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National Farm to School Network

News

News Release: Local School Foods Expansion Act Introduced in Senate & House

NFSN Staff Friday, May 14, 2021
When schools purchase locally grown foods for school meals, it is a triple win for kids, family farmers, and local economies. Today, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) took an important step towards providing more schools flexibility in making impactful local food purchases by introducing the Local School Foods Expansion Act, which will expand the successful Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot project to 14 states, while also increasing technical assistance and capacity building to improve access to this valuable program for schools with racially diverse and high-need student populations and for socially disadvantaged farmers. National Farm to School Network applauds the introduction of this bill and encourages all Members of Congress to support its inclusion in the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR).

“This expansion of the Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable pilot program offers participating schools the opportunity to cultivate their own purchasing relationships with local producers, which directly translates to kids eating more local, fresh, and unprocessed or minimally processed foods in school meals. Thanks to leadership from Senator Wyden and Congressman Welch, the Local School Foods Expansion Act will nearly double the number of states with access to this flexibility and increase vital technical assistance to maximize its impact,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director with National Farm to School Network. “National Farm to School Network is proud to endorse this bill because its provisions are directly responsive to what we have learned from schools participating in the existing eight-state pilot. With a renewed focus on equitable capacity building to ensure that small producers, Tribal producers, and schools in every community have the resources to benefit, scaling up this Pilot project so more states can participate is a promising opportunity.”

The Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot project was created as part of the 2014 Farm Bill and currently operates in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. In addition to expanding the project to up to an additional 7 states, the Local School Foods Expansion Act will include $25 million for technical assistance to help schools in participating states build their capacity for local food procurement and to assist new produce vendors in being approved to sell to schools.

National Farm to School Network is advocating that the Local Foods Expansion Act, as well as other important marker bills that will advance farm to school and equity in the food system, be included in the upcoming CNR. National Farm to School Network is committed to supporting policies that build on six shared community values – economic and environmental justice, health, racial equity, workers rights, and animal welfare – which will move the country towards a just, equitable food system that promotes the health of all school children and benefits producers, workers, educators, and our communities.

Read the full press release here.

What We’re Advocating for in 2021 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization

Anna Mullen Friday, May 14, 2021

This spring, National Farm to School Network is keeping a close eye on Washington, D.C. as Congressional leaders begin to build momentum for Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization ("CNR") – the package of bills that authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs. For the farm to school community, CNR is an especially important piece of legislation as it sets the standards and parameters of meals served to nearly 30 million children every school day. 

A strong CNR built on our shared community values (read more about these below) can be a win for our kids by ensuring nourishing food is served in meals and snacks; a win for farmers by creating school market opportunities that provide reliable and consistent sales and fair pay; and a win for our communities by creating conditions for school food to be grown, distributed, prepared and consumed in ways that benefit everyone along the way. But for these wins to become reality, we must advocate for a CNR that is firmly centered in equity – and that’s what National Farm to School Network is doing. 

What is CNR? The Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization authorizes federal school meal and child nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, among others. The package of bills that make up CNR is meant to be reauthorized every five years, but the last CNR to pass was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. That makes this upcoming CNR a once-in-a-decade opportunity to strengthen the programs that feed our nation's kids.

CNR and Farm to School: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was groundbreaking for the farm to school movement. For the first time, this legislation supported farm to school directly by providing $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School Grant Program. This was a major victory for National Farm to School Network and farm to school partners across the country, funding competitive grants and technical assistance for farm to school activities that increase the use of and improve access to local foods in schools. Since its inception, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools. 

While policies like this can and have helped more schools across the nation create a pathway to practicing farm to school, there’s more work that needs to be done to ensure equitable access to the resources, opportunities and benefits of these activities. Many of the systems and sectors that intersect with CNR’s provisions – including the food system, education system and economic system, among others – are deeply racialized and have in the past and continue in the present to exclude, disadvantage, and cause harm to Black, Indigenous, Latino and other people of colors in our communities. Systems like these that are failing any of us are failing all of us, and we can not engage in farm to school effectively without changing them. That’s why as CNR ramps up in 2021, National Farm to School Network is focusing intentionally on provisions that address systemic barriers in farm to school and create racial equity in the food system. 

