Despite Lack of Funding for USDA School Meal Waivers Extension, Wins Present for Children, Farmers, and Communities in Congress’s Latest Spending Bill

NFSN Staff
March 24, 2022

Congress recently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package. While the demand for nutritious, equitably procured school meals far exceeds the scope of funding provided, this bill nevertheless contains a handful of wins for farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) and much-needed funds for our farmers and communities.

School Meal Funding

This bill provides $26.9 billion for child nutrition programs. This is an increase of $1.77 billion above the FY21 enacted level to meet forecasted participation needs in the programs. As kids return to the classroom, this funding will support more than 5.2 billion school lunches and snacks. Unfortunately, this bill did not include an extension of USDA waiver authority, a temporary pandemic program that has provided millions of schools, children, and families with crucial support amid ongoing economic, supply chain, and labor challenges. As the June 30, 2022, expiration date quickly approaches, NFSN urges Congress to extend USDA waiver authority. NFSN will continue to advocate for this as schools, youth-serving and community-based organizations, and child care providers face the challenge of effectively providing meals to millions of hungry children. 

  • School Lunch Program - $14.67 billion
  • School Breakfast Program - $5.19 billion
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) - $4.31 billion
  • Summer Food Service Program - $5.81 million

Farm to School and Scratch Cooking

  • Farm to School Grants - $12 million; language to increase grant size max to $500,000, and includes funding for a national Farm to School Institute to build capacity among farm to school and farm to ECE practitioners. (See our series on the success of the Farm to School Institute model here).
  • School Meals Equipment grants - $30 million 

Farm to ECE and Child Care - Grant programs through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize the vital and interconnected role of nutrition, physical activity, and racial equity in addressing public health. Dedicated funding for Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) supports the unique needs of ECE providers with comprehensive, state-based initiatives to increase the number of successful Farm to ECE initiatives. CDC REACH (Racial and Ethnic Aspects of Community Health) Grants provide another source of funding for locally targeted, culturally relevant programs to improve nutrition in child care settings and the community. The Committee includes over $20 billion for early childhood education programs through the Child Care Development Block grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Preschool Development Grants - an increase of $3.08 billion over the FY21 enacted level. 

  • Farm to ECE - The committee includes $2 million within Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity to continue research and education related to farm-to-school programs that result in promoting healthy eating habits for students. 
  • CDC REACH Grants -  $65.95 million & SDOH funding - $8 million
  • CCDBG - $7.37 billion (FY21 level was $5.9B) 
  • Head Start - $12.18 billion
  • Preschool Development Grants - $450 million
  • Early Child Care Collaborative - $4 million

Local Markets Access

Farm to school and farm to ECE couldn’t exist without work to build vibrant and equitable local food networks. Kids, producers, and communities benefit from investments in local and regional food infrastructure, marketing, and technical assistance. The Local Agriculture Markets Program (LAMP) provides support for overall local and regional food systems projects, increasing the viability of local producers and organizations that make farm to school activities possible. Small and very small meat processors are an essential part of local and regional food systems. Fighting the consolidation of poultry and livestock infrastructure is essential to shifting power to producers and to creating a more crisis-resilient food system. Relief of overtime fees for food safety inspectors are one way to support increased capacity. 

  • Local Agriculture Market Program - $20.4 million
  • FSIS Small Plant Overtime Fee Relief - $5 million

Producer Support and Equity

Issues of racial inequity pervade the foundations of our food system and of the government programs meant to support producers. Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program coordinates outreach to beginning farmers and to farmers who have been excluded by USDA programs because of race. The Office of Urban Agriculture, created by the 2018 Farm Bill, serves to connect urban producers to USDA programs and meet their unique needs. This program is not guaranteed mandatory funding, so an increase in discretionary funding is a hopeful victory for serving urban producers.

  • USDA Farmer Outreach Training and Opportunity (FOTO) (2501) - $24 million
  • Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production - $8.5 million

Health and Economic Gains of School Meals at Risk as Child Nutrition Program Waivers Expire

NFSN Staff
March 18, 2022

National Farm to School Network’s Statement 

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress granted the USDA the authority to issue child nutrition waivers, which have given schools the funding and resources necessary to keep school meals programs afloat while providing free meals to an additional 10 million students each day. This past week, we were deeply disappointed to hear that Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that did not include funding to extend these waivers. Without an extension, the waivers are set to expire on June 30, 2022, even though the challenges school meals programs are facing won’t be over by then. This will push millions of kids and families into food insecurity while greatly disrupting school meals programs and the many stakeholders involved. 

