangler

NFSN’s Farm Bill priorities call for not only direct farm to school support, but also the foundational supports that make these activities possible: diverse local market opportunities for producers, tools to help small producers manage risk, and investment in the policies that build food security and resilience in our food system overall. 

Investments in local food programs and accessibility will strengthen the market channels and producer opportunities for a more robust value chain. Through working in coalition as members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, NFSN can support specific, detailed policy changes to conservation programs, crop insurance, and other complex (but important!) federal agricultural assistance. Additionally, many NFSN Partner organizations work in multiple areas of their local food systems, from farmer assistance to SNAP incentives, so we appreciate the chance for NFSN to add our voice to these priorities across the Farm Bill. 

NSAC members hit the Hill later that week to meet with legislators and demonstrate the powerful grassroots demand for better Farm Bill changes. While it may seem intimidating to make change in a policy as vast as the Farm Bill, proposals known as “marker bills” provide detailed ideas for reforms. Some key changes supported by NSAC and NFSN that impact farm to school stakeholders include:

  • Local Farms and Food Act (S.1205, H.R.2723): This bill would strengthen local infrastructure and market opportunities for producers while increasing healthy food access. The viability of local producers, food hubs, and supply chains directly supports farm to school and farm to ECE. 
  • Supporting Urban and Innovative Farming Act (S.2591, H.R. 5915): This bill would increase federal support for urban farmers, improve service delivery for urban farmers, and increase funding for the USDA’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. 
  • Strengthening Local Processing Act (S.354, H.R. 945): This bill would increase support for small meat and poultry processing plants in the US, in an effort to help farmers and ranchers access local markets and provide consumers, including school food purchasers, with more options for locally-sourced meat. 
  • Whole Farm Revenue Protection Program Improvement Act (S.2598): This bill would expand crop insurance options for diversified producers (those growing/raising more than one kind of product) and specialty crops (such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts). These types of producers, who are more likely to be small or beginning businesses, are vital for farm to school markets and education opportunities. 
  • EFFECTIVE Food Procurement Act (S.3390, H.R.6569): This bill would direct USDA to better prioritize values in its own procurement and would establish a pilot to dedicate a portion of USDA purchasing to values-based criteria. 

For more comprehensive information on these and other marker bills, you can visit NSAC’s blog

While House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders wrestle with negotiations in Washington, it’s an extremely important time for your legislators to hear from you about why these kinds of specific policy changes are important to your community. The timeline for each committee to unveil their respective drafts (the “Chairman’s Mark”) and clear all the hurdles to final passage is still uncertain, so we will need advocates who care about these issues to remain engaged and persistent throughout this process!