Equity at the Center: We believe that building the next CNR on six shared community values will help move us closer to the just, equitable food system, education system, and farm to school movement that we seek. You can read more about each of these values here

These values can be realized in the next CNR through well-thought-out and equity-conscious marker bills, such as the Farm to School Act of 2021, the Kids Eat Local Act, the Universal School Meals Program Act, the Local School Foods Expansion Act, and others. You can read more about the marker bills we are endorsing and the CNR priorities we're advocating for here. A more just, equitable and community-centered CNR is possible and we must encourage and hold our Members of Congress accountable to making it so. 

What Can You Do to Prepare for CNR? As the National Farm to School Network prepares for the likely return of CNR this summer we want to hear from you! As our name implies, we are truly a national network of stakeholders, and our policy agenda is driven by advocates like you. To prepare for the upcoming reauthorization, you can: 

Right now:
In the near future:
  • Prepare your asks - as a constituent, what actions do you want to see from your legislators as CNR is debated?
  • Cultivate your legislative champions - find your Members of Congress here
If and when the Reauthorization takes place:

Have questions about CNR or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact our Policy Team.

News Release: Kids Eat Local Act Introduced in Senate & House

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Today, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders took an important step towards making it easier for schools to source locally grown, locally raised, and locally caught food and farm products for school meals. The Kids Eat Local Act, introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Alma Adams (D-NC), would help break down barriers between school food purchasers and family farmers and food producers by simplifying local purchasing guidelines for school meal programs.

By including the Kids Eat Local Act in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, schools would be given a new, easier to use local product specification option through which they could specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language, and then make the award to the lowest bidder who can meet that product specification. The addition of local product specification would substantially improve opportunities for local producers by providing more flexibility for school districts. The Kids Eat Local Act would also allow schools flexibility in determining the definition of “local” that best suits their needs.

National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition thank the bill sponsors in both the Senate and House for introducing the Kids Eat Local Act and paving the way for increased healthy food in schools and new economic opportunities for local farmers. We urge all members of Congress to support this simple, yet significant change and look forward to continue working with our partners and allies as this bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization move forward.

Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Kids Eat Local Act here.

Have questions about the Kids Eat Local Act or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, our Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

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

News Release: Farm to School Act of 2021 Introduced in Senate

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 22, 2021

Today, a bipartisan group of Senate leaders introduced the Farm to School Act of 2021 which will support our nation’s schools, farmers and communities in building back equitably from the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Susan Collins (R-ME), will expand funding for and programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, while also ensuring that more communities – specifically those serving racially diverse and high-need student populations, as well as engaging with beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers – have a competitive opportunity to benefit from this valuable program.

A similar bill (H.R. 1768) was introduced in the House by Representatives Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Alma Adams (D-NC) in March.

"The Farm to School Act of 2021 couldn’t come at a more necessary time,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director with National Farm to School Network. “When the pandemic began, school nutrition professionals, educators, and local food producers – the people who make farm to school work – were some of the very first community members to step up and ensure the ongoing care and support of children and families. The measures included in the Farm to School Act will give them much-needed resources to continue their work as we emerge from the pandemic, while helping our country build a more resilient and equitable food system."

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, farmers, nonprofits, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods for school meals and to support activities like school gardens, hands-on science lessons, and new food taste tests. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and includes $5 million in annual mandatory funding.

Since the program’s inception in 2013, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools. In recent years, the program has benefited from temporary funding boosts through annual appropriations. The Farm to School Act of 2021 would increase annual mandatory funding to $15 million to permanently allow more of these impactful projects to be realized. The proposed legislation, as introduced in the Senate, will also:
  • Increase the maximum grant award to $500,000,
  • Prioritize grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools,
  • Fully include early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs; and,
  • Increase access among Native and tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.
Read our full press release here.
Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2021 here.

Have questions about the Farm to School Act of 2021 or want to learn more about how you can be a farm to school policy advocate? Contact Karen Spangler, our Policy Director, at karen@farmtoschool.org.

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

Innovations in Farm to ECE: Growing the Next Generation of Providers

NFSN Staff Monday, April 19, 2021

Photo Credit: ASAP Growing Minds / WCCA King Creek
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

North Carolina's Growing Minds Farm to School Program – a project of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) – has dedicated themselves to an upstream approach to expanding farm to ECE through Growing Minds @ Community Colleges, an effort to embed farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) curriculum into soon-to-be early care providers’ education and coursework in community colleges across the state. Growing Minds provides an abundance of resources to instructors looking to incorporate farm to ECE programming into their coursework, including presentations, workshops, and a comprehensive toolkit. Gwen Hill, Growing Minds’ Program Coordinator, explained the reasoning behind the approach. “We are very focused on training the trainers because we know there will never be enough nonprofits to put a garden educator into every school. We need to educate people who are already working in preschools about the basics of farm to ECE so they can be the trainers.” This approach is not new to Growing Minds, as seen through their Growing Minds @ University program that has been running since 2011, where farm to school curriculum is built into college coursework for dietetic interns and education students.