The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the supply chain, caused labor shortages, and pushed the cost of food higher and higher. According to a recent USDA survey of school nutrition departments, 92% of schools reported experiencing challenges due to supply chain disruptions, 73% reported experiencing staffing challenges, and 67% of schools struggled to procure food due to higher average food prices. These challenges will persist into the 2022-2023 school year. Therefore, continued investment into our school nutrition programs is crucial to help schools navigate these disruptions while transitioning back to in-person learning. 

The waivers not only allowed schools to maintain their school meals programs, but also allowed many schools to make notable strides in their meals services, such as more local procurement and scratch cooking. With the end of the waivers, schools will now face financial pressure to cut back on these improvements, including local and healthy food procurement, investment into staff, and resources for scratch cooking such as equipment. 

As farm to school advocates, we know that successful farm to school initiatives must be built on a foundation of a thriving school meals program that is valued and invested in. In the years since the implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which updated school nutrition standards for the first time in decades and increased access for low-income districts with the Community Eligibility Provision, child nutrition program providers made tremendous strides toward meeting these more stringent standards. This has included increasing kids’ consumption of fruits and vegetables and investing in scratch cooking and local ingredients. Now more than ever, students and their communities will need consistent access to nutrition programs that make the most of opportunities to invest in workers and the local economy. 

National Farm to School Network will continue to press Congress to ensure that child nutrition providers have the flexibility and funding to meet kids’ needs in the coming summer and school year.

Grants available for Farm-to-Institution Projects under Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP)

NFSN Staff
March 11, 2022

By Donovan Glasgow, Policy Intern

On March 1st, USDA opened grant applications under the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), and with this opening came an exciting announcement; in addition to the standard focus areas of these grants, USDA is seeking to fund Farm to Institution (FTI) projects. Organizations interested in establishing or expanding connections between local food producers and institutions—such as schools, hospitals, elder care facilities, higher education, early childhood education centers, and state agencies—are encouraged to apply. 

Grant Details

There are two grants with funding available for FTI projects. 

  • Under the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), grants aim to develop food businesses which connect local food to institutions. Awards range from $100,000 to $500,000. Eligible applicants include agricultural businesses or cooperatives, CSA networks or associations, food councils, local governments, nonprofits, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities, and tribal governments.
  • Under the Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP), grants aim to facilitate partnerships between the public and private sector. Awards range from $500,000 to $1,000,000. Applicants must be partnerships between one eligible entity and one eligible partner, which are defined below. 
  • Eligible entities: producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, producer networks or associations, majority-controlled producer-based business ventures, food councils, CSA networks or associations, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities, and tribal governments.
  • Eligible partners: state agencies or regional authorities, philanthropic corporations, private corporations, institutions of higher education, and commercial, federal, or farm credit system lending institutions.

Applications for both programs are due 11:59 PM Eastern Time on May 16, 2022. In addition, the application deadline for the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program (LFPA) has been extended to May 6th! Through the LFPA, state agencies and tribal governments can apply for Cooperative Agreements to buy locally-produced food to supply communities facing food insecurity. See below for more details and assistance on LFPA, or in our Agency Announcements resource.

Shifting Power Through Farm to Institution 

Investments in FTI projects hold the potential to address agriculture’s racial and class disparities. Today, 98% of all farmland is owned by white proprietors. Furthermore, farmers who identify as People of Color are more likely to own less land and generate less farm-related wealth than their white counterparts (source). Our Call to Action is that by 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. Redirecting money back to small-scale farmers and their communities through FTI is one avenue towards this goal. 

Stable Revenue Increases Farmer Viability

FTI projects offer farmers a large, additional source of revenue which can complement direct-to-consumer streams such as farmers markets and CSAs (source). More money for local farmers means more money for communities; according to one study, every dollar spent on local food procurement by institutions results in up to $2.16 in local economic activity (source). 

Program Focus on Producer Diversity

Both the LFPP and RFSP grants encourage applications that benefit “smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, underserved producers, veteran producers, and/or underserved communities,” and both give priority consideration to projects that “benefit communities located in areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to supermarkets or locally or regionally grown food.” 

Resilience for Institutions and Communities

FTI projects allow institutions, such the Livingston School District in Montana, to reduce their dependence on remote supply chains and avoid chronic shortages. When local food is incorporated into cafeteria menus, patrons at these institutions consume more fruits and vegetables (source). And from an environmental standpoint, FTI programs reduce food waste, cut down on food miles (the distance food is transported from harvest to plate), and fund sustainable agricultural practices (source). 

Next steps

To learn more about the LFPP and RFSP grants, review the RFAs, see Frequently Asked Questions, read about previous awardees, and apply for technical assistance available to applicants, visit the below links. 

Additionally, check out these helpful resources from the Wallace Center:

Be sure to share these opportunities and resources with producers, enterprises, and institutions in your network!

USDA Funding Opportunities Recognize Crucial Role of Local Food Systems

NFSN Staff
December 22, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, the Policy team at NFSN want to take a moment to unpack recent major announcements and funding opportunities from the US Department of Agriculture that should cheer the farm to school and farm to ECE community. 

2021 has brought a flurry of activity and announcements from USDA, as the new presidential administration worked to create new programs for local food infrastructure, to improve the Department’s commitment to racial and social equity, to award record levels of funding for Farm to School grants, and to distribute American Rescue Plan Act funds to communities – in addition to the currently open Farm to School Grant opportunity (closing January 10!). 

See this summary of just a few of the recent announcements from USDA that NFSN Partners should know about. 

In December, USDA also announced more details of $1.5 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation funding to help school nutrition programs cope with supply chain challenges. This funding will be broken down as:

  • Supply Chain Assistance Funds: $1 billion in cash payments for schools to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed foods. States and Territories have the option of using up to 10% of the Supply Chain Assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distributing these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.
  • Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement: $200 million awarded by the Agricultural Marketing Service in cooperative agreements to states and U.S. Territories for purchase of local foods for distribution to schools.
  • USDA Foods Purchases: $300 million in USDA Foods purchases for states to distribute to schools. 

We are very pleased that the bulk of this funding will offer flexibility in purchasing for our school nutrition partners, and that the local and regional producers will have the opportunity to serve the school food market through state purchases.

See the allocation of this funding here. Please click here to read the USDA press release.

Additionally, USDA is launching a new Local and Regional Food System Recovery and Resilience Project. Building on the findings of its Local and Regional Food Systems Response (LRFS) to COVID-19 initiative, this program will facilitate networking, data gathering, and technical assistance. Join their next webinar on January 14 (register here), and review their call for partners in a new Network of Networks, a cross-sector convening to allow local food system stakeholders to make valuable connections. If interested, please fill out this form and join their first meeting on January 26 at 1:00pm ET. 

These actions should be a source of pride for farm to school and farm to ECE partners who have worked over the last 20 months to highlight how local, equitable, and flexible food system connections can support and nourish our communities in times of emergency. Together, our advocacy for targeted, flexible funding to food systems infrastructure, and for leveraging federally-reimbursed Child Nutrition Programs to do so, has made an impact. We look forward to supporting partners as these funds are implemented.

Federal Budget Reconciliation Includes Wins for Farm to School

NFSN Staff
October 11, 2021

By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

Congress will continue work on a budget reconciliation package that offers new funding for a broad range of issues important to farm to school stakeholders. The House Budget Committee voted to advance the general outline of the overall $3.5 trillion budget, covering agriculture spending, labor enforcement, employment education and training, school facilities funding, higher ed, child care and pre-K, and child nutrition.

The child nutrition portion, estimated at $35 billion, contains several big wins for equity. Most notably, the bill would widely expand the Community Eligibility Provision -- a big step toward school meals for all! -- and increase funding for meals served under CEP. It also would fund expanded summer EBT, as well as school kitchen modernization and training. 

Finally, it allocates $634 million to Healthy Food Demonstration Incentive grant for schools to improve school nutrition, including hands-on experiential learning, increasing scratch cooking, and procuring local, regional, and culturally appropriate foods and foods produced by “underserved” or “limited resource farmers” (as defined by USDA). The language of the grant program is broad in this legislation, leaving much up to the discretion of the Secretary. If passed, this will be an important opportunity for NFSN partners and impacted communities to give feedback on how grants can be prioritized and administered to increase racial equity. NFSN has signed on to advocate for $1 billion in funding for this grant, as originally proposed in the White House’s Build Back Better plan. 

