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Farm to ECE and Head Start: A Natural Alignment

NFSN Staff Tuesday, August 29, 2017
By Tiffany Turner, Senior Fellow, Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation 

Farm to early care and education (ECE) offers benefits that strongly parallel the goals and priorities of the early care and education community, with a particularly strong alignment with Head Start priority areas, including an emphasis on experiential learning opportunities, parent and community engagement, and life-long health and wellness for children, families and caregivers. Additionally, farm to ECE expands healthy food access for children and families, provides additional market opportunities for farmers and supports thriving communities. 

To make it even easier for Head Start stakeholders to implement farm to ECE, the National Farm to School Network has created Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education. This new, comprehensive resource aims to promote understanding amongst Head Start stakeholders of how farm to ECE supports achievement of Head Start Program Performance Standards and contributes to learning and development benchmarks as outlined in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework. Growing Head Start Success is designed with clear, easy to read tables that directly align Program Performance Standards and the Early Learning Outcomes Framework with specific farm to ECE activities from each of the three core elements of local procurement, gardening, and food, agriculture and nutrition education. 

The resource can be used in a variety of ways. For example, if a Head Start program is working on their community wide strategic planning and needs assessment (Part 1302, Subpart A, 1302.11), they can look to Growing Head Start Success and identify at least three farm to ECE focused ways to meet this standard: (1) identify resources for local food access in the community, (2) opportunities to use food-based education to increase family and child nutrition knowledge, or (3) identify community organizations to support onsite and community gardens. Integrating food access and local food resources as a component of community assessment creates a foundation for utilizing local food opportunities to support other standards around family engagement, family support services, and community partnership and coordination. 

In another instance, a Head Start teacher is seeking ways to support vocabulary development (a sub-domain of Language and Communication) for her preschool age students. The teacher can find the “Vocabulary” sub-domain in Growing Head Start Success and see specific farm to ECE activities, books and resources that directly support goals in the “Vocabulary” sub-domain. The teacher chooses a rhyming storybook describing how vegetables grow to help children act out directional and positional words. In choosing a farm to ECE related book, the teacher is not only supporting appropriate development within the domains, but also promoting food knowledge, exposure and acceptance.    
 
The resource also offers three profiles of Head Start programs leading the way in addressing performance and learning standards with farm to ECE. STEP, Inc., of Pennsylvania, Inspire Development Centers of Washington State, and Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties in Minnesota offer these recommendations for integrating farm to ECE in Head Start:

Tips for Farm to ECE in Head Start Success: 

  • Develop a team of staff who can be stewards of the initiative and engage with local partners, such as farmers market managers who can connect ECE programs with local farmers.
  • Start small and experiment with different types of farm to ECE activities to find what works for your community. Grow from those small successes.
  • Focus on building community buy-in and support from many different stakeholders, from the teachers, staff, and parents in the Head Start Program, to local schools or business who can provide promotion and support.
  • Connect with and visit other Head Start programs integrating farm to ECE to better understand opportunities and best practices in implementation. 

To help you share out this exciting new resource, we’ve created a Communications Toolkit with sample social media and blog posts. By promoting this resource widely, we hope that even more Head Start programs choose farm to ECE to meet program and learning standards while providing children, families and communities with the myriad benefits that farm to ECE has to offer. 

The National Farm to School Network is available to provide additional training, customized support and tools for your organization on a consultation basis. To learn more, contact Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, at lacy@farmtoschool.org.

Food For Thought: Farm to School Podcast Recommendations

NFSN Staff Monday, August 07, 2017
By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern



The farm to school movement is about a lot more than farms and schools. In fact, farm to school is intrinsically tied to our food system, and the food system connects to just about everything: public policy, economics, social and cultural traditions, history, equity, and more. Podcasts are a great way to learn more about the complexities of our food system, broaden our understanding of farm to school, and foster a sense of connection to others in our field of work through storytelling. 

