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National Farm to School Network is pleased to share that Jenileigh Harris has joined our staff as Program Associate. Since March 2019, Jenileigh has worked with NFSN as Programs Intern.
Jenileigh has experience in education, scientific and legal research, and food and agriculture law and policy. She is passionate about food justice, systems change work, effective policymaking and utilizing education as a tool for advocacy. Jenileigh is a graduate of Vermont Law School (VLS) where she earned her master’s degree in Food and Agriculture Law and Policy. While at VLS, she co-launched the Racial Equity Working Group to host events and facilitate conversations and events celebrating racial and cultural diversity as well as highlighting racial and social inequities in the food system. She has continued working with the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at VLS as a policy research consultant on projects such as farm to school state policy, food system resiliency, and seafood fraud.
In her new role as Program Associate, Jenileigh will continue contributing to National Farm to School Network and the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s cooperative agreement with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Community Food Systems to develop farm to school trainings for agricultural producers. Jenileigh currently resides in Colorado Springs, CO and enjoys mountain biking, trail running, yoga, cooking, reading, and drinking coffee. Welcome to your new role, Jenileigh!
National Farm to School Network is excited to be working with three interns on our team this summer! These interns have come to work with us through the support of several different partner organizations, and over the coming months, they’ll be making contributions to strengthen our work on statewide policy tracking, various projects related to equity and food systems, and increasing communications, especially in tribal communities. Meet our interns below, and please join us in welcoming Jacquelyn, Jenileigh and Mackenize!
Jacquelyn Sullivan - Zero Hunger Intern, Congressional Hunger Center
Jacquelyn is a current student at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC studying Political Science and Community Studies. At Guilford, Jacquelyn serves as Coordinator for the Church Under the Bridge initiative, leading food recovery efforts and community building on her campus and in the Greensboro region at large. In addition, she aids in the management of Mobile Oasis, a mobile farmers market bringing local produce to neighboring food deserts. She has a passion for politics and leads her local chapter of Democracy Matters, a group focused on getting money out of politics and anti-voter suppression. Additionally, she spent a semester abroad in Chile, Nepal, and Jordan conducting interpretive research on food security. Working with NFSN's Policy Team, Jacquelyn is updating NFSN's state policy tracker so that we have a better understanding of how states are growing farm to school through legislation, and how NFSN can support these efforts. She is also creating a calendar of state legislative sessions to help NFNS prepare future policy advocacy actions and forming a rubric for evaluating equity-advancing opportunities in our policy work. Jacquelyn currently resides in Winston-Salem, NC where she enjoys going to concerts, thrift shopping, and spending time with her friends.
Jenileigh Harris - Programs Intern Jenileigh has experience in education, scientific and legal research, and food and agriculture law and policy. She is passionate about food justice, systems change work, effective policymaking and utilizing education as a tool for advocacy. Jenileigh is a recent graduate of Vermont Law School (VLS) where she earned her master’s degree in Food and Agriculture Law and Policy. While at VLS, she co-launched the Racial Equity Working Group to host events and facilitate conversations highlighting racial and cultural diversity as well as the racial and social inequities present within the food system. At NFSN, Jenileigh has been assisting the Programs team on various projects by providing logistical support for NFSN’s Annual Meeting, supporting farm to school grant program evaluations, writing content for NFSN’s farm to early care and education procurement blog series, and developing a comprehensive farm to school producer resource database. Jenileigh currently resides in Colorado Springs, CO and enjoys mountain biking, yoga, cooking, reading, and drinking coffee.
