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National Farm to School Network


Racial Healing & Our Call for a Racially Just Food System

NFSN Staff Tuesday, January 19, 2021

January 19 is the 5th Annual National Day of Racial Healing, a time for contemplation and collective action on how we heal from the effects of racism. Racial healing is a process that restores individuals and communities to wholeness, repairs the damage caused by racism, and transforms societal structures into ones that affirm the inherent value of all people.

Helen Dombalis, Executive Director of National Farm to School Network, shares her reflections on how racial healing is part of our work towards our new call to action: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system.

Video Transcript:

"This is Helen Dombalis, I serve as Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network. At the end of 2020, we released a call to action for our food system that by 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially justice food system. In other words, were making a commitment to shifting power in order to achieve a racially justice food system. In the process leading up to that call to action's finalization we kept coming back to the fact that if you don't work differently the gap between our vision and our current reality will continue to widen. We can't keep working on local procurement, gardens, and food and food and agriculture education in the same ways and expect different results. We have to be intentional about shifting power in order to achieve a racially just food system.

We know that our call to action takes all of us at the National Farm to School Network and through farm to school activities, but also across our food system. So, today being January 19th, the Annual National Day of Racial Healing is an important day and in our ongoing work to recognize that we can't make progress without also healing.

In our nation and communities, and in our food system there is a deep history in intentionality of racism including the foundation on which our American agricultural system was built from enslavement of African peoples to settler colonialism and stolen land from Indigenous peoples. We're not just working against that history, we're also saying that there's a history and it continues today in the real and destructive ways that are current unjust food system impacts communities of color.

For example, during the pandemic with food workers having higher rates of Covid and not being given due protections during the pandemic. So as we do this work, we have to acknowledge what got us here and how racism is continuing today to harm all of us.

We're all people with families, with communities, with hopes with challenges, and regardless of our skin color, racism is fueling divisiveness, not unity, difference, not inclusion, and bias, not trust.

So, as National Farm to School Network Executive Director, and on a personal level, as a mother, I'm committed to a world and a food system where all people are valued and respected equally regardless of skin color, income, immigration status, job, or any other criteria. But I also know that it's not enough to just hold that commitment, to have that value system. Action is necessary.

With the National Day of Racial Healing, it's a moment to making a commitment to learning more and taking action, including in the food system and looking at our own contributions to racism and ending it. So, I'm committed to learning more about the history of school meal and child nutrition programs being rooted in survival and power building in Black communities and also looking at and acknowledging that farm to school very much predates the founding of the Network Farm to School Network, when you look at Indigenous communities, for example, and the connection and honoring of land and food and integrating that into learning.

I'm also committed to shifting power, recognizing that there's a spectrum and ultimately we have to defer and ensure that those who are impacted by decisions are actually the one who is making the decision. So, for example, producers of color showing up and working with school districts and their purchasing and the producer saying,"Here's what we have available here. Here's what we will have available," and integrating that in the school meal programs and meeting a price point that's a living wage for those producers. It's not enough to have the school districts be the ones to say, "Okay, we'll buy this from these producers of color." At the furthest end of the spectrum, it's the farmers of color that are making those decisions themselves.

So with that example, I will leave you all with my firm commitment to learning, and also to action, and ask you all to join me in contributing to understanding that we need to heal from our past and in our current reality, in order to move forward and achieve a more racially just food system. Thank you."

Meet Our 2021 Advisory Board Members

NFSN Staff Thursday, January 14, 2021

Artwork by Bonnie Acker 
National Farm to School Network is fortunate to have an Advisory Board composed of 17 smart and passionate advocates who guide us in the work we do. At the beginning of this new year, we want to extend our deep thanks and gratitude to those who served on our Advisory Board in 2020 and welcome a few new members to this important cohort.

This past year was a significant one for National Farm to School Network, which included navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, deepening our commitment to racial justice, and announcing our new Call to Action. We are grateful to these 2020 Advisory Board members who worked alongside us last year: 
  • Anneliese Tanner, Austin Independent School District
  • Bertrand Weber, Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Betsy Rosenbluth, Vermont FEED
  • Brandon Seng, Michigan Farm to Freezer
  • Caree Jackson Cