In the first half of 2018, the National Farm to School Network, as the leading policy voice for farm to school, advocated to advance three important federal farm to school priorities:
- Adopting the Farm to School Act of 2017 to increase mandatory funding. The Act expand access for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to fully incorporate 1) beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, 2) early care and education sites, summer food service program sites, and after school programs, and 3) native and tribal schools.
- Amending the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food. Current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request.
- Continuing and expanding to more states the Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables and allow participating states more flexibility in procuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Given the benefits farm to school has on farming communities and economies, NFSN looked to the farm bill as the best legislative vehicle this year for moving these priorities forward. In fact, two of the priorities - geographic preference and the pilot program - had been taken up in previous farm bills.
Over the the past year, NFSN and its partners worked tirelessly to recruit cosponsors for the Farm to School Act of 2017, and also highlight the other two priorities aforementioned. Many of our Core and Supporting Partners helped NFSN make connections with their respective federal “decision makers” and their staff. Through these efforts, we were successful in gaining 13 bipartisan House cosponsors and 13 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, and we educated many more policymakers on the benefits and opportunities of farm to school in their respective districts and states.
Although the House bill did not include farm to school priorities, NFSN recognized opportunities remained with the Senate. The Senate Agriculture Committee version of the farm bill also did not include any of NFSN’s three farm to school priorities when it passed out of committee. However, the farm to school message was received on Capitol Hill when two of these priorities were filed as amendments to be considered by the full Senate in its final vote on the bill:
Amendment #3179 - Geographic Preference Provision
Co-Sponsored by Senator Brown (D-OH), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Tillis (R-NC) & Senator Hassan (D-NH)
Amendment #3129 - Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables
Sponsored by Senator Wyden (D-OR)
The inclusion of these two priorities as amendments was a major step forward for farm to school being part of the federal policy making dialogue, and it was a direct result of tireless advocacy efforts from farm to school champions across the country. There were over 150 amendments scheduled to be considered by the full Senate, however, ultimately, Senate leadership only allowed a handful to be voted on before closing the amendment process. This meant that many amendments, including these two farm to school amendments, were not voted on and thus not included in the final version on the Senate farm bill, which passed with a 86-11 vote.
Despite not crossing the farm bill finish line, there are reasons to be proud of our farm bill advocacy efforts:
- NFSN and the farm to school movement gained new, bipartisan Congressional champions for farm to school - most notably the amendment champions listed above.
- Together, we increased exposure to farm to school with Senators on both sides of the aisle, thanks to advocates calling, emailing, and using social media to contact your representatives, asking for their support of farm to school in the farm bill.
- NFSN forged new coalitions with national organizations, such as the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.
As the farm bill process concludes, we now turn our attention towards other federal legislative opportunities to advance farm to school. While the National Farm to School Network continues advocacy at the federal level, it’s important to remember that federal policy is just one policy approach to advancing farm to school. State farm to school policy can be equally - if not more - important in fostering and growing farm to school programs in your communities. Our State Farm to School Legislative Survey: 2002-2017 shows that state and territory legislatures are proposing farm to school policies in record numbers. So even as things slow down on the federal level, there are still ample opportunities to keep up our advocacy work in state, local, and school policies. Don’t forget the significant of your voice in helping creating change at every level of government!
To learn more about the National Farm to School Network’s policy advocacy and to find resources to help you shape farm to school policy in your community, visit our policy webpage.