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National Farm to School Network


Look past the headlines: kids do like their fruits & vegetables

NFSN Staff Monday, August 31, 2015

By Erin McGuire, Policy Director

When I was a kid, I hated broccoli. I can sympathize with picky eaters, but I was also a kid who grew up on a farm. I was fortunate to see broccoli grow from a tiny seed into beautiful florets and carrots turn from leggy green stems to vibrant orange roots. It was those experiences that helped me learn to love vegetables. With time and repeated experiences in the garden, by age ten I was telling my chicken nuggets to move over for a mound of veggies.

Recent headlines have painted a picture of students who haven’t yet learned to love the fruits and vegetables served to them at lunchtime - but that’s not what the larger body of data shows. In 2014, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the implementation of the new school meal standards increased vegetable consumption by 16 percent. And that increase is making a difference. A recent study in Arkansas found that when kids were offered fresh fruits and vegetables at school, childhood obesity rates dropped by 3 percent. One approach to helping kids learning to like these new healthy options is farm to school. A report from Vermont FEED found that most food service directors in Vermont saw participation in school lunch go up after farm to school programs were started in their schools.

It’s because of on the ground successes like these that 86 percent of Americans support today’s school nutrition standards, and 88 percent support increasing government funding for farm to school programs. Farm to school activities like taste tests, school gardens, and farm visits are helping teach kids to embrace new options in the cafeteria. This common sense, hands-on approach to learning about food is what changed my mind about broccoli, and it’s an approach 23.5 million kids have access to with farm to school across the country.

These activities are the training wheels that help kids learn to try and to like news foods. Simply put, farm to school makes the National School Lunch Program stronger by bringing more students into the lunch line and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Take these examples:

  • Students at Lincoln Middle School in Portland, Maine, used their greenhouse to learn about growing mixed salad greens, and afterward asked the food service staff to include it in the daily lunch. Now students and staff work together to harvest and serve the mix every week.
  • At Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Hawaii, the more time kids spend on their 22-acre farm, the less plate waste there is in the cafeteria and school meal participation rates have increased
  • Just last week, Burke County, Georgia, students created their own recipes using local foods. From hundreds of submissions, the finalists had their recipes prepared in the cafeteria kitchen with Rep. Rick Allen as a taste tester of the Georgia Peach Ambrosia. The winning recipe is going on the Burke County Schools cafeteria menu.

We are 17 days out from the Senate Agriculture Committee debating the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. Do not let the negative headlines be the story that shapes this debate. Now is the time to share success stories of the great farm to school and healthy meal initiatives happening your local community. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, invite your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or pick-up the phone and call your federal representative. 

Congress has a long to-do list this fall. But now, more than ever, we need our legislators to know that healthier school meals are working, and that it's time to strengthen programs like farm to school that show results. 

New state laws boost farm to school in Louisiana

NFSN Staff Friday, August 14, 2015
On August 1, 2015, two Louisiana bills became laws that support and strengthen farm to school efforts across the state. We interviewed our Louisiana State Lead, Katie Mularz, to learn how these policies will help bring Louisiana kids fresh, local food, and why grassroots advocacy is important for helping farm to school grow. 

Tell us about these bills, and how they relate to farm to school in Louisiana. 
The first is Senate Bill 184 – the “Small Purchase Threshold” bill. Up until now, any food purchase a school made larger than $30,000 was subject to a complicated bidding process, known as a “formal bid.” This made it difficult for schools to get seasonal and local foods because the process is often challenging for smaller-scale, local farmers. The passage of SB 184 increased the small purchase threshold to meet the federal standard of $150,000, enabling schools to work more closely with small-scale farmers to serve local food to Louisiana children. 
The second is House Bill 761 – the “Urban Ag Incentive Zone” bill. This bill creates urban agriculture incentive areas and reduces taxes on land used for urban farming. It greatly reduces expenses associated with acquiring urban agricultural land, and in turn encourages Louisianans to grow more local food. This is great for schools because it means there will be even more local producers to buy from. 

What did farm to school policy in Louisiana look like before the passage of these bills?
Although these are the first state laws supporting farm to school efforts, in 2014 the Louisiana legislature unanimously passed a resolution to convene an interagency task force to study how best to implement farm to school in Louisiana. It was an important accomplishment and first step in putting farm to school on the map, and it gave us the momentum to further drive farm to school policy in our state.

