State Values-Aligned Working Groups

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September 14, 2021

By Tomas Delgado, NFSN Program Manager

National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is excited to share a new project we’re working on to support four state cohorts of grassroots community groups, nonprofits, and farm to school stakeholders in convening across issue areas and identifying shared goals for food justice policies and programs in their communities. This “State Values-Aligned Working Groups” project is in support of  our Call to Action that 100% of communities will hold power in a just food system by 2025. Towards that goal, we will work with these participating state groups to shift power to the most impacted stakeholders in their communities at the nexus of education, nutrition, agriculture, community health, and the environment.

What Do We Mean by “Values-Aligned”?

We believe that farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) can be a vehicle to advance racial equity, economic justice, environmental justice, respect for workers and educators, and health equity for children. (Read more about our six community values here.) We aim to support other groups who are aligned with these same values, both in the farm to school movement and in the wider community. We’re advancing this at the national level through our call for a policy that would provide school meals to all children that promote these values in our food and educational systems.

Where Are We Working?

We have recruited four place-based cohorts to support their capacity for action planning and mobilization for policy and/or program innovations that advance equity. Our cohorts hail from:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • New Brunswick, New Jersey
  • New York City, New York
  • United States Virgin Islands

What We Will Do
By the end of 2021, each group will have formed connections across their disparate sectors to:

  • Identify and share the most pressing barriers to racial equity as experienced by their communities,
  • Explore policy and advocacy solutions for these issues at the local, state, and national level,
  • Identify common goals and values for shared policy and/or programmatic development and mobilization,
  • Create concrete objectives for a cross-sector advocacy campaign or innovative program to advance their shared goals, and  
  • Deliver an action plan for implementation in 2022.


NFNS will support planning through 2021, during which groups will outline fundraising needs to put their campaign or program into action in 2022, and identify where NFSN can support that fundraising capacity. We plan to support participants with a stipend for their time and expertise advancing this work. NFSN has secured funding for $10,000 per cohort through 2021 for action planning, and has offered Year 2 seed funding for implementation. We prioritized stipends for grassroots groups led by people of color and organizations who may not have resources to support dedicated staff time on this work. We thank the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Campbells Soup Foundation for making this funding support possible.

Stay tuned for updates on this project over the coming months. Have questions? Connect with our Programs Team to learn more.

The History of Forced Native American Boarding Schools, the Link to Farm to School, and Our Commitment

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August 31, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director

Over the past several weeks, National Farm to School Network staff and I have been listening to, learning about, and reflecting on a history that Native and Indigenous people have been naming for generations, but that only recently has gained public attention: the horrific, traumatic, and unjust history of forced boarding schools for Native children.

The US government first opened these schools in 1879 with the express intent of cultural genocide by removing Native children from their homes in order to systemically wipe out Native cultures. Under the management of the US federal government and several Christan church denominations, there were at least 367 schools in 29 states where Native children were punished for speaking their languages, stripped of their cultural clothing and hair, and banned from behaviors reflecting their Native identities. Physical, sexual, emotional, cultural, and spiritual abuse and neglect were rampant. Hundreds of thousands of Native children were removed from their families and forced into these schools. In 1926, it was estimated that 83% of all Native school-age children had been forced to attend. As recent news stories from Canada and the US have retold, many never returned home.

Another piece of this history – which is directly linked to farm to school’s history – was forced agricultural labor in many of these schools. This was a specifically chosen tactic for forcing values of individualism, dismantling communal worldviews, and driving the agenda of a colonistic food system that’s rooted in exploitation, extraction, and profit. It is imperative to understand that this real and traumatic history of Native children gardening at schools in the early 20th century has often been re-spun into a white dominant narrative about the benefits of America’s first school garden movement, which for white children (to be specific) was viewed as "[affording] opportunity for spontaneous activity in the open air, and possibilities for acquiring a fund of interesting and related information.” To be clear, gardening and agricultural labor was anything but a benefit to Native children in these circumstances. (Thank you to Alena Paisano, a former colleague at National Farm to School Network, for previously sharing this history with us.)