So far, Growing Minds @ Community Colleges has been a success. The program was first piloted with Blue Ridge Community College and truly launched in 2019 in 22 of the 58 colleges in the state.Through this program they’ve been able to deepen existing relationships while building many new ones, in part due to the excitement surrounding the program. One organization, Ashe County Partnership for Children, was so excited about the mission of Growing Minds @ Community College that they reached out to Growing Minds and offered to implement the farm to ECE trainings both at their organization and at their local college, after the college explained that they didn’t have the time to implement it themselves.

Beyond its own programming, Growing Minds also co-facilitates the North Carolina Farm to Preschool Network, partnering with a coalition of organizations to promote farm to ECE statewide. “As we continue to grow the North Carolina Farm to ECE Network, we’ll continue to look for ways we can build those symbiotic relationships and tie the work we’re doing with the network with the community colleges that are imbedding this coursework,” explained Hill. Growing Minds @ Community College is also hoping to go more in depth with the community colleges they are currently working with through monthly newsletters, development of more lesson plans and resources, and providing mini-grants to students in the program who are already working in early learning programs to implement farm to ECE and provide feedback.

Even with their early success, Growing Minds @ Community College hasn’t been without its bumps in the road. COVID presented the largest challenge to the blossoming program. Early care priorities shifted with the transition to virtual learning, leading to some slowed growth. Under normal circumstances, Growing Minds would be focusing on hands-on training, taking students through activities the children in their care would be doing such as crafts, taste tests and cooking demonstrations in order to get soon to-be providers excited. However, they are not letting these challenges stop them. Hill explained how they’ve been able to stay flexible. “We’ve found some creative ways to still connect with programs and progress.” They’ve converted their trainings to virtual platforms and have tried to increase communication, sending frequent email updates and doing virtual trainings over zoom. Understanding that early learning programs can be under-resourced in general, and even more so during COVID, Growing Minds @ Community College makes a point to always look for ways to make their trainings simple and user friendly while offering as much support as they can. They also emphasize how farm to ECE can be embedded into what providers are already doing. Hill explained, “this doesn’t have to be super fancy to be effective. You can get a sweet potato for a dollar, roast it up, do a taste test and then watch a ‘meet your farmer’ video. That’s all that’s needed to get kids excited about trying new vegetables and about farming.”

Meet Our New Teammates

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Meet Abby, Mackenize, Sophia, Sophia, Tiffany and Tomas below!
2021 has kicked off with exciting growth for the National Farm to School Network team! We’re thrilled to have welcomed six new teammates to our staff over the past several months, and are excited to introduce you to them. Across their different roles, they each play an important part in supporting National Farm to School Network’s vision of a just food system. Meet them below, and don’t hesitate to reach out and say hi.

Abby Katz - Policy Fellow
Abby Katz is our new Policy Fellow. Abby is completing her Master’s degree in Food Studies, with a focus on policy and history, at New York University. Her intersectional and interdisciplinary approach stems from her experience developing a major at the University of Connecticut, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Food, Culture, and Sustainable Society (Individualized) and Human Rights. She also holds a certificate in Food and Sustainability Studies from The Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy. Abby's research interests are food policy, food history, cultural analysis, social justice, health equity, and sustainability. Her identity as an Afro-Latina shapes her interest in understanding the complexities of inequitable health outcomes in Black and Latinx/e communities – collectively and respectively. She also currently works in the Section on Health Choice, Policy, and Evaluation in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, in addition to collaborating with Dr. Kristen Cooksey-Stowers in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut. You can find Abby somewhere between coastal New England and the New York metro area, cooking, watching documentaries, and connecting with friends.

