Carrots for Ventura Unified School District, grown at Join the Farm.
Amy Grossman, executive director of Join the Farm, is in the market for a new delivery van.
"Just in time for Farm to School Month, [our farm] had our largest delivery ever to the school district in the first week of October, maxing out the capacity of our delivery van," she explains.
Large orders weren't always the norm for the small farm, which is a project of The Abundant Table, a California nonprofit. Everything changed after their county's school district was awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant.
"Farm to school sales now represent a significant portion of our business model and enabled us to take on more acreage and deliveries," Amy says. "Our farmers take enormous pride in knowing their produce is regularly on the cafeteria plates of more than 5,000 children in our county."
The success of Join the Farm is just one story from among the 139 USDA Farm to School Grants awarded in the first two years of the program. In the coming months, the National Farm to School Network and our partners will be telling more stories like these. That’s because in less than a year, a federal piece of legislation that supports farm to school and other child nutrition programs is set to expire. About every five years, in a process known as the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, Congress reviews and updates these programs. The most recent version—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—expires September 30, 2015.
The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (or CNR for short) authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, among others. The last CNR in 2010 was groundbreaking: For the first time, the legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. A major victory for NFSN and farm to school champions across the country, this program funds competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools.
The process to reauthorize the USDA Farm to School Grants and other child nutrition programs has already begun. The CNR conversations have already started in the two congressional committees overseeing the process: the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the House Education and Workforce Committee. The Senate Agriculture Committee held two CNR hearings this summer, including a hearing featuring Betti Wiggins, executive director in the Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools and advisory board member for NFSN.
To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, NFSN hosted nearly two-dozen CNR listening sessions over the last year-and-a-half to gather input from stakeholders. These listening sessions provided key input for the policies within CNR that would be most beneficial to the farm to school community. Here’s what we learned:
• In order to build on the USDA Farm to School Grant Program’s success, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization must include increased funding for the program. Demand for the USDA Farm to School Grants outweighs the current available funding by more than 5 times. USDA received 718 applications in the first two years but was only able to fund 139.
• The scope of the program should be expanded beyond its current focus on K-12 schools to also include early care education settings. The first few years of life are formative years of life for developing healthy habits, and farm to preschool shows promising results for starting kids on the right path to lifelong wellbeing.
• The program’s scope should also be expanded for summer food service program sites and after school programs.
• The listening sessions provided ideas on how to improve farm to school in tribal communities, specifically including by connecting tribal communities with traditional, native foods grown and raised by tribal producers.
NFSN is partnering up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to call upon Congress to provide additional mandatory funding for the grant program, both to address the tremendous demand but also to support the proposed expanded scope. For more information, check out the NFSN webinar on CNR and join our network. Let’s make sure the 2015 CNR further supports and strengthens farm to school initiatives!