What role did partnerships play in passing these bills?
Senator Francis Thompson was a crucial champion of SB 184, the Small Purchase Threshold bill. He is committed to Louisiana schools, and as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he is committed to supporting farmers. For him, working on farm to school was a natural fit. Senator Thompson's office worked to stay informed about local farm to school activities, and they shared that work with his constituents and fellow Senators. 

We also had a lot of allies and partners from organizations across the state, including more than 130 schools and organizations that are part of our Louisiana Farm to School Alliance. We had monthly calls to update our allies on the progress of the bills, and they helped spread our message that farm to school is a win for kids and farmers through a sign-on letter. I really think these relationships are what made the bills successful. 

Why is state-level policy important for farm to school? 
The farm to school movement is aching to grow – on the school end and on the farmer end. Grassroots advocacy is an opportunity for the public to express its desire to see programs like farm to school become institutionalized in state policy. Our ability to pull together and help these bills pass has given our state movement energy, momentum and a stronger voice for helping move this work forward to benefit kids, farmers and communities. 

What’s next for farm to school in Louisiana? 
We’re excited to ride this wave of momentum to continue building farm to school and our Louisiana Farm to School Alliance. We had 49 applications for the National Farm to School Network Seed Change mini grants, and although we could only fund 32, it’s encouraging to know that people want more farm to school programming in our state. We’re looking forward to building our capacity and seeing these two new laws bring more local food to students across Louisiana. 

Ramping up local in upstate New York

NFSN Staff Monday, July 20, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

Saranac Lake High School students harvest celeriac at Fledging Crow Vegetables Farm.       (Photo courtesy of SLHS Green Storm) 

Before Saranac Lake Central School District (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) was awarded a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant, local produce in the cafeteria was rare. But serving local foods on special occasions like Farm to School Month had been successful at getting students excited to try new vegetables, so Food Service Director Ruth Pino was eager to do more. 

“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. 

Transforming lunch, building community with a USDA Planning Grant

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 01, 2015

By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate

“I've seen the effect of farm to school activities in our school and in our community at large. Kids are eating better because the food is better, but the way the community has come together to support it and the various partnerships we've created since receiving the USDA Farm to School Planning Grant have been amazing." 
- Susi Jones, Executive Director for Julian Pathways, Julian, Calif.

Chef Jeremy Manely (left) and Julian Pathways students tour “Down the Road” Farm, where local produce is grown for school lunches. (Photos courtesy of Tricia Elisara

Farm to school at Julian Pathways started with an unused plot of asphalt. Parents were the first to suggest the asphalt be cleared and a school garden planted, and it didn’t take long for students and teachers to follow. The new garden at Julian Pathways became a living laboratory for students, and it sparked efforts to extend nutrition and agriculture education to the lunchroom. Six years later, farm to school at Julian Pathways has become a whole community affair. 

As Julian Pathways Executive Director Susi Jones explains, expanding farm to school beyond the garden and into the lunchroom was not an easy task. Without facilities to cook meals or room to build a kitchen, Julian Pathways had served frozen, pre-packaged lunches. “At the time, we felt it was the best option,” she said. “But we also felt our students were getting the bad end of the deal. It was not good food, and we were not nurturing our students.” 

Although students were learning about local, fresh food in the garden, they weren’t connecting with healthy eating in the cafeteria. So in 2012, the Julian Union Elementary School District applied for a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to identify ways to secure local, fresh and delicious meals for their students. Julian Pathways, the student and family support program for the district, coordinates the farm to school program. Alumnus and local chef Jeremy Manley jumped at the opportunity to cater lunches at his alma mater. Jeremy’s on the Campus – a play on his restaurant Jeremy’s on the Hill – pays particular attention to sourcing its food locally and students are gobbling up the fresh fruit and vegetables options. 

 “January was broccoli month, and I over heard two four-year-old girls say, ‘There’s broccoli in the salad! I love my broccoli raw!’ What kind of four-year-olds talk like this without exposure in the garden?” –Susi Jones, Julian Pathways Executive Director
Students in Club Jaguar's afterschool garden class eat the Harvest of the Month – broccoli – that they planted and tended. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Elisara)
The USDA Farm to School Planning Grant enabled Julian Pathways to explore what farm to school activities best fit their community, and it helped build a creative partnership with a local chef that grew to include local farmers, small businesses and a vibrant sense of community. Their next goal is to plant a large heritage apple orchard that will provide local fruit for students, as well as serve the entire community with jobs, re-invigorating the town’s historic apple industry.  

