By Cassandra Bull, NFSN Policy Specialist


In reflecting upon the transformative strides made in 2023 for farm to school, the policy team at National Farm to School Network extends heartfelt gratitude to the dedicated advocates who have been the driving force behind this pivotal year. The unwavering commitment and tireless efforts of this Network have not only shaped policies but nurtured this movement to cultivate vibrant communities. As 2023 comes to a close, let us celebrate the milestones achieved, the seeds of change planted, and the collective impact of our advocacy. Together, we honor your instrumental role in fostering a thriving, just, and resilient future through state and federal policies.

Federal Policy 

From increased funding, expanded school meal access, and renewed calls for school meals for all, farm to school made significant policy gains at the federal level. Policymakers and administrators supported policies that build upon equity for students, communities, and resilience within the local food system. Below we highlight a few of the exciting federal developments: 

Farm to School Act of 2023  At the top of the list is the bipartisan, bicameral reintroduction of the Farm to School Act. On behalf of the Network, NFSN staff worked with policymakers in the House and Senate to increase both the mandatory funding and grant cap to the Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program grants at USDA. Additionally, the bills would allow better target funding to support Tribal projects, community need, and beginning and socially disadvantaged producers, and grant USDA the authority to modify or waive the current 25% matching requirement.

Farm to School Month Resolution The Senate officially designated October 2023 as National Farm to School Month by unanimous consent, recognizing that farm to school continues to be a triple win for kids, farmers, and communities!

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows eligible schools and districts to serve free school meals to all students, was expanded! Previously, schools qualified for CEP if at least 40% of students are categorically approved for free school meals because they benefit from SNAP, Medicaid, or other similar programs. In 2023, the threshold was lowered to 25%, opening doors for millions more students to access nutritious school meals. This decision is a powerful step towards fighting hunger and promoting equity in schools. It is also a nudge for states to pass Healthy School Meals for All policies. The next critical policy change advocates have been working on is to increase the CEP reimbursement multiplier, which would make it more financially viable for schools to participate in the program. 

The Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program was funded at the highest levels to date. In both 2023 and 2024, this grant program has a budget of $12 million.

The Local School Foods Expansion Act of 2023 was introduced by Senators Wyden, Brown, and Welch and Representative Jayapal, which aims to expand the popular Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables to reach 14 states.

COVID-19 relief programs started to benefit communities and strengthen supply chain resilience, including:

  • The Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement program, is a non-competitive cooperative agreement program that provided up to $200 million in funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation to state agencies to purchase local, unprocessed or minimally processed foods from farmers and ranchers, prioritizing "socially disadvantaged" farmers, ranchers, and small businesses.
  • Non-competitive Farm to School State Formula Grants, which provides up to $60 million to state and territory agencies to support efforts to coordinate and provide technical assistance to increase farm to school activities.
  • The Healthy Meals Incentives for Schools Initiative works to increase agricultural education, use of local food in scratched-cooked school meals, and increase development of culturally-relevant school meals. Grant programs include grants for small and/or rural communities, recognition awards, school food system transformation challenge sub-grants, and healthy meals summits. 

School Meals for All and Expanding School Meal Access bills were introduced in both the Senate and the House that would establish permanent school meals for all and create incentives for local food purchasing. Other bills to expand school meal access include one that would increase the multiplier for federal reimbursement for schools participating in CEP from 1.6 to 2.5, making CEP more financially viable for more schools; one that create a statewide option to enroll in the CEP; and another that would increase eligibility for free meals to 200 percent and expand direct certification of school meal assistance for children receiving Medicaid benefits.