Mackenize Martinez - Partnership Communications Intern, Intertribal Agriculture Council
Mackenize Martinez is a native of Zwolle, LA. She is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Agricultural Sciences with a concentration in Animal Science from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA. At McNeese State University, Mackenize has had much departmental involvement, including competing as a member of the collegiate livestock judging team, volunteering with the non-profit organization Ducks Unlimited, and serving as a biological volunteer for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Alongside school activities, Mackenize spends much of her time traveling and working with youth programming in Native American communities. Mackenize serves as the Communications Intern for National Farm to School Network through the Intertribal Agriculture Council (NFSN's 2019 National Partner of the Year), where she engages with stakeholders from around the country with various public relations projects relating to farm to school practices. Mackenize also enjoys working as a Research Assistant for the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas and serves as the Western Region Representative for the Native Youth Food Sovereignty Alliance (NYFSA) Board. After graduation, she plans to continue her post-secondary education in the agricultural science field and work with livestock producers in Native American communities to help improve local food systems.
One of the most exciting parts of farm to school is that it looks different in every community. There are countless ways to get kids excited and help them feel knowledgeable about healthy eating and their local food systems. Here’s one creative example: Jump with Jill, a rock-and-roll nutrition show that travels across the country to show students that healthy eating is something to celebrate. I recently had the opportunity to interview the founder of Jump with Jill, Jill Jayne, who spoke with me about her beginnings in nutrition, what she’s learned through her experiences, and what she hopes her show brings to students.
Writing and performing dozens of songs about healthy foods is certainly an uncommon specialty, and I was curious as to how Jill got her inspiration. Growing up, Jill was an ambitious student, performing in her school’s musicals and running for the cross country team, while also achieving valedictorian status. After graduating, these interests merged and led Jill to pursue a nutritional sciences and theater at Penn State University. Her self-proclaimed “big break” came in 2003, when she dressed up as a cow in a video segment about nutrition. Fully embracing the silliness of the segment, Jayne realized she could use her physical humor to work with nutrition in a different way than most dieticians. She realized she had a voice that spoke to kids, and she could make a real difference in nutrition education.
It was in 2006 when the first seeds for Jump with Jill were planted. As part of her master’s thesis, Jill performed a free nutrition and rock and roll street show in New York’s Central Park. Shortly after, Jill signed a record deal and released her debut Jump with Jill album, followed by her first national tour performing for youth across the country. With silly lyrics like “when your craving is cruising for a healthy dose of got your back with that off the hook flavor” from her song “Sweet Beat,” her mix of nutrition education with humor and entertainment was a hit with students.
Until 2011, Jill and her brother performed in every single Jump with Jill show - about 300 a year. When Jill received a call from the city of Philadelphia requesting 150 shows for their students in the coming school year, she knew that she had to make changes to her business structure, quickly shifting her role from performer to businesswoman. Hiring her first Jill “doppelgangers,” she switched from a brother-sister startup to a real company. Now managing a staff of multiple “Jills” and DJ’s, she “took a step back from performing to make the mission possible.”
Notably, Jill only hires certified teachers as performers in her show. That’s because her ultimate goal is to teach - in an unconventional way - that healthy foods can be exciting and interesting. According to Jill, students only “need ten doses of something to impact behavior.” This philosophy led Jill to create a toolkit containing lesson plans and activities that teachers can easily implement in the classroom after kids have taken part in the performance.
“Every message place counts,” Jill says. “Use watermelons in a math problem instead of pizza slices. Serve apples and cheese as a snack. Make healthy habits entertaining. Kids are learning by what they’re seeing, not what you’re telling them.” She emphasizes that teachers don’t have to make up these lessons if they’re not confident in their ability to teach about nutrition - Jill has already crafted them. The resources she provides to teachers have a 100% utilization rate after the show.
Admiring the dedication and creativity of Jill and her staff to teaching students about such a critical topic, I asked if she has one main idea she wants to convey through her performances. With no hesitation, she said that “you only get one body - one body for your entire life! You are responsible for making healthy choices for your body. You own it.”
Jill and her team have now conveyed that message over 3,000 times, and that number will only continue to grow.