Today, National Farm to School Network actively partners on farm to school efforts in Native communities. Through these efforts, we strive to be supporters in work happening to reclaim food traditions, revitalize Native foodways, and build food sovereignty. While there have been shining spots in this work, there have also been shortcomings. Given this, and my deep desire for National Farm to School Network to be a better ally to our Native partners, I have been reflecting: if National Farm to School Network had existed 100 years ago, would we have been complicit in the horrific actions imposed on Native children? In what ways are we complicit to the injustices that continue to persist for Native peoples today? And what changes can I lead to be accountable to and correct this?

One starting way is through this statement you are reading. I state, unequivocally, that National Farm to School Network is committed to standing by our Native and Indigenous partners and their communities in demanding answers, accountability, and justice for past harms and injustices. I am also committed to leading by example, especially for National Farm to School Network staff, in continuing to listen, learn, and reflect on this history. Since actions speak louder than words, I will also be proactive in taking action for justice, including deferring to the leadership of our Native partners and whatever actions they may ask of me and National Farm to School Network – now, and in the future. I acknowledge that sustained commitment and engagement is required, and that my actions – and the actions of National Farm to School Network – will demonstrate the sincerity of this commitment. I openly welcome feedback, conversation, and the opportunity to be held accountable to these things.

National Farm to School Network is committed to a vision of a racially just food system, and as such, we will not keep silent about racial inequities. As a network of farm to school and community food systems advocates, we must address the impacts and legacies of traumatic and unjust histories – past and present – in the spaces we work. If this history of forced residential schools for Native children is new to you, I encourage you to continue listening, learning, and reflecting, and to turn that learning into active support for Native peoples in fighting for equity and justice. Here are some places to start:

Thank you to Mackenize Martinez, National Farm to School Network Program Associate, for elevating this history on a recent call with NFSN staff and for encouraging our organization to speak publicly about it.

UPDATE: Thank you to Valerie Segrest, NFSN Advisory Board member, for suggesting that we also elevate the lasting impact of Native children being fed army rations and how that has altered Native peoples' physical taste buds and interrupted the transmission of cultural foldaway knowledge through generations. Learn more in this article written by A-dae Romero-Briones:
Fighting for the taste buds of our children.

This blog was originally posted August 5, 2021.

Remembering George Floyd & The Work of Becoming An Anti-Racist Organization

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August 31, 2021

By Krystal Oriadha, NFSN Senior Director of Programs and Policy

No murder is without strong impact to a community, but the murder of George Floyd impacted not only the community of Minneapolis, but our nation and the world at large. On the tragic anniversary of his murder, I am reflecting on National Farm to School Network’s year of growth and challenges as we move to operate more fully within our vision for a just food system.

Last year we made a statement to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and declared our commitment to ensuring that National Farm to School Network will be an anti-racist organization. As a white-led organization, we knew we could not just be silent allies. We needed to speak up on these injustices within our communities with not only our words, but with our actions. We must be an organization that is actively – not passively – working to dismantle racism and to shift power whenever and however we can. That commitment aligns with the Call to Action for the food system we launched in October 2020: By 2025, 100% of communities would hold power in a racially just food system. This bold call to action is what is needed and what the movement calls for. If we do not shift who holds power in our food system, we will never achieve our vision for a just food system.

We also went through some challenges as we examined white toxicity in our own organization. This led to us to have very honest conversations about our organizational culture. As the only person of color in staff leadership and as a Black woman, I felt a strong need to push ourselves to not only talk about transforming the work we do externally but also look at how we can create an anti-racist workplace culture internally. To do this, we had to take an honest look at ourselves – as individuals and as a collective – and be willing to transform our own perspectives. This ongoing journey has not been easy, and it is not over, but we are committed to going on this journey, and to sharing it publicly. Over the last year, we’ve had to name and call out harsh truths as well as create space for uncomfortable conversations around issues of anti-Blackness in our own organization.