Other highlights include:

  • A federal and state partnership to help parents cover the cost of child care
  • Support for universal pre-K
  • Funding for states to improve public school facilities 
  • More robust enforcement of labor standards and protections
  • Investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and other Minority-Serving Institutions.

The House Agriculture Committee had previously voted to advance a partial proposal of $66 billion in new spending on rural development, agricultural research for climate resiliency, biofuels, and forestry. This week, the Committee finalized an additional $28 billion in conservation spending, which would begin immediate investments in programs towards President Biden’s pledge to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Committee also unveiled $2 billion in debt relief provisions and assistance to “at-risk producers,” including loan payoffs and modifications for USDA borrowers, financial assistance to producers who suffered discrimination under USDA loan programs, assistance with legal issues of land access, and outreach and mediation services. Previous debt relief targeted at producers of color was halted amid legal challenges. 

This week, Congressional leadership will be working to gain the coalition of votes needed to pass both this legislation and separate infrastructure package. As part of this process, negotiators will be choosing between many high-profile priorities competing for funding. Now is the time to contact your legislators and voice your support for the measures important to farm to school stakeholders!

This was originally posted on September 14, 2021 and was updated on October 1, 2021.

New Edition! Policy Handbook for Farm to School Advocates

NFSN Staff
July 15, 2021

Farm to school legislation is a key strategy for making local food procurement, school gardens, and food education a reality for millions of children, farmers, and communities across the country. We’re excited to share a new resource to help partners and advocates in these efforts: the State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2020.

Co-authored by the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, the State Farm to School Policy Handbook summarizes and analyzes every proposed farm to school bill and resolution introduced between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2020, from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. It enables users to search bills by both jurisdiction and topic, and includes analysis of trends, case studies, advocacy resources and more.

What’s new in this edition?
The State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2020 builds on a survey that was originally released in 2011, and updated in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019. The last update of the Handbook focused on bills that directly advanced the core elements of farm to school – local procurement, school gardens, and food and agriculture education. In this edition, we broadened our scope to also include:

Bills that Support Universal School Meals: One clear takeaway for school nutrition professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the need for universal meals, which allow them to focus more on nourishing kids than on filling out paperwork by eliminating means testing and making all school meals free for all students. This edition of the Handbook highlights bills that support universal meal expansion and implementation through state policies.

Bills that Support BIPOC Producers: Farm to school exists within the broader agricultural economy. Policies addressing the historical and ongoing inequities between Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) farmers and their white counterparts are ultimately necessary for BIPOC producers to experience a level playing field on which to participate in farm to school. This edition of the Handbook highlights bills that support small farmers and producers of color in aims of spurring more of this type of policy. It also includes a comprehensive case study on key strategies to support Native food and Tribal sovereignty through farm to school policy.

Farm to school policy responses to COVID-19: The public health and economic emergency caused by COVID-19 illuminated valuable lessons about the resilience of our food system and farm to school and ECE work. It also showed opportunities for continued advocacy to ensure communities are better supported in future emergency situations. This edition of the Handbook includes a case study highlighting farm to school, child nutrition, and food system policy challenges experienced during the pandemic, as well as innovations and strategies for future resilience.

What are the other highlights?
Between January 1, 2002 and December 31, 2020:

  • 46 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have introduced 546 bills and resolutions supporting farm to school activities.
  • 43 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed farm to school policies.
  • Between 2019-2020, 26 states proposed 91 farm to school bills and resolutions. Of those, 30 passed.
  • The most common bill type has been one that provides funding for farm to school. These bills include annual appropriations, permanent funds, and other revenue streams.

How can advocates use the Handbook?
The time is ripe to leverage relationships and advocate to expand farm to school through state legislation, and the State Farm to School Policy Handbook is a valuable tool you can use to approach policy in ways that make sense for your state. Whether your state is still working to pass its first farm to school legislation or ready to expand, you can use this Handbook to gain knowledge of the wide variety of farm to school policy options that exist and find inspiration and models that can be adapted to meet your states needs. Be sure to check out the Promising Practices section (starting on page 21) and the Advocacy Strategies (starting on page 23) for ideas to seed, grow, and sustain farm to school in your state. The Bill Summaries (starting on page 41) can be helpful comparing your state’s farm to school laws, policies and programs to those of other states.