By Ariel Bernstein, Farm to School and Education Fellow
I began my journey at the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) twelve months ago in June 2016, and this jam-packed year has flown by. I was placed at NFSN’s Washington, D.C. office through a fellowship with the Newman’s Own Foundation. The program recruits recent college graduates, creates a cohort, and places fellows at various non-profit organizations across the country for a year of valuable, real-world experience in the philanthropic sector. Though I knew I was interested in working in food systems, NFSN has opened my eyes to the expansiveness of the field, making it my most transformative experience yet. I never thought that all of the curriculum development and garden-based learning I initiated at a small elementary school during college would lead to me advocating for local food and healthy school meals at the national level. But, it did, and I could not be more thrilled by the direction my passions have taken me.
As the Farm to School and Education Fellow, my scope of work at NFSN has centered around education. I have rotated through the organization’s various teams, experiencing all of the moving pieces of pushing farm to school forward as a national movement. With the Communications Team, I created content for National Farm to School Month and learned how to strategically manage a national campaign and utilize communications to promote and advocate for a cause. With the Programs Team, I helped implement a new organizational structure of state and territory partners, teaching me how to create and maintain relationships with key stakeholders. I attended Capitol Hill and coalition meetings with the Policy Team, exposing me to the world of food and nutrition policy that I have developed a deep passion for. I created and updated NFSN signature resources (like the Benefits of Farm to School Fact Sheet and an ESSA Toolkit), and presented about them to national audiences. Throughout the year, I learned how teamwork and self-motivation are key ingredients for accomplishing our goals. Additionally, the Newman’s Own Foundation provided my cohort with numerous workshops and trainings on topics such as team-building, workplace behavior styles and career coaching. This further enhanced my personal growth and professional journey, and added value to the way I approached my work at NFSN.
While working at NFSN, I have seen first-hand how passion for food justice issues and farm to school, combined with tenacity and organization, can drive the coordination of a national movement that is growing exponentially and creating grassroots change across the country. Watching this has fueled my passion for this work and solidified my desire to continue advocating for local food, child nutrition, and other aspects of food systems reform. I never suspected I would want to stay in DC to work on food and nutrition policy, or go back school so soon to gain more insight on how to catalyze food system reform. But because of my time at NFSN, a new world has opened its arms and invited me in, and I finally feel like I know what I need to be doing.
As I reflect on my year’s work at NFSN, all of these things come to mind. I think about my jump from grassroots school garden work to national farm to school movement coordination. I think about knowledge I have gained and the learning process I have gone through. I think about the projects I have completed and how my work has impacted the organization. I think about the meetings I have attended and the connections I have made. Though my work has been varied and my takeaways are diverse, there is one thing that ties everything together, making it the most impactful part of my experience: the NFSN staff team. This team has given me knowledge in situations where I had room to grow, support when I needed lifting up, guidance when I felt lost, and humor when all I needed was a good laugh. It is this type of working environment that creates a productive, efficient and cohesive staff, and it has been an absolute honor to have been included in such a special team.
To the NFSN staff: I cannot thank you enough for inviting me into your work, and guiding me though this year and into my future. You are a team of passionate warriors fighting the good fight, and I can’t wait to see where your hard work will continue to take the farm to school movement!
By Andrea Northup, USDA Farm to School Regional Lead for the Mountain Plains Region, and Helen Dombalis, Programs Director and Interim Policy Director for the National Farm to School Network
A bin of acorn squash sits on a pallet at the Weld County School District 6 central kitchen, right next to a bin of yellow onions and a 1,000 pound tote of russet potatoes – all locally-grown. A walk through the facility is enough to convince anyone that Weld County School District 6 is committed to scratch-cooked, locally-grown food for its 22,000 students at 35 schools. In this rural Colorado school district, where over 40 languages are spoken at home and 66 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, fresh, tasty food is the norm – even down to the green chili, a southwestern favorite roasted in-house using three varieties of local peppers.
About a quarter of the central kitchen is dedicated to processing fresh fruits and vegetables. Mushrooms are sliced, carrots are shredded, and onions are diced. With funding from a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2013, this Food Hub portion of the kitchen was furnished with tables, wash stations and equipment to process local food for Weld County’s own meals and for other districts in the area.