We are calling for other white-led organizations to do as National Farm to School Network has done. Do not just put out a statement in memory of George Floyd; make a public commitment to action both internally and externally, and then do that work. There are many staff of color suffering prolonged emotional trauma within organizations that put out statements of solidarity with communities of color while still creating and maintaining a toxic work environment for staff of color, showing that diversity is not truly welcomed. I am personally calling on organizations to think about the emotional tax paid by staff of color and to begin to work on addressing this within your organization’s culture.

This blog was originally posted on May 25, 2021.

Celebrating Black Visionaries in Farm to School & Community Food Systems

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August 31, 2021

Meet these Black visionaries below! Top: Betti, Brandy, Glyen, Haile. Middle: Jamese, Karen, Krystal, LaDonna. Bottom: Qiana, Rodney, Te’Lario.

February is Black History Month, a dedicated time to celebrate the power and resilience of the Black community and the many Black leaders on whose shoulders we stand. Historic and systemic racism in our country, as well as white privilege and power within the food systems, have unjustly obscured the significant contributions that Black individuals and communities have made and continue to make in our food system – including in farm to school. At National Farm to School Network, we acknowledge and apologize for our role in perpetuating these injustices and the harm that we have caused. We are also committed to taking actions to dismantle structural racism and shift power to those who have been marginalized, exploited, and excluded from the food system. You can read more about our commitment to creating a racially just food system here.

In this spirit, and in celebration of this time of Black History Month, we’re recognizing and honoring some of the Black visionaries, trailblazers, community leaders, and activists who inspire us and whose voices are leading essential conversations around racial equity and justice in farm to school, our food system, and beyond.

Betti Wiggins
“Quality food, the kind which supplies sufficient calories and nutrition to allow focus, learning, productivity, and growth, is the right of every child – really every human being.”

Betti Wiggins is one of the foremost authorities on school nutrition and food service management. She is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services for the Houston Independent School District, which serves more than 280,000 students at 287 school sites every day. Prior to Houston ISD, she was the Executive Director of Child Nutrition Programs at Detroit Public Schools. Under her leadership, the Detroit School Garden Collaborative was established in 2011. Since its inception, the program has grown to support more than 80 school-based gardens and a 4.5-acre school farm. She is affectionately known as the “Rebel Lunch Lady,” determined to use her passion for food justice and agricultural upbringing to ensure every kid has the fuel they need to learn in school. Betti is a former National Farm to School Network Advisory Board member. Hear more from Betti:
>Betti Wiggins on her career journey from segregated hospitals to leading foodservice at one of the nation’s largest school districts (Food Management)
>Betti Wiggins: Changing the way American children eat at school (NBC News)

Brandy Brooks
“We are in the middle of this massive cultural trauma of COVID and racial justice and an unprecedented ecological crisis… as political healers, we aren’t going to bury these things, we are going to bring them forward so we can heal from these things.”

Brandy Brooks is Co-Director of the Political Healers Project, a national network led by womxn of color and committed to centering healing, collective, and creative leadership in movement organizing. Brandy is also the founder and chief executive of Radical Solutions LLC, providing coaching, consulting, facilitation, and training around racial equity and environmental justice to organizations across the country – including us at National Farm to School Network. Brandy's work over the past 15 years has focused on community organizing, power-building, food justice, and food sovereignty, among others. In January, Brandy joined our monthly Coffee Chat series to talk about how we can address racial healing in National Farm to School Network's efforts towards a racially just food system and, more generally, how racial healing should be part of all food systems work – watch below! Hear more from Brandy:
>How Do We Address Racial Healing? (NFSN Coffee Chat)
>We Are Designed to Heal with Brandy Books - Feb. 23 (NESAWG Sankofa Series Webinar)

Glyen Holmes
"It's a tough time for farmers, and even tougher for African American farmers. Farm to school can be a tool for African Americans to get back into farming, and to be able to sustain their farming."