Mackenize Martinez - Program Associate, Native Communities
Mackenize Martinez has joined our team as a Program Associate, supporting our work in Native Communities. Mackenize is a native of Zwolle, Louisiana, and an enrolled Tribal member of Choctaw and Apache descent. She earned her undergraduate degree from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she studied agricultural and animal sciences. Mackenize is currently enrolled in graduate courses at Arizona State University and plans to earn her Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems. Mackenize’s passions include engaging with livestock producers, implementing farm to school initiatives, and supporting Indigenous food systems through policy advocacy. Mackenize has served farmers, ranchers, and food producers in various capacities. In 2019, she advocated for farm to school efforts in Native communities while working collaboratively between the Intertribal Agriculture Council and National Farm to School Network as the Partnership Communications Intern. In the spring of 2020, Mackenize served as a congressional intern in Washington, DC, for the House Committee on Agriculture’s majority office. During her time as an intern with both the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative and Native American Agriculture Fund, she was actively engaged in nationwide efforts geared towards promoting food sovereignty and supporting Indigenous farmers and ranchers.

Sophia Riemer - Programs Fellow
Sophia Riemer is our 2020 Programs Fellow. Sophia recently finished a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from University of Washington's Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics. While in the program, she evaluated Washington State Department of Health’s fruit and vegetable incentive program using a community-based participatory approach. She is currently coordinating Washington State’s Farm to ECE implementation grant, where she is able to unite her passions for farm to school, healthy food access, and addressing inequities in our communities. Sophia also brings experience in farm to school nonprofit management from her time as program manager of Sprouts Cooking Club’s after school program, overseeing gardening, nutrition and culinary classes in over twenty schools across the California Bay Area. In her free time you can find her swimming or snorkeling on the Southern California coastline, cooking, gardening, reading, or hiking.

Sophia Rodriguez - Communications Intern
Sophia Rodriguez is our 2020 Communications Intern. Originally from Hinesville, Georgia, Sophia is a junior at the University of Georgia where she is studying Human Development & Family Sciences and International Affairs with a minor in Spanish. As a pottery enthusiast, aspiring community gardener, and avid 4-H'er, she enjoys using her creativity to inspire equity-informed positive youth development. Sophia currently serves on National 4-H Council's Young Alumni Advisory Board, and she’s excited to use her passions and experience to contribute to the food justice movement. Sophia has helped launch National Farm to School Network’s new TikTok account - check us out at @FarmtoSchool!

Tiffany Torres - Strategic Plan Fellow
Tiffany Torres has joined our staff as Strategic Plan Fellow and will support our efforts in working towards our new call to action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system. Tiffany is based out of Florida and brings extensive experience in farm to school and working with producers. She formerly supported farm to school efforts in Florida while working for the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and is a former FoodCorps service member.

Tomas Delgado - Program Manager
Tomas Delgado has joined our staff as Program Manager, focused on supporting our work in Native Communities and with farmers and producers. Based in Illinois, the Prairie State, Tomas is passionate about building and supporting socially equitable and environmentally resilient communities. Tomas has experience in public and non-profit administration, scientific and policy research, ecological restoration efforts, and community organizing for social, environmental, and food justice. Tomas has a background in geography from Eastern Illinois University where he obtained a Bachelors of Science in Human Geography and is currently finishing a Masters degree in Geographic Information Sciences (GIS). Tomas’ academic background concentrates on the nexus of community-based, environmental resilience as it relates to land use and natural areas conservation policy, with a heightened focus on BIPOC and ancestral environmental stewardship. In his role as Program Manager, Tomas will oversee NFSN’s support of projects in Native communities and will serve as the lead for the NFSN’s work on Bringing the Farm to School, a new training program for agricultural producers across the country. Tomas currently resides in Urbana, Illinois where he is involved in local mutual aid systems and serves on a number of public boards and advisory commissions. Tomas enjoys collecting music, traveling, cartography, cycling, hiking, and coffee.

Innovations in Farm to CACFP: Colorado's CACFP Matchmaking Survey

NFSN Staff Friday, March 19, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

March 14-20, 2021 is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part three of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series. Read Part 1: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program here and Part 2: Arizona's CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge here.



Colorado’s Addressing Knowledge Gaps with Educational Materials & a Matchmaking Survey
Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), along with state and local partners, have made efforts to address the knowledge related barriers to implementing farm to ECE. In 2016, using funding from a Team Nutrition Grant, Cooking Up Healthy Options with Plants (CHOP), they were able to develop full day culinary training across the state. However “not everyone could take the eight hours to attend and we couldn’t take the training everywhere we wanted to because of our travel budget limitations”, explained Brittany Martens, Nutrition Consultant and Farm to ECE Coordinator at CDPHE.