So we asked: what are your favorite farm to school and food systems podcasts? And we heard from lots of you - our Core Partners and Supporting Partners, members, social media followers and staff. Below is an abbreviated list of the most shared recommendations. The next time you are working in the school garden or on the farm, dicing vegetables for school lunch, or commuting to work, try one of these podcast for some food for thought! *Note: Most descriptions come from the podcast creators.

Heritage Radio Network is a great umbrella resource, as their entire set of programs delves into the U.S. food system and provides a platform for artisans, chefs, activists, policy experts and farmers to share their perspectives on eating, food production and the future of agriculture. A few of pointed recommendations include: 

  • Inside School Food: Looking for an inside view of K-12 food service? Host Laura Stanley shares conversations about what’s happening across the spectrum of school food, from coping with regulations to meeting sustainability goals.
  • Eating Matters: With food emerging as a critical policy area, host Jenna Liut and food policy experts discuss the issues that shape our everyday experiences of buying, cooking and eating food.
  • The Farm Report: Host Erin Fairbanks and her guests dig into the nitty-gritty of agriculture, exploring distribution networks, policy issues and other topics in the world of ag and food.
The Secret Ingredient: In every episode of The Secret Ingredient, you'll learn new ways to think about how you eat everyday. The hosts talk with the people whose life's work has been to understand the complex systems of production, distribution, marketing and impact these foods have on our lives. They won't tell you what to eat, but they will tell you why you're eating it. Make sure to check out Episode 19: School Food.

The Female Farmer Project: This podcast series aims to serve as a platform for women to discuss agricultural issues, and give power to traditional, cultural and experience-driven knowledge.  

How to Health: Dr. Laurie Marbas and Katie Reines, MS, RD share inspiring stories of individuals conquering chronic disease, overcoming incredible obstacles, and the experts to help you find health. Changing health by changing the food we eat. Don't miss Episode 55: Chef Ann Cooper: Renegade Lunch Lady

The Rudd Report: Hosted by Kelly Brownell, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity Director, the series features experts in nutrition, food marketing, food policy and law, the food industry, and weight bias.

The Racist Sandwich: This podcast serves up a unique perspective on food and how the ways we consume, create and interpret it can be political. From discussions about racism in food photography to interviews with chefs of color about their experiences in the restaurant world, hosts Soleil Ho and Zahir Janmohamed hash out a diverse range of topics with humor and grace. 

Future of Agriculture: Hosted by Tim Hammerich, this podcast looks into the diversity that is agriculture and agribusiness. The global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and agriculture is expected to produce more food with less land and less water. Agribusiness will be part of the future to constantly innovate and find sustainable ways of meeting the challenges of tomorrow. 

Gastropod: This podcast looks at food through the lens of science and history. Each episode examines the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic. Listen to interviews with experts and visit labs, fields and archaeological digs while discovering new ways to understand the world through food.

Bite: Join acclaimed food and farming blogger Tom Philpott, Mother Jones editors Kiera Butler and Maddie Oatman, and a tantalizing guest list of writers, farmers, scientists and chefs as they uncover the surprising stories behind what ends up on your plate. 

The Bioneers: The greatest social and scientific innovators of our time celebrate the genius of nature and human ingenuity. From social and racial justice to women’s leadership and indigenous knowledge, this award-winning series features breakthrough solutions for people and the planet. 

The Uncertain Hour: This Marketplace podcast documentary series is brought to you by the Wealth & Poverty Desk. The first season is a timely, immersive look at the welfare system 20 years after reform. Follow the money and read the fine print to magnify how one of the most controversial federal programs works.

Check out more suggestions from our followers and tell us about your favorites on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Or, send us a note here. Happy listening!

New Resources: Engaging Farmers and Producers in Farm to School

NFSN Staff Friday, January 13, 2017

Farmers, fisherman, ranchers and other local food producers play a critical role in the farm to school movement. From cafeteria to classroom, these food champions provide healthy, local food and agriculture education to millions of our nation’s kids. Farm to school couldn’t happen without them!
 
That’s why the National Farm to School Network is committed to propelling new ideas and innovative resources to support farmers and producers in the farm to school movement. Our 2016 Innovation Awards did just that.
 