Glyen Holmes is a founding father of modern farm to school efforts. In the mid-1990s, he founded the New North Florida Cooperative (NNFC), a network of African American vegetable farmers near Jackson County, Florida, with a goal of giving small farmers a viable market opportunity by selling their products to local schools. NNFC’s "small farm to school" program found success by selling wash, chopped, and bagged fresh produce to area schools, and has continued its work for more than 20 years, expanding to Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas. During the pandemic, NNFC's processing capability put it in an advantageous position to supply schools with pre-packed fresh fruits and vegetables for grab-and-go school meals. Hear more from Glyen:
>Glyen Holmes Helped Revolutionize Farm to School Programs (Farm Aid)
>Farm to School - Glyen Holmes NNFC

Haile Thomas
“Through farm to cafeteria work, we gain experiences that help prepare us for the world.”

Haile Thomas is a 20-year-old wellness and compassion activist, international speaker, content creator, the youngest to graduate from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition as a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach (at age 16), and the founder/CEO of the non-profit HAPPY (Healthy, Active, Positive, Purposeful, Youth). Haile founded HAPPY when she was 12 years old to redefine youth empowerment through holistic education and address the need for free/affordable plant-based nutrition and wellness education in underserved/at-risk communities. Haile was a keynote speaker at our 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2018. Hear more from Haile:
>Why Haile Thomas Wants America’s Kids to Think Different (Heritage Harvest Festival)
>Cooking Up History: Living Lively: Youth Empowerment through Food with Chef Haile Thomas (National Museum of American History)

Jamese Kwele
“Centering equity and advancing racial justice is long-haul work that requires self-reflection, education, difficult conversations, and sustained action. It’s about making change; it’s about learning; it’s about growing as a movement; it’s about shifting, and yes, it’s about dismantling systems of oppression that exist both within us and outside of us.”

Jamese Kwele is the Director of Equity / Food Equity at Ecotrust, where she leads the organization's institutional equity work and a Food Equity initiative developed at the intersections of food and land justice, climate resilience, and economic development. Jamese is also one of the co-founders of the Black Food Fund, sits on the leadership team of the Black Oregon Land Trust, and serves as a board member for both the Black Food Sovereignty Coalition and the National Farm to School Network. Hear more from Jamese:
>Keynote Address: Equity in Farm to School (Vermont FEED)
>Introducing Jamese Kwele (Ecotrust)

Karen Washington
"Food justice represents a transformation of the current food system to change current inequities. It's not a passive movement, it's an active movement. In order for all of us to work on food justice, we must actively be working on socially dismantling the injustices we see."

Karen Washington has been a community activist striving to make New York City a better place to live since 1985. As a community gardener and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens, she worked with Bronx neighborhoods to turn empty lots into community gardens. As an advocate, and former president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, she stood up and spoke out for garden protection and preservation. As a member of the La Familia Verde Garden Coalition, she helped launched a City Farms Market, bringing fresh vegetables to the community. Karen is Co-owner/Farmer at Rise & Root Farm in Chester New York. Karen was our 2020 Movement Meeting keynote speaker - watch below! Hear more from Karen:
>Keynote: Food Justice is Racial Justice (NFSN 2020 Movement Meeting)
>It’s Not a Food Desert, It’s Food Apartheid (Guernica)

Krystal Oriadha
"There's a true opportunity to leverage school meals in a way that prioritizes local producers and BIPOC farmers who have been left out of the conversation.”

Krystal Oriadha is the Senior Director of Programs and Policy at National Farm to School Network, where she guides the overall strategic programs and policy advocacy activities of our organization. Krystal is a recognized community leader and activist for justice in Prince George’s County, Maryland and the wider community. For more than 10 years, she’s advocated for criminal justice reform, education, women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and food justice. Krystal is also the co-founder of PG Change Makers and the LGBTQ Dignity Project. Hear more from Krystal:
>A Shared Vision for School Food Policy (FoodCorps Town Hall)
>White-Led Organizations: Actions Speak Louder Than Words (Written by Krystal Oriadha and Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director)

LaDonna Sanders Redmond
“All oppression is linked. Food is just a tool for organizing. It’s not really about the food. It’s about what the food brings: choice and dignity.”