Julian Pathways has done an incredible job supporting these innovative and burgeoning new partnerships, but more must be done to realize their full potential.  “We are such a small district, and there’s not a lot of money,” Jones explained. “Our reimbursements are small, and we really are reaching and scrounging for funding.” To grow the program’s infrastructure, Julian Pathways applied for a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant. But because of such high demand across the country, Julian Pathways was not awarded these funds. Nationally, demand for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is five times higher than available federal funding. 

Julian Pathways’ story exemplifies the power of farm to school to support child nutrition, strengthen local economies and build vibrant communities. All across the country, people like Susi Jones and Jeremy Manley want the opportunity to experience the positive impacts of farm to school in their own communities. That’s why we are asking legislators to strengthen the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package this year

Will you join us? Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and let’s keep farm to school programs like Julian Pathways’ growing strong! 

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

Healthy kids are common sense, not a trend

NFSN Staff Friday, June 26, 2015
By Anupama Joshi, Executive Director

Investing in the health of our children is common sense, and "when you put money into school nutrition programs, you know it's going straight into kids’ mouths." That’s according to Donna Martin, School Nutrition Director for Burke County Public Schools in Georgia, and it rings true across the country. 

Recent media coverage has questioned the importance of improving school meals as a strategy for supporting child health – one of the fundamentals influencing the work of the National Farm to School Network and our partners. Yet, thousands of communities across the country have experienced firsthand the significant impact farm to school initiatives have on creating a generation of healthy eaters. Here’s how we know that farm to school works:

Fruit and vegetable consumption is going up
“We're having a fruit and vegetable shortage because we've increased consumption so much," says Donna Martin of her schools in rural Georgia that feature local produce on the lunch menu. Studies show that farm to school activities improve early childhood and K-12 eating behaviors, including choosing healthier options in the cafeteria, consuming more fruits and vegetables at school and at home, consuming less unhealthy foods and sodas, and increasing physical activity. A study published just this month in the journal Childhood Obesity confirmed again that students are eating more healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, and that plate waste is not increasing.

Obesity rates are going down
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights cities, counties and states that have started to see their childhood obesity rates go down in recent years. They’ve observed that communities that take a comprehensive approach are making progress. Farm to school is a comprehensive approach. Not only are students exposed to healthy eating in school, but food education also travels home. Doreen Simonds, Food Services Director for Waterford School District in Ortonville, Mich., explains, “We hear back from kids and parents that they are trying new foods at home, going to farmers markets now, and using the Double Food Bucks too.” Through farm to school practices, we are laying the groundwork for reversing years of unhealthy lifestyles. 

Education is key to fostering healthy choices
Farm to school programs provide experiential education opportunities for kids to taste, try, and eventually like new foods – to make choices for themselves. Farm to school is about creating positive food experiences for kids, with farm tours, cooking demos, school gardens, and farmers in the classroom. As quoted in the Huffington Post, Dora Rivas with the Dallas Independent School District – the second-largest system in Texas and 14th-largest in the country – has seen their farm to school program change everything from what kids are eating to the way they are learning. "We feel like children remember and are more excited about trying new foods when they actually experience it," Rivas said. "School gardens are a great way to introduce them to new foods."

Education is key to facilitating behavior change, and change requires time and patience. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that 95 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standard requirements for school meals. More than 40,000 schools across the country have changed their approach to child health and food education by implementing farm to school activities. And farm to school continues to come up as a successful strategy to improve child nutrition again and again and again in Congressional hearings preparing for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act this year. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: students who are properly introduced to new foods through farm to school are more likely to adopt healthy eating habits, participate in their school's meal plan and are less likely to waste food, which results in a better bottom line for schools and healthier kids. 

Creating change in the lunchroom – whether it be farm to school or the new nutrition standards – is never easy. But do we let our kids give up easily when they are trying something new? We don’t! We encourage them to keep trying, and teach them to be patient. 
It’s just common sense to support our kids to be healthy in the same way!  

Farm to school shines at House CNR hearing

NFSN Staff Wednesday, June 17, 2015

By Natalie Talis, Policy Associate

A version of this blog also appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website.

On Tuesday, June 16th the House Education and Workforce Committee held its third hearing in preparation for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack was the sole witness addressing the question, “Child Nutrition Assistance: Are Federal Rules and Regulations Serving the Best Interests of Schools and Families?” 

As it did in the first hearing in April, farm to school continued to shine as a successful strategy for increasing healthy food consumption in schools and at home, while also supporting farmers and strengthening communities. 