With funding support from Newman’s Own Foundation and Farm Credit, the National Farm to School Network presented Innovation Awards in February 2016 to three projects led by partners in Georgia, the Great Lakes and the Northeast. This year’s theme, Engaging Farmers and Producers in Farm to School, inspired these partners to develop resources and creative approaches for engaging more farmers and producers in the farm to school movement.
 
Here are highlights of what the projects accomplished and several new resources now available:
 
Sea to School
Maine Farm to School, Massachusetts Farm to School, New Hampshire Farm to School
Three New England states worked together to create two new resources, a Sea to School Guide and “Sea to School: A Lunch Voyage” video, that will help expand the use of local seafood in school meals and marine education. The guide includes case studies, best practices, recipes, and other useful resources to expand “sea to school” programs and support of local fishermen.
 
Growing Farm to School by Sharing Farmer Stories
University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin teamed up to document grower-food service relationships that make farm to school implementation successful. The videos feature conversations between farmers and food service directors, highlighting the key points that make their relationships work.
 
Pop-Up School Market: Engaging Farmers at Early Care and Education Centers
Georgia Organics
This project piloted 10 pop-up farmers markets at a childcare facility in Georgia as a direct marketing opportunity for a small family farmer, while engaging parents and caregivers in farm to early care and education. Cooking demonstrations and taste tests were offered at the market each week, and parents were provided cooking and educational supplies for use at home. An evaluation of the project provides lessons learned for replicating the pop-up market model at other childcare facilities.


Help support more innovative ideas like these by making a donation to the National Farm to School Network. Your donations support more resource development and outreach to the farmers and producers who bring our kids fresh, healthy food.  

Help farm to school grow by making a donation today! 

Donate Now


Grabbing their attention: Strategies for engaging students in the cafeteria

NFSN Staff Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Guest post by Beth Collins, Director of Operations for Chef Ann Foundation

Students in Oxford, Mississippi show off their stickers after trying new food. (Photo courtesy of Chef Ann Foundation)

When I first started cooking professionally, I was living in New York City. My love affair with food centered on the Union Square Market when I shopped for the restaurants where I worked. It was there that I connected the flavors to the farmer. I have carried that local connection with me as I moved from restaurants to schools—bringing local flavor to our school meals is one of the most rewarding aspects of school food change work that the Chef Ann Foundation supports.

If your district is cooking from scratch and using salad bars, the potential for transitioning significant amounts of procurement to local ingredients increases exponentially. Of course, student participation in meal programs is key to this whole process, especially for sustaining local food purchases, so marketing farm to school to the kids provides motivation and interest for them to eat school lunch.

School districts all over the country have their favorite marketing and education techniques to engage students and develop that lifelong passion for local food. I recently queried the The Lunch Box Advisory Board to see what their favorites were and these floated to the top.

Farmers…and Stickers!
Sunny Young is one of the National Farm to School Network state leads in Mississippi and queen of all things farm to school in the Oxford School District. Young led the establishment of Good Food for Oxford Schools, which has been working to improve cafeteria menus, connect kids to food through gardening, and bring farmers to the cafeteria when their food is served on the line. When students try new foods, they are rewarded with a sticker. It’s hard to resist a “tasting” when the person who grew the crop is there and a sticker will follow! 

Harvest of the Month (HOTM)
This idea is favored by districts all over the country, and many states have programs to match their region’s growing season and primary production—be it grains, dairy, meats or produce. Montana is piloting a state version this year based on Kalispell Public Schools HOTM. Kalispell Nutrition Director Jenny Montague creates posters featuring local foods, menu calendars with farm info and recipes, and includes surveys and classroom education as part of its HOTM program. HOTM is easy for kids to connect and provides a great educational platform for local food tastings with something new and different every month.

Taste Tests, Contests and Community Events
Bertrand Weber, the Director of Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Nutrition Services as well as an Advisor to the National Farm to School Network, uses a vibrant collection of farm to school marketing and education to inspire kids to try new foods, including taste tests with “new name contests” where students create the best title for a dish. MPS also hosts regular community events like BBQs bringing community partners, farmers, families and nutrition services staff together to celebrate good food. Everything about MPS’s program is featured on the farm to school landing page of their website as well as promoted in social media. MPS is media savvy and is a great model to check out when designing your plan.

Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Nutrition Services hosts events to bring together community partners, farmers, families and nutrition staff. (Photo courtesy of Chef Ann Foundation)

Meatless Mondays
Miguel Villarreal, Director of Novato Unified School District in Novato, Calif., and Advisor to the National Farm to School Network, has been a supporter of farm to school for many years. Novato, located in Marin County, is home to many organic farms that partner with Novato Unified to provide great produce. Villarreal features their product throughout his menus and on his salad bars where students have the opportunity to select and taste new foods every day. Villarreal introduced Meatless Mondays into his weekly menu design to promote locally produced vegetables and fruits while educating the students and community about the environmental impact of sustainable farming practices and the humane treatment of farm animals.

There are so many vibrant and effective marketing ideas happening around the country to share. Visit The Lunch Box to find a recipe for your Harvest of the Month product as well as many great How-To’s for marketing farm to school in your district.


Share your story: 5 tips for building better media relationships

Stacey Malstrom Wednesday, January 14, 2015

By Stacey Malstrom, PR & Outreach Manager

Today I’m giving a presentation at the 24th annual conference of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) about how to grow awareness for your farm to school program through targeted media relations. Incredible farm to school work is happening all across the country. School lunch programs are sourcing from family farms, students are working in school gardens and asking their parents to make kale salad at home, and local economies are benefiting. But does your broader community know what’s happening before the bell and beyond the classroom? 


Students in Louisiana enjoy strawberries from their garden. When you pitch to the media, make sure they know the story will have engaging visual elements, like kids in a garden. 

At its core, good media relations is about RELATIONSHIPS. Editorial staffs are shrinking, and journalists are being asked to take on more responsibilities. Their time and attention is limited; now more than ever, media need savvy sources that they can depend on. Follow these five tips to start building better media relationships and engage a wider audience in your work:

  • Stop blasting your entire media list: The quickest way to end up in someone’s junk folder is to send information that is not relevant to them or their audience. For example, a writer who only covers politics at the state capitol should not receive an event announcement for a farm field trip unless there is a policymaker attending. Narrow your media list to those contacts that you genuinely think will be interested in covering this piece of news, based on their outlet, section or personal interests. 
  • Make a connection: Media are people too, and a little attention goes a long way. Read their work, research their recent articles and follow them on twitter. Then shape your pitch for each individual. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it will be worth it when you land that feature on the front page of your regional newspaper. 
  • Be there when they need you: You may not always hear back in response to your story ideas. Don’t get discouraged and be patient—remember how busy they are? But when they’re on deadline, responding quickly and being a resource on more than just your organization is a great way to establish trust. And before you know it, they’ll start responding to your emails and ideas more often. 
  • Send good story ideas: Not every event, report or new resource produced by your organization is media-worthy. Think about what is interesting to their readers and be selective about what you pitch. Some news is better suited for your own newsletter or social media channels. At the end of the day, it’s still the NEWs, and timely, relevant and unique stories always win.
  • Put it in context: Make it easy for media to see the story and how it connects to the bigger picture or their audience. Localize national news or trends by connecting it to your community and your work. Tell them why your program is different than others, what makes the story new now, and who else is working on similar issues. 

Join us for our next Lunch Bites webinar on Feb. 10, at 1 p.m. EST to learn more about storytelling best practices and media relations. And download the Media Tip Sheet from my SSAWG presentation here. 

Funding Outside the Lunch Box

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 09, 2014

By Barbara Patterson, Policy Intern

As school districts, farmers and communities experience the benefits of farm to school activities, more and more programs are popping up across the country, and with that increase comes greater funding need. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is already maxed out, with five times as many proposals submitted for the past three years as could be funded. The National Farm to School Network will call on Congress in 2015 to increase funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, but we can also look beyond farm to school and garden-specific funding opportunities.