State-level farm to school policy work is driving a broader expansion of farm to school across the country. Simply put, strong laws facilitate strong programs. But more work is still needed to ensure equitable access to the opportunities and benefits of these programs. The goal of every state and territory should be to pass comprehensive legislation that supports farm to school activities to advance racial equity and benefit those most impacted in their communities. We hope the Handbook provides a roadmap for advocates and policymakers to dig deeper into developing the laws needed to facilitate strong, equity-centered farm to school programs. Download the resource here to start exploring.

Have questions about this new resource or need a thought partner on how to connect with your state lawmakers? Don’t hesitate to contact our Policy team for support! We look forward to hearing how your advocacy efforts continue to grow the farm to school movement, state by state.

The State Farm to School Handbook: 2002-2020 is co-written by National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School (CAFS). This project is funded by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This blog was originally posted on July 27, 2021.

News Release: Local School Foods Expansion Act Introduced in Senate & House

NFSN Staff
May 5, 2021

When schools purchase locally grown foods for school meals, it is a triple win for kids, family farmers, and local economies. Today, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) took an important step towards providing more schools flexibility in making impactful local food purchases by introducing the Local School Foods Expansion Act, which will expand the successful Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot project to 14 states, while also increasing technical assistance and capacity building to improve access to this valuable program for schools with racially diverse and high-need student populations and for socially disadvantaged farmers. National Farm to School Network applauds the introduction of this bill and encourages all Members of Congress to support its inclusion in the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR).

“This expansion of the Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable pilot program offers participating schools the opportunity to cultivate their own purchasing relationships with local producers, which directly translates to kids eating more local, fresh, and unprocessed or minimally processed foods in school meals. Thanks to leadership from Senator Wyden and Congressman Welch, the Local School Foods Expansion Act will nearly double the number of states with access to this flexibility and increase vital technical assistance to maximize its impact,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director with National Farm to School Network. “National Farm to School Network is proud to endorse this bill because its provisions are directly responsive to what we have learned from schools participating in the existing eight-state pilot. With a renewed focus on equitable capacity building to ensure that small producers, Tribal producers, and schools in every community have the resources to benefit, scaling up this Pilot project so more states can participate is a promising opportunity.”

The Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot project was created as part of the 2014 Farm Bill and currently operates in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. In addition to expanding the project to up to an additional 7 states, the Local School Foods Expansion Act will include $25 million for technical assistance to help schools in participating states build their capacity for local food procurement and to assist new produce vendors in being approved to sell to schools.

National Farm to School Network is advocating that the Local Foods Expansion Act, as well as other important marker bills that will advance farm to school and equity in the food system, be included in the upcoming CNR. National Farm to School Network is committed to supporting policies that build on six shared community values – economic and environmental justice, health, racial equity, workers rights, and animal welfare – which will move the country towards a just, equitable food system that promotes the health of all school children and benefits producers, workers, educators, and our communities.

Read the full press release here.

This was originally posted on May 14, 2021.

News Release: Kids Eat Local Act Introduced in Senate & House

NFSN Staff
April 2, 2021

Today, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders took an important step towards making it easier for schools to source locally grown, locally raised, and locally caught food and farm products for school meals. The Kids Eat Local Act, introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Alma Adams (D-NC), would help break down barriers between school food purchasers and family farmers and food producers by simplifying local purchasing guidelines for school meal programs.

By including the Kids Eat Local Act in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, schools would be given a new, easier to use local product specification option through which they could specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language, and then make the award to the lowest bidder who can meet that product specification. The addition of local product specification would substantially improve opportunities for local producers by providing more flexibility for school districts. The Kids Eat Local Act would also allow schools flexibility in determining the definition of “local” that best suits their needs.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition thank the bill sponsors in both the Senate and House for introducing the Kids Eat Local Act and paving the way for increased healthy food in schools and new economic opportunities for local farmers. We urge all members of Congress to support this simple, yet significant change and look forward to continue working with our partners and allies as this bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization move forward.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Kids Eat Local Act here.

Have questions about the Kids Eat Local Act or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, our Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

The was originally posted on April 28, 2021.