State Policy

This year, states implemented a range of policies aimed at bolstering every facet of farm to school. Especially in a time of federal gridlock, states have tremendous power to enact meaningful change and drive innovation in policy. We tracked over 350 bills introduced across the country spanning meal access, farm to school and ECE, values-aligned purchasing, labor, scratch cooking, school wellness, and equitable producer support. Of all the incredible state bills and policies, here are some of the highlights:

School Meals for All Policies took the nation by storm this year. Eight states now permanently provide school meals at no cost to students and more than two dozen more have introduced similar policies. All eight states have also taken significant steps to support values-aligned or local school food purchasing through grants or local food purchasing incentives. School Meals for All policies in New Mexico (2023) and Colorado (2022) expanded their state’s local food purchasing incentives as part of these bills. View NFSN’s case study series on School Meals for All campaigns.

Local Food Purchasing Incentive Programs also gained momentum, with more states introducing (MA and NJ), passing (CT and IL-subject to appropriations), expanding foods in their programs (ME), and increasing existing program budgets.

Values-Aligned Purchasing bills were introduced (NY) and passed (IL) that allow schools to make purchasing decisions based on factors beyond the lowest price.

Equitable Support for Farmers and Processors can help overcome systemic issues by boosting producer capacity for school food sales (OR and CA since 2021) or incentivize growing culturally relevant foods (HI). These policies are gaining more attention in states looking to design an inclusive farm to school movement. 

Grant Programs to support farm to school were introduced (WI), awarded for the first time (MA), and some existing programs doubled in size (CT).  

The small purchase threshold was increased to make it easier for local food purchases (NY).

General Awareness bills and resolutions were passed to promote agricultural literacy (NJ), locally grown foods (DE), and Farm to School Month (WI).

Farm to school coordinator bills were introduced to establish statewide positions (HI). State funding for regional coordinator positions are becoming more prevalent, with states such as New York, California, and Oregon funding regional coordinators. 

School Gardens and Education bills were introduced, aiming to establish grant programs that support school gardens and garden-based education (NY, AZ, NV, and ME).

Scratch Cooking funding was secured (NY) and awarded (CA) for the enhancement of kitchen equipment and infrastructure, amplifying the capacity to prepare fresh, locally sourced foods from scratch.

Support for Policy Advocates 

NFSN has created the State Farm to School Policy Handbook in collaboration with the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, which contains summaries and analysis of bills introduced from 2002-2020. For more up to date information, NFSN also tracks state policies, which can be viewed in our interactive State Policy Map.

You can stay up to date on farm to school policies in 2024 by signing up for NFSN’s newsletters (both weekly and monthly!) and by signing on to become a Partner Organization. Partnering with NFSN is no-cost and provides additional benefits available only to partners. In 2024, we are planning quarterly policy roundtable discussions and policy huddles for shared learning and strategy development. NFSN is also happy to provide legislative testimony and share policy analysis (including predictions and information on legislators) using our software FiscalNote for partners looking to advance mission-aligned bills. Please contact Cassandra Bull ( to discuss if these services are a right fit.

Looking Ahead 

We are excited for the policy advancement that lies ahead in 2024. We encourage NFSN members to submit policy information to be featured in our This Week in Farm to School newsletter (email We are looking forward to:

  • Continue our Who’s At the Table? School meals campaign to advance universal free meals policies that value everyone that gets food to the table. Next year, we will work directly with up to eight coalitions to support their work.
  • The Farm Bill has been extended through September 2024, increasing the window of opportunity to advocate for NFSN’s Farm Bill Policy Priorities
  • The Farm to School Act was reintroduced, and at the top of the year we’ll be engaging partners and members to call upon their legislators to support this key legislation.
  • The National Healthy School Meals for All Coalition will continue to advocate for federal legislation that makes universal meals a reality for all students and values all the people who bring those meals to the table.
  • The USDA Child Nutrition Program Rule Proposals should be updated soon, which many of our Network submitted comments for last May. These changes would allow child nutrition program operators to consider “local” a necessary factor that vendors must meet in a competitive bid.

Thank you again to all advocates and partners who have worked to foster a thriving, just, and resilient future through state and federal policies. We look forward to growing stronger, together in the year ahead!