“Farm to school” is not a box. It’s an umbrella for improved health, stronger local economies and sustainable food systems, and there are funding streams through the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Act and other federal programs intended to advance these same goals. Just since this summer, USDA has awarded more than $52 million in grants to grow local and regional food systems through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), and nearly $118 million to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops through Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG). Many of these grants were awarded to farm to school projects, including:  

  • Under the FMLFPP, Lake-to-River Food Cooperative in Youngstown, Ohio, was awarded a Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant to strengthen its online market for local produce delivery and encourage purchases from schools and other institutions.
  • Also through the FMLFPP, Ecotrust of Portland, Ore. (NFSN Western Regional Lead Agency), was awarded a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) to analyze Oregon’s supply of regionally produced, antibiotic-free chicken and to assess demand and specifications for this chicken from local institutions, including schools. Similarly funded, Heart and Hand House, Inc. of Philippi, W.Va., will develop an aggregation center to improve access to locally produced foods in public schools.
  • With a Specialty Crop Block Grant, Arizona Department of Agriculture will partner with Western Growers Foundation to increase students’ knowledge of the importance of good nutrition and better understand where their food comes from by creating and sustaining edible school gardens at fifty Arizona K-12 schools.
  • Also through the SCBG program, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry will partner with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center to create and promote the Harvest of the Month program which will market the consumption of Louisiana specialty crops in schools and other institutions.
  • Hawaii Department of Agriculture will partner with the Kohala Center under the SCBG program to encourage USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) schools to spend more of their allocated funds to buy local and to increase local farmers’ knowledge of requirements necessary to participate in the program.

There are many more examples of successfully funded farm to school proposals within these awards. As you’re planning for 2015, consider exploring these federal programs to help sustain and expand your farm to school activities.

For more ideas on new funding streams, read our blog post on the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant Program and download our Funding Farm to School Fact Sheet

New Resource and Funding Ideas for Grassroots Organizations

NFSN Staff Friday, November 14, 2014
By Barbara Patterson, NFSN Policy Intern
This week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released a Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs. The 2014 Farm Bill contained reauthorization of several programs that promote local and sustainable food systems. This new resource helps farmers, conservationists, entrepreneurs, researchers, and rural and urban community groups navigate new and existing federal farm and food programs to create a more sustainable agriculture system.
In particular, this guide offers accessible and easy-to-understand overviews and examples of federal programs that support farm to school efforts.  Some examples of programs featured in the guide that support farm to school are Farm to School Grants, Value-Added Producer GrantsSpecialty Crop Block Grants and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program Grants.
For each program, NSAC outlines eligibility, program history, authorizing legislation, application information and examples of success stories.  
Checkout the Grassroots Guide here.  

Happy Farm to Preschool Day!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Farm to school isn't just for school-age children: Good nutrition and food education are perhaps even more important for our littlest learners. That's where farm to preschool comes in. 

Farm to preschool is a natural extension of the farm to school model, and works to connect early care and education settings (preschools, Head Start, center-based programs, programs in K-12 school districts, and family child care programs) to local food producers. 

Farm to preschool implementation includes the same core elements as farm to school. Farm to preschool differs by location but always includes one or more of the following:

  • Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted and served at mealtime or as a snack or taste test;
  • Education: Children participate in education activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition; and
  • School gardens: Children engage in hands-on learning through gardening.

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) began working to expand its robust farm to school networks and expertise to include early child care settings in 2011. Since then, NFSN has acted as a lead convener and facilitator for the farm to preschool movement, providing vision, leadership, and support at state, regional, and national levels. Visit our new farm to preschool landing page for more information. 

Many organizations across the country are developing fantastic farm to preschool resources. One of the latest and greatest is this toolkit created by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. In addition to a farm to preschool overview, the new toolkit includes the following pages full of information, links, resources, and ideas to support farm to preschool programs in any location:

Farm to Preschool Curriculum

Engaging Children in Farm to Preschool Activities

Health and Safety for Childcare Meals and School Gardens

Nutritious Meals and Snacks for Preschoolers

Do you have a great resource or a story about farm to preschool success? Share it with us for a chance to win a drawing for $1,000. 


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