Natalie Leffler is the Food Hub Manager at Weld County School District 6. Her job is to coordinate partnerships with farmers, ranchers and local businesses to source as much local food as possible, defined as grown or produced within a 400 mile radius. Natalie manages an annual bid to establish relationships and contracts. Growers must submit a food safety checklist with their bid documents, which Natalie confirms with an in-person site visit, so the district can rest assured that the local products are safe.
Matt Poling, the school district’s Executive Chef, assures that menu planning, recipe development, and production processes maximize the use of local products. The freezer is full of shredded local zucchini (for blending into tomato sauce), mirepoix (the age-old combination of onion, celery and carrots used as a base for soups), and other local ingredients to incorporate into meals in the off-season. The team even prepares mashed potatoes made with local red potatoes and home-made gravy. Locally-grown and dried pinto beans are sorted and cooked into refried beans or chili.
Just outside the facility are four giant compost bins designed to turn food scraps from the kitchen into compost for the district’s school gardens, funded through an innovative partnership with the West Greeley Conservation District. Sometimes El Fuego, the district’s flashy food truck, is parked outside, too. But typically the truck is out roaming the district, serving up favorites like Baracoa street tacos and the yakisoba noodle bowl to students and school staff.
The district goes beyond local procurement – school gardens, student wellness, and food education are three major areas of focus. Plans are underway to transform a sandy, unused portion of a nearby schoolyard into an educational farm focused on student engagement and employment. Called “Growing Grounds,” the project vision includes raised bed, an orchard, a teaching kitchen, hoop houses, and a greenhouse. Weld County School District 6 takes innovation and creativity to a new level with its farm to school program!
Inspired by Weld County School District’s 6 and their innovative farm to school programs? USDA is currently accepting applications for the Farm to School Grant Program, which assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. Consider applying for a grant to bring more local food into school meals, promote healthy eating habits and expand markets for American farmers and producers. Applications are due December 8, 2016.
What We Can Learn from Six Organizations Advancing a Farm to Early Care and Education Approach
Photo credit: Mark Luinenburg, courtesy of pfc Social Impact Advisors
By Gayle Peterson, pfc Social Impact Advisors, Co-founder & Senior Managing Director, and Hilda Vega, pfc Social Impact Advisors, Vice President of Programs
In a time of change, many of us reflect on our values and passions and consider the kind of community we want our children to live in. We consider various policy options and how they have (or have not) worked to improve the lives of children and families across the country. Those of us involved in the fields of healthy food access or education will be looking for supportive policies in these areas, hoping that policy makers will continue projects like
Let’s Move! or increased funding for Head Start programs. We’ll also hope that current battles, like those over Child Nutrition Reauthorization, will be resolved with the best possible outcome for children’s access to healthy food. A supportive policy environment, along with ingenuity and perseverance from the early care and education community are vital components to ensuring that all of our nation’s young children have access to healthy, nutritional foods and high quality learning opportunities.
With this need in mind, pfc Social Impact Advisors, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network and the BUILD Initiative, has developed a new set of case studies that highlight best practices from service providers using farm to ECE as an approach to support health, wellness, high-quality education, and community change. Part of the Good Food, Great Kids project, these case studies explore how multiple cities and regions embarked on the journey of bringing farm to ECE to vulnerable children in Head Start programs. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned:
In Minneapolis/St. Paul, we learned about Hmong farmers working with Head Start centers and other local food service providers to enliven their menus with local food.
In Washington, D.C., we met with staff and children of CentroNia, a multicultural and bilingual community and education center that incorporates school gardening, a healthy food curriculum, local procurement, and on-site scratch cooking to help students connect with their food.
The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC) in Brooklyn is working to break down myths about farm to ECE by sharing their success in working with a local food hub and other partners to bring fresh food to early care programs and the greater community of Central Brooklyn.