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – a champion of the Farm to School Act of 2015 – raised the importance of giving schools flexibility to include farm to school in preschool, summer food and afterschool programs. Secretary Vilsack responded that these additional venues for farm to school activities would not only supply children with the freshest products possible, but they would also provide farmers with a significant market opportunity and would keep school meal dollars in the community. If fully integrated into CNR, the Farm to School Act of 2015 will provide this flexibility and the support schools need to implement it.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) expressed concern that too few parents are involved in their children’s nutrition choices. In response, Secretary Vilsack noted that activities like school gardens – a core component of farm to school – get kids excited about fruits and vegetables, and kids bring that enthusiasm home to their families.

This is exactly what is happening in Burke County, Ga., where local grocery markets have asked School Nutrition Director Donna Martin to alert them to what local foods are being featured in the cafeteria and in lessons so they can stock up. Martin told legislative staff at a House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015 in April how grocery stores were selling out of local foods featured at school because kids are insisting that their parents purchase it at home too. The benefits of farm to school activities go far beyond the school cafeteria, and the Farm to School Act of 2015 can help ensure these benefits are extended to more communities across the country.

Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 in CNR. Together we can make sure that the benefits of farm to school, highlighted in Tuesday’s hearing, are a key part of the conversation as this critical legislation is developed. 

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. 

Sharing stories of success on Capitol Hill

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 30, 2015
By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Policy Director, and Eugene Kim, NSAC Policy Specialist  

“Thank you to everyone who participated in the National Farm to School Network’s first D.C. fly-in. Policy is all about storytelling, and your stories and your experiences are why we come to work every day. You are the face of farm to school.” 
-Helen Dombalis, Policy Director

Left: Senator McConnell (KY) with Bill Jackson of Jackson's Orchard and Tina Garland, NFSN State Lead and Kentucky Dept of Agriculture; Top Right: Jason Grimm, founder of Iowa Valley Food Co-op and family farmer, pictured with Senator Grassley (IA); Lower Right: Senator Thune (SD) with Jim Stone, Executive Director of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council and NSAC Senior Policy Specialist Juli Obudzinski. (Photo credit: NSAC)

This week, 24 farmers, school nutrition directors, extension agents, tribal representatives and farm to school advocates from 17 states across the country descended on Capitol Hill to share their farm to school experiences with their members of Congress. We met with 35 Congressional offices from both sides of the aisle, including Congressional leadership, the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. And what we heard was resounding acknowledgement that farm to school programs are working to improve healthy eating in schools and create opportunities for farmers. 

In a House briefing on Monday, speakers testified to the benefits for farmers, impact on students, increased job satisfaction in school nutrition services, community connection and how a USDA Farm to School grant would help their work:
  • “The farmers have been so thrilled with the program that they have been calling to see what else they can grow for us.  What they like most is that they know they can sell large quantities and they don’t have to go very far to deliver it. … We are applying for a USDA Farm to School implementation grant for equipment so that all the farmers in the area could use it to cut up fruit and vegetables so they can sell to not only our district, but surrounding districts as well.” –Donna Martin, Burke County, Ga., School Nutrition Director
  • “I think the largest benefit [of farm to school] is the community pride and social capital that is created. I can’t believe the amount of support and encouragement I get from my community by selling to my old school where I grew up. … Statewide, groups in Iowa have submitted 11 applications for USDA Farm to School grants but only two have been awarded funding. We need larger pots of farm to school funds to build the foundation. These types of long term changes take multiple years to build and implement.” –Jason Grimm, Iowa Valley Food Co-op Founder and Grimm Family Farm
  • “Farm to school matters. It is a win for all involved. Students do recognize the importance of what is being done. They are starting to see that cafeterias are a place to learn as well. Farm to school helps us to educate where the food comes from, encourages students to try different foods and empowers students to learn to make food choices that help their bodies feel good.” –Karra Hartog, Elementary Cook Manager at Gideon Pond Elementary, Burnsville, Minn.
  • “Buffalo is a cultural icon for tribes, and we're using it to break the path for other traditional foods in school lunch programs. … The purpose of the support services grant is to help figure out the capacity for schools to accept local food, transport it, etc. We work in 19 states, but our grant is specific to South Dakota. Only nine out of my 60 tribes are being supported [by this grant]." –Jim Stone, Inter Tribal Buffalo Council Executive Director

Donna Martin, Jason Grimm, Karra Hartog, and Jim Stone testifying at Monday's House briefing on the Farm to School Act of 2015. (Photo credit: NSAC)

These speakers and their peers walked the halls of Congress Tuesday to tell stories of how their school can’t order enough fruit and vegetables because student consumption is up so much; how the local grocery store runs out of products that are featured in school that week; how farm to school inspires creativity in school kitchens; how farm to school involves farmers, fishers and ranchers; the challenges of navigating procurement regulations across different types of schools, especially in tribal communities; how schools are a great market for number two products that can’t be sold to grocery stores; how the need for intermediary food processing is creating new jobs; and more examples of how farm to school is a win for kids, a win for farmers and a win for communities. 