In partnership with Nourish Colorado, CDPHE developed Quick Bites, eight online videos covering food safety that take less than an hour to complete and are available in both Spanish and English. The intent was to use these online videos to draw in an audience for hands-on knife skills classes, however, due to COVID-19 the knife skills class was moved online. Special attention was paid to reducing barriers to online participation; the class was paired with technical assistance for those not used to virtual classrooms and two weeks before the class attendees were sent a box with a gift card to purchase materials, notes and handouts.

Martens explained the importance of the culinary training CDPHE has been able to offer, noting the high turnover of staff in CACFP centers. “We saw a need...we want centers to buy and use local produce, but if they don’t know how to use this produce they won’t buy it.” The training not only focuses on technical skills, but emphasizes empowerment, asking attendees to reflect on why they chose their career and the influence they have over a child’s lifetime habits. “That empowerment piece allows us to build those relationships...it brings the group together” Martens explained. She believes this, along with their wonderful chef instructor, are the reasons they’ve seen many repeat attendees. Empowerment, knowledge and skills can be a strong combination, and Colorado has seen the benefit. There has been an increase in fresh produce on menus since the implementation of the culinary classes and attendees are retaining the knowledge six months after the training.

Colorado is focusing its efforts on other common barriers to local food procurement as well. They have found the largest barriers to be cost, knowledge around how to find a farmer and storage space. CDPHE has addressed cost through a MiniCoIIn grant awarded by ASPHN, providing local produce to providers in the San Luis Valley. In 2020, they received their second MiniCoIIn grant, allowing them to send CSA boxes to home providers and families during quarantine.

They were able to address the barrier of finding farmers by creating a CACFP matching survey. Due to COVID-19, many farmers have lost their market, highlighting an opportunity to help both farmers and providers. Surveys for both providers and farmers were created and are online for any provider or farmer in the state. The survey gathers information on the needs and abilities of each party, allowing Martens to connect providers to appropriate farmers. According to Martens, this matchmaking process has succeeded in building relationships. “Farmers are planting entire rows this season for providers they were matched with because they know the center will purchase their produce.” When asked what advice she would give to other states looking to implement similar work, she highlighted the importance of community buy-in. “Working from the provider perspective and understanding their experience, what they know and see and where there is potential, is really important.”

Innovations in Farm to CACFP: Arizona's CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 17, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

March 14-20, 2021 is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part three of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series. Read Part 1: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program here.

 
Arizona’s Building Awareness & Efficacy with a CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge
Arizona’s Department of Education has found a way to build excitement, awareness and recognition around farm to ECE while honoring CACFP providers through a CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge that takes place during CACFP week. To finish the challenge, early care providers have to complete three tasks: serve at least one locally sourced CACFP meal component, host at least one activity that educates students where food comes from and share at least one social media post about the challenge.

Ashley Schimke, Farm to School Program Specialist at the Department of Education, Health and Nutrition Services, explained how the winners of the challenge receive a trophy. “Any state recognition carries weight for centers”, Schimke explained. There are other benefits to participating in the challenge as well, such as providing the opportunity for staff to do something fun and different.

In fact, the department decided to keep the challenge running through COVID-19 to deliver joy during difficult times for providers, meal service operators and children. The challenge has also helped to gain buy-in from the Department of Education staff themselves. “The challenge excited staff. They agreed it was an easy way to explain farm to ECE to partners”, said Schimke. The aim of the challenge is to inspire CACFP participants who want to start doing farm to ECE in a tangible, structured way. “The structure of the challenge provides a recipe for someone that doesn’t know where to start but gives them flexibility to do what makes sense for them”.

Schimke has received feedback from providers that local procurement is the most difficult component of farm to ECE, so the challenge focuses on small steps to provide easy wins for centers. Providers are asked to complete one instance of each action necessary to complete the challenge instead of the “3,2,1” model used in the other challenges the department hosts. They also created tiers for the procurement action. Those who have never procured locally can use local milk (which is often local by nature), those with some experience look for local swaps of produce that is already being purchased regularly, and those with extensive experience look for local foods such as meats, beans or grains they would like to purchase and find a locally sourced option. This way, those who come back every year can continue to challenge themselves to do more than the year they did previously.

Schimke hopes that they can continue this work and have centers who participate every year, making the challenge a normal part of their annual schedule. Schimke explained, “The access points [to source locally] are there, but it doesn’t happen without demand. By having an annual way to touch base, providers learn it’s possible to buy local- that it’s not as complicated as it seems.” She advised other states that want to implement a similar challenge to connect with National Farm to School Network partners for resources, but to make the challenge their own. “Take a look at your state’s goals and what your providers need.”

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