Farm to School Advocacy

Make your voice heard

The National Farm to School Network is the voice for the farm to school movement and the leading resource for information about national, state and local policies that impact farm to school.

We represent millions of Americans who believe that all students deserve equal access to healthy, local foods as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. Farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.

Federal, state and local policies affect a community's ability to implement farm to school practices. It is critical to stay informed and share your farm to school stories with decision makers. For information about farm to school policy, contact our policy staff. Join us in advocating for farm to school policies that support your community.

If you are affiliated with an NFSN Partner organization, you can register here to join Policy Office Hours with NFSN staff and your fellow farm to school advocates.

Happening Now: Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization

Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization 2021

As Congress takes up the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), we have an important opportunity — the first in a decade — to leverage federal farm to school and other child nutrition policies to shift power towards a racially just food system. Together with our network of partners and supporters across the country, we call on all Members of Congress to show their commitment to the well-being of our nation’s kids, family farmers, and food-producing communities by strengthening farm to school and advancing racial equity opportunities in the next CNR.

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Values-Aligned Universal School Meals

National Farm to School Network has been exploring a movement toward values-aligned universal meals focused on equity for the most impacted stakeholders across the food system. Universal meals embedded with the core values of farm to school have the potential to radically transform our food system for the better. Six key values, put into action, get us closer to a just, equitable food system that promotes the health of all school children and benefits producers, workers, educators, and their communities.

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Federal Farm to School Policies

The National Farm to School Network tracks federal food and agriculture legislation and regulations that impact the farm to school community. About every five years, the United States Congress renews two significant pieces of legislation: the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Act (or CNR, for Child Nutrition Reauthorization), which usually contain important policies related to the implementation of farm to school. However, these two major legislative packages are not the only bills that we track. For example, in 2010 the Food Safety Modernization Act was passed, marking the first major overhaul of our nation’s food safety practices since 1938. More recently, the Local Farms Act looks to incubate local food systems. Here are brief summaries of recent important pieces of legislation:

  • 2018 Farm Bill: The National Farm to School Network and its partners advocated for three key priorities in the 2018 Farm Bill: (1) Adopting the Farm to School Act of 2017 to increase mandatory funding and expand access for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, (2) Amending the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food, and (3) 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. While none of these priorities were ultimately included in the final House or Senate farm bills, NFSN’s advocacy efforts were successful in gaining new, bipartisan Congressional farm to school champions and forging new coalitions with other agriculture advocacy organizations.
  • Farm to School Act: In September 2017, members of Congress took the first step toward a major win for local economies, farm families and the health of our nation’s children. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2017.
  • Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Opportunity Act: A bipartisan coalition led by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) of 2017. This bill will ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill focuses on the future of American agriculture by driving investment toward programs and policies that create opportunities for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
  • Local FARMS Act: Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Sean Maloney (D-NY), introduced the Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (the “Local FARMS Act”) to catalyze the 2018 Farm Bill’s investment in programs and policies that spur economic development in rural and food producing communities nationwide.

Several important pieces of previous legislation that laid the groundwork for today’s farm to school success have included:

  • 2014 Farm Bill: Section 4202 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 established a new pilot program for up to eight states to explore procurement alternatives – including local procurement – for unprocessed fruits and vegetables. Section 4209 of the bill creates a food and agriculture service learning program.
  • 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization: Section 243 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 provided $5 million per year in mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, a major victory for the National Farm to School Network and farm to school champions across the country. Learn more about NFSN’s current campaign for farm to school support in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.  
  • 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act: The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (FSMA) provided new regulations both for produce farms and for facilities processing food for human consumption. In other words, FSMA impacts everyone. Farmers and food hubs involved in producing, aggregating or processing food for schools are all impacted.
  • 2008 Farm Bill: Section 4302 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 established a geographic preference option to improve opportunities for local procurement in school meal programs.
  • 2004 Child Nutrition Reauthorization: For the first time ever, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 established a federal farm to school program, though the program was not funded at that time. The bill also required all school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program or other federally-funded school meal programs to have a school wellness policy by the 2006-2007 school year.

State Farm to School Policies

Between January 2002 and December 2018, 46 states, D.C. , and one U.S. territory introduced a combined total of 453 bills and resolutions supporting farm to school activities. Of those, 41 states, DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands successfully passed farm to school legislation, including 146 bills enacted and 63 resolutions adopted. During this period, only nine states and four U.S. territories did not pass farm to school legislation. To date, 25 states have passed comprehensive farm to school legislation, which means the legislation includes funded grant programs, funded coordinator positions, or funded local procurement incentives

The State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2020, co-authored by National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, summarizes and analyzes every proposed farm to school bill and resolution introduced between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2020. It enables readers to search bills by both jurisdiction and topic, and includes analysis of trends, case studies, advocacy resources and more.

Local farm to school policies

There are a variety of ways to support farm to school through policy at the local level. These include:

  • School wellness policies: The 2004 Child Nutrition Reauthorization required all school districts receiving federal funds for school meal programs to adopt a local school wellness policy. These policies address both nutrition and physical activity and involve parents, students, school food authorities, teachers, school boards, school administrators and the public. School wellness policies are an opportunity to encourage farm to school activities such as school gardens, farm tours and local procurement. To learn more, visit the Team Nutrition website. For model school wellness policies that include farm to school, view this resource developed by the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA) Coalition.
  • School district procurement policies: Public institutions – including schools – have significant purchasing power and can encourage the production of and access to healthy, farm fresh foods in their region and communities. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District signed on to the “Good Food Purchasing Pledge” in October 2012. This is a comprehensive and metric-based food purchasing policy developed by the LA Food Policy Council.
  • School district fundraising policies: School or district level policy can guide practices related to healthy fundraising. For example, many schools across the country have eliminated sugar-sweetened soft drinks from campuses through policy change. Smart, healthy policies can support a wide variety of farm to school fundraising endeavors such as allowing a farm-stand on the school campus or creating criteria for products included in fundraising efforts.

Food policy councils

Food Policy Councils (FPCs) – which range in scope from the local to the state level – are increasing in number in the United States, and many of these councils directly work on farm to school activities like local procurement.

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s Food Policy Network, between 2012 and 2013, there was a nine percent increase in the number of FPCs. Of the 196 U.S.-based councils listed in the Food Policy Network Directory of Food Policy Councils in North America, 33 of them specifically list schools as a top priority.

Share your story

Policies shape and impact every aspect of our daily lives much more than we can imagine.

From healthcare to transportation to defense, elected officials at all levels of government make policy decisions that impact us. Food and agriculture policies are no exception; they dictate what foods are grown and raised in the US and by whom, food quantities and prices, and thus who has access to what food. Through advocacy and education, you can shape farm to school policy. You are a constituent with a vote and an important story to tell. Have you identified a needed policy change? Did you receive a USDA Farm to School Grant or are you part of a Food Policy Council? Does your state have farm to school legislation that supports your work? Tell us your farm to school story.