Thank you to all of the Representatives and Senators and their staff members who welcomed our farm to school crew to Washington, D.C., and listened with interest to how the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 could transform their communities and bridge some of the challenges facing school nutrition in the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (CNR). We hope to secure broad support as both the House Education Committee and Senate Ag Committee prepare to take up CNR in the coming months. 

Have you already added joined our citizen and organizational sign-on letters, and you want to do more? Contact the National Farm to School Network Policy team, and we’ll walk you through making a phone call to your elected officials to get their support. 

Clockwise: Bob Bell with the Northeast Arkansas Education Cooperative meets with Senator Boozman (AR); Rep. Guthrie (KY) with Tina Garland and Bill Jackson; April Nujean, a community educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, with Rep. Gibson (NY); Lindsey Scalera of Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Rep. David Trott (MI), and Doreen Simonds, Waterford School District Food Services Director (Photo credits: office of Rep. Trott & NSAC)

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

The Farmer Perspective: Championing the Farm to School Act of 2015

NFSN Staff Monday, April 27, 2015

By Alexandra Beresford, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“Farm to school is great for a community because it builds social capital around health and wellness and makes the connection between the farming community and local schools.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

Jason and Hannah Grimm display black beans grown on their Iowa farm. 

When most people think of the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), they think of children. However, federal nutrition programs affect many stakeholders, including those who grow and produce the food that kids eats. That’s why the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is partnering with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to champion the Farm to School Act of 2015 – because farm to school programs can be just as much a win for farmers as they are for kids.  

NSAC supports policy reform to advance sustainable agriculture, food systems, and rural communities. Farm to school helps us achieve that goal by providing significant economic opportunities for farmers, fishers, and ranchers through an institutional market worth billions of dollars. As the farm to school movement has grown over the past decade, so has its impact on local farmers – in the 2011-2012 school year, a whopping $385 million was spent on local food.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 will continue to strengthen this economic opportunity for farmers by improving the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The program has increased the use of and improves access to local foods in schools, boosting farmer incomes and local economies. It has also brought farmers and food service directors together in new ways, building relationships that are critical for laying the groundwork of robust local food economies. Thanks to farm to school programs, farmers are expanding their markets, building positive community relationships and increasing their incomes.

Today, NSAC and NFSN are headed to the Capitol with farm to school advocates – including farmers – from across the country to tell Congress why the Farm to School Act of 2015 is a critical component of the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Here’s what farmers are saying:

  • “Farm to school creates a local economic stimulus: I’m hiring people who spend money locally, I invest in equipment, I buy local inputs to grow the produce. Not only are kids improving their diet, with access to higher levels of nutrition in the fresh produce, but school kitchens are reducing waste. Personally, [farm to school] has given me a steady outlet to sell large volumes of product – my goal is to expand to additional schools in the Kansas City area.” —Mark Jirak, Farmer, Jirak Family Produce (Atchison, Kansas)

  • “I definitely see farm to school as an important opportunity for growth for farmers. As a farmer, I’m glad to sell to schools. I know fresh, local produce provides a healthier meal – and a better tasting one.” —Cliff Pilson, Farmer, CV Pilson Farm (Cameron, NC)

  • “Farm to school helps me plan what I grow. I work with school food directors, communicating with them about what they want and when, versus going to a farmers market with irregular sales and a diversified supply. Farm to school allows me to specialize – I plant what they order and have a secure sale.” —Jason Grimm, Farmer, Iowa Valley Food Co-op (North English, IA)

In our current agriculture system, farmers and ranchers receive only 16 cents of every dollar spent on food, down significantly from 31 cents in 1980.  Rural poverty and jobless rates are consistently higher than urban poverty rates, posing significant threats to rural communities and the economy as a whole. With these challenges facing America’s farmers, programs like farm to school have the power to revitalize local economies by connecting communities to local food producers. Farm to school not only provides healthy, local food options for our kids, but offers exciting new economic opportunities for our farmers. 

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.

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