By Anna Mullen, NFSN Communications Director

This spring, National Farm to School Network is keeping a close eye on Washington, D.C. as Congressional leaders begin to build momentum for Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization ("CNR") – the package of bills that authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs. For the farm to school community, CNR is an especially important piece of legislation as it sets the standards and parameters of meals served to nearly 30 million children every school day.

A strong CNR built on our shared community values (read more about these below) can be a win for our kids by ensuring nourishing food is served in meals and snacks; a win for farmers by creating school market opportunities that provide reliable and consistent sales and fair pay; and a win for our communities by creating conditions for school food to be grown, distributed, prepared and consumed in ways that benefit everyone along the way. But for these wins to become reality, we must advocate for a CNR that is firmly centered in equity – and that’s what National Farm to School Network is doing.

What is CNR? The Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, among others. The package of bills that make up CNR is meant to be reauthorized every five years, but the last CNR to pass was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. That makes this upcoming CNR a once-in-a-decade opportunity to strengthen the programs that feed our nation's kids.

CNR and Farm to School: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was groundbreaking for the farm to school movement. For the first time, this 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. This was a major victory for National Farm to School Network and farm to school partners across the country, funding competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. Since its inception, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools.

While policies like this can and have helped more schools across the nation create a pathway to practicing farm to school, there’s more work that needs to be done to ensure equitable access to the resources, opportunities and benefits of these activities. Many of the systems and sectors that intersect with CNR’s provisions – including the food system, education system and economic system, among others – are deeply racialized and have in the past and continue in the present to exclude, disadvantage, and cause harm to Black, Indigenous, Latino and other people of colors in our communities. Systems like these that are failing any of us are failing all of us, and we can not engage in farm to school effectively without changing them. That’s why as CNR ramps up in 2021, National Farm to School Network is focusing intentionally on provisions that address systemic barriers in farm to school and create racial equity in the food system.

Equity at the Center: We believe that building the next CNR on six shared community values will help move us closer to the just, equitable food system, education system, and farm to school movement that we seek. You can read more about each of these values here.

These values can be realized in the next CNR through well-thought-out and equity-conscious marker bills, such as the Farm to School Act of 2021, the Kids Eat Local Act, the Universal School Meals Program Act, the Local School Foods Expansion Act, and others. You can read more about the marker bills we are endorsing and the CNR priorities we're advocating for here. A more just, equitable and community-centered CNR is possible and we must encourage and hold our Members of Congress accountable to making it so.

What Can You Do to Prepare for CNR? As the National Farm to School Network prepares for the likely return of CNR this summer we want to hear from you! As our name implies, we are truly a national network of stakeholders, and our policy agenda is driven by advocates like you. To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, you can:

Right now:

In the near future:

  • Prepare your asks - as a constituent, what actions do you want to see from your legislators as CNR is debated?
  • Cultivate your legislative champions - find your Members of Congress here

If and when the Reauthorization takes place:

Have questions about CNR or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact our Policy Team.

The blog was originally posted on May 14, 2021.