The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative, which works across six counties in Iowa, links together diverse community members such as local colleges, human service provides, and food service provider partners works to help more children under the age of five (and their families) learn about and have affordable access to healthy food and knowledge about it.
In Kansas City, Mo, two concerned community members—one a chef and the other a farmer and promoter of better access to affordable, healthy food-- worked to create a program that offers chef-driven meals in Head Start and other educational programs, healthy food education and access for children and families, and other experiential resources for children across the city.
In Philadelphia, the Norris Square Community Alliance is embarking on a strategic planning process with community members to formally incorporate a farm to ECE program targeting 700 children and striving to benefit all families and neighbors who are part of the Norris Square community.
You can dig deeper into each of the case studies here.
Accompanying these new case studies is the Good Food, Great Kids policy research report, which highlights some of the most pressing challenges faced by farm to ECE programs, such as limited funding at the national and state levels to support these activities. It also highlights needs to have the space and resources to think more intentionally about equity, family engagement, the impact of policy realities on care providers, the need for bridge-building across sectors, and the need for more research about the impact of farm to ECE on child outcomes.
There is no one-size fits all approach to farm to ECE. Yet, the six sites featured in these new resources found that bringing together complex issues like good food and early childhood education present a new way forward to ensure a good start and stronger future for children, especially those in vulnerable neighborhoods. Their experiences offer important guidance for others hoping to make nutritious food and high-quality early childcare and education a reality in their communities. By sharing and learning from stories like these, we can create momentum, spur innovation, and generate change that will help ensure that access to healthy, nutritional food is a right, not a privilege, for all young children.
Salud America! The RWJF Reach Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children has worked since 2007 to increase evidence and policy recommendations to prevent Latino childhood obesity. The 50,000 member network includes researchers, community leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders working together to increase advocacy support and the number of Latino advocates seeking policy solutions to combat childhood obesity. See Salud America!’s research here.
High school students in El Paso aren’t only learning how to grow fruits and vegetables, they’re learning how to prepare and sell them, too. (Photo credit: Ana Suffle)
Healthy school food is a key component of growing a healthier next generation. But offering nutritious food in schools is particularly vital for our growing population of Latino students, who face higher risks of obesity and diabetes than their peers.
According to a new research review from Salud America! The RWJF Reach Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children, Latino students are more frequently exposed to unhealthy foods in their school and neighborhood environments than their white peers. The review indicates when a school’s proximity to fast food increased, so did Latino students’ body mass index. It also suggests that Latino-majority schools tend to have weaker policies regarding school snacks and drinks, and may be less likely to implement nutritional guidelines.
This situation has dire health consequences, as it is expected 30 percent of the U.S. student population will be Latino by 2030. If obesity remains unchecked, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every two Latino children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. So how can we ensure healthier food environments for Latino kids?
Let’s consider school food! Most students, including Latinos, consume up to half of their daily calories at schools, and the nutritional value of the foods and beverages available at schools play a major role in influencing students’ diets and weight. School policies that reduce access to sugary snacks and drinks are likely to reduce Latino students’ consumption of unhealthy items during the school day, and positively impact student weight trends.
Michaelie Love advocated for a healthy breakfast cart at her high school in Texas.
There are many things that can be done to help drive wellness policy and system changes like these at schools. For example, student Praxina Guerra and her mentor, Cathy Lopez, advocated for hydration stations across their school’s campus in order to encourage students to drink more water and less sugary beverages. In Texas, student Michaelie Love worked in her school to offer up a healthy breakfast cart for fresh food options in the morning, and Cecil Whisenton brought healthier vending machines to her Latino-majority high school.
Farm to school initiatives can also create healthy food environments. For example, see how high school student Elena Dennis's
summer school cooking camp in California brought students to local farms and taught them how to make healthy meals from scratch. Programs like Elena’s “Camp Cauliflower” are teaching kids how to grow, cook and enjoy nutritious food, planting the seeds of healthy habits for a lifetime.
