By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Policy Director, and Eugene Kim, NSAC Policy Specialist  

“Thank you to everyone who participated in the National Farm to School Network’s first D.C. fly-in. Policy is all about storytelling, and your stories and your experiences are why we come to work every day. You are the face of farm to school.”
-Helen Dombalis, Policy Director

Left: Senator McConnell (KY) with Bill Jackson of Jackson's Orchard and Tina Garland, NFSN State Lead and Kentucky Dept of Agriculture; Top Right: Jason Grimm, founder of Iowa Valley Food Co-op and family farmer, pictured with Senator Grassley (IA); Lower Right: Senator Thune (SD) with Jim Stone, Executive Director of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council and NSAC Senior Policy Specialist Juli Obudzinski. (Photo credit: NSAC)

This week, 24 farmers, school nutrition directors, extension agents, tribal representatives and farm to school advocates from 17 states across the country descended on Capitol Hill to share their farm to school experiences with their members of Congress. We met with 35 Congressional offices from both sides of the aisle, including Congressional leadership, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. And what we heard was resounding acknowledgement that farm to school programs are working to improve healthy eating in schools and create opportunities for farmers.

In a House briefing on Monday, speakers testified to the benefits for farmers, impact on students, increased job satisfaction in school nutrition services, community connection and how a USDA Farm to School grant would help their work:

  • “The farmers have been so thrilled with the program that they have been calling to see what else they can grow for us.  What they like most is that they know they can sell large quantities and they don’t have to go very far to deliver it. … We are applying for a USDA Farm to School implementation grant for equipment so that all the farmers in the area could use it to cut up fruit and vegetables so they can sell to not only our district, but surrounding districts as well.” –Donna Martin, Burke County, Ga., School Nutrition Director
  • “I think the largest benefit [of farm to school] is the community pride and social capital that is created. I can’t believe the amount of support and encouragement I get from my community by selling to my old school where I grew up. … Statewide, groups in Iowa have submitted 11 applications for USDA Farm to School grants but only two have been awarded funding. We need larger pots of farm to school funds to build the foundation. These types of long term changes take multiple years to build and implement.” –Jason Grimm, Iowa Valley Food Co-op Founder and Grimm Family Farm
  • “Farm to school matters. It is a win for all involved. Students do recognize the importance of what is being done. They are starting to see that cafeterias are a place to learn as well. Farm to school helps us to educate where the food comes from, encourages students to try different foods and empowers students to learn to make food choices that help their bodies feel good.” –Karra Hartog, Elementary Cook Manager at Gideon Pond Elementary, Burnsville, Minn.
  • “Buffalo is a cultural icon for tribes, and we're using it to break the path for other traditional foods in school lunch programs. … The purpose of the support services grant is to help figure out the capacity for schools to accept local food, transport it, etc. We work in 19 states, but our grant is specific to South Dakota. Only nine out of my 60 tribes are being supported [by this grant]." –Jim Stone, Inter Tribal Buffalo Council Executive Director

Donna Martin, Jason Grimm, Karra Hartog, and Jim Stone testifying at Monday's House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015. (Photo credit: NSAC)

These speakers and their peers walked the halls of Congress Tuesday to tell stories of how their school can’t order enough fruit and vegetables because student consumption is up so much; how the local grocery store runs out of products that are featured in school that week; how farm to school inspires creativity in school kitchens; how farm to school involves farmers, fishers and ranchers; the challenges of navigating procurement regulations across different types of schools, especially in tribal communities; how schools are a great market for number two products that can’t be sold to grocery stores; how the need for intermediary food processing is creating new jobs; and more examples of how farm to school is a win for kids, a win for farmers and a win for communities.

Thank you to all of the Representatives and Senators and their staff members who welcomed our farm to school crew to Washington, D.C., and listened with interest to how the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 could transform their communities and bridge some of the challenges facing school nutrition in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR). We hope to secure broad support as both the House Education Committee and Senate Ag Committee prepare to take up CNR in the coming months.

Have you already added joined our citizen and organizational sign-on letters, and you want to do more? Contact the National Farm to School Network Policy team, and we’ll walk you through making a phone call to your elected officials to get their support.

Clockwise: Bob Bell with the Northeast Arkansas Education Cooperative meets with Senator Boozman (AR); Rep. Guthrie (KY) with Tina Garland and Bill Jackson; April Nujean, a community educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, with Rep. Gibson (NY); Lindsey Scalera of Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Rep. David Trott (MI), and Doreen Simonds, Waterford School District Food Services Director (Photo credits: office of Rep. Trott & NSAC)

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.