LaDonna Sanders Redmond is a community activist who began her advocacy for a fairer food system when she wanted healthy, organic food to help combat allergies her young son had developed. But that food wasn’t available in West Chicago. So, she became an advocate for food justice and helped create community access to fresh, healthy, pesticide-free, and GMO-free food. She achieved her vision by converting vacant city lots into urban farms, creating retail food enterprises to sell fresh fruit and vegetables in the community, and replacing junk food with salad bars in Chicago Public Schools. Hear more from LaDonna:
>Food + Justice = Democracy: LaDonna Redmond (TEDx Talk)
>Keynote: Ending Systematic Oppression in the Food System (8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference)

Qiana Mickie
"If this is not the time to dismantle something as big and persistent as food apartheid, when is the time?"

Qiana Mickie has spent more than 10 years fostering a food-based solidarity economy that increases farm viability, healthy food access, and leadership opportunities for small- and mid-scale regional farmers, youth, Black, Brown, mixed-income, and other communities of color. Qiana also brings an equity-driven lens to policy work on issues such as food sovereignty, land stewardship, and health. Qiana is the former Executive Director of Just Food and continues working with the organization as a special projects consultant. Qiana joined our Coffee Chat series last fall to discuss what food apartheid is and how we end it in our communities – it was a rich conversation that our staff continue to revisit and reflect on. Hear more from Qiana:
>How Do We End Food Apartheid In Our Communities (NFSN Coffee Chat)
>Qiana Mickie on Food Justice & Access (Heritage Radio)

Rodney Taylor
“I see it as my mission to ensure that no child feels the indignity of being hungry. Not on my watch.”

Rodney Taylor is an expert and early pioneer in farm to school salad bars. In 1997, he established the first “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar” program while working as Director of Food and Nutrition Services in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. He has also held Director roles in school nutrition departments at Fairfax County Public Schools and Riverside Unified School District. Rodney has served on the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, the University of California (UC) President’s Advisory Commission for Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Network for a Healthy California’s Executive Committee, and National Farm to School Network's Advisory Board. Hear more from Rodney:
>He grew up hungry. Now he wants to revolutionize school lunch. (Washington Post)
>Spotlight on Rodney Taylor, Farm to School Pioneer (Healthy Schools Campaign)

Te’Lario Watkins Jr.
“All kids should have enough food to eat to learn and grow.”

Te'Lario Watkins Jr. is a 13-year-old mushroom farmer, entrepreneur, and food justice advocate in central Ohio. He also founded The Garden Club Project, which has a mission to help end hunger and encourage kids to eat healthier. During the pandemic, Te’Lario has donated seed kits to local daycare centers, helped deliver over 2,000 lbs of fresh produce to a local food pantry, and started work on a community garden to help feed families that may otherwise have difficulty regularly accessing fresh produce. Hear more from Te’Lario:
>Te'Lario Watkins II: Farmer, Activist, Businessman, Youth Leader (Slow Food USA)
>Follow Te’Lario on Instagram

These are just a few of the many Black trailblazers, innovators, and movement makers who are helping power farm to school and community food systems efforts nationwide. There are many more - including on our staff, Advisory Board, in our network of Core and Supporting Partners, and others - who we also celebrate this month.

Our commitment to listening to and lifting up Black voices and leadership in farm to school doesn't stop at the end of February. Every day is the right day for being honest about and addressing the racism and inequities in our work. (You can read more about National Farm to School Network's commitment to centering our work in equity here.) In April, our staff will be participating in Food Solutions New England's 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge - sign up to join us. And, we encourage you join us in continuing to honor the Black leaders who have given, and continue to give, boundless wisdom, vision, creativity and commitment to the farm to school movement.

This blog was originally posted on February 19, 2021.