We also know students are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables when schools offer opportunities to learn in school gardens. Watch how
Bowie High School’s garden in largely Latino El Paso, Texas, helped the whole community learn about healthy foods in a culturally relevant way. Or, see how teacher Lonnie Schlerandi started a school garden in Austin, Texas, that inspired students to get involved in growing produce and distributing it to school and community members.
So how can you get involved in helping create healthy food environments for Latino children? Salud America! has created an online haven for healthy change where you can become a Salud Leader and share your story, learn what changes are happening in your area, be inspired by educational videos, access research and policy briefs, sign petitions and more.
Best of all, all of our content can be shared using social media – a primary way Latinos access health information. Once you register to be a part our network, you can access free community health reports, maps, videos, policy updates and more to drive change for Latino childhood obesity prevention. Join us, and together we can help unite the Latino voice for childhood health!
Earlier this week, we joined Salud America for a tweetchat about ways to create healthier school environment for Latino kids. See a full recap of the conversation here.
“I realized I could help young people learn about good food and healthy eating by serving them real, fresh food,” Pino says. “At our school, 36 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch. But the real challenge is that the district is very rural and spread out, so when students are hungry, there are not many options for accessing good, local food, aside from school.” Plus, she notes, “Farm to school is also about supporting local farmers, and there are many in our area.”
Beginning this fall, three local farmers will supply the district’s five school with fresh, local produce including carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, onions and potatoes. Fresh fruit will be brought in from a nearby orchard. Other relationships are thriving as well, such as with Paul Smith’s College, whose culinary students teamed up with Pino this spring to prepare and serve locally raised chicken to the district’s students. “It’s helping support our community,” Pino says, “and students are getting excited when they see that we have new foods for them to try.”
Less than 150 miles west of Saranac Lake, a similar initiative is taking root in New York’s Watertown City School District. In partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Watertown was also awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant for FY 2015. With the grant, Watertown set goals of incorporating more locally grown foods into its meal programs to improve student health and link nutrition to lifelong learning.
In addition to introducing new local foods in the cafeteria, the district’s five elementary schools launched a harvest of the month initiative, where students not only learn about and try new local foods, but also meet the farmers who produce them. “A local dairy farmer came in February with a demonstration cow, and there was a butter-making station,” district Farm to School Coordinator April Neujean said. “The state dairy princess came, too!”
Students at North Elementary School learn about cow from local farmer Ron Kuck during February’s Harvest of the Month activities. (Photo courtesy of WCSD Farm to School)
The district’s middle and high school students are learning about local food systems as well, with guest lectures on hydroponics, beneficial and invasive bugs, and robotic tilling. Furthermore, the district has planted its first school garden, giving students the opportunity to engage in growing their own food. As Neujean explains, “This education has been a good way to help students become excited about the food changes in the cafeteria. When kids have a farm to school program, they have a positive attachment to food because they know where it comes from.”
Getting kids excited about healthy eating isn’t the only benefit of these farm to school programs. What makes farm to school at Watertown and Saranac Lake school districts impressive is their drive for collaboration and growing the movement throughout upstate New York. “The community support and excitement has been remarkable,” Neujean said. The two districts have worked together to share ideas and build capacity for making more local procurement possible. And, Saranac Lake is actively encouraging nearby school districts to join them in farm to school activities. By encouraging more schools to buy local, the districts are helping open the doors to new institutional markets for local family farmers.
Thanks to these two USDA Farm to School grantees, an entire region is poised for local food transformation. Their initiatives are helping kids develop healthy eating habits, providing new markets for farmers and building up strong partnerships that foster vibrant communities. These programs are not only ramping up local procurement in their cafeterias, but also laying the groundwork for schools across upstate New York to go local. That’s a delicious win for students, an economic win for farmers, and an energizing win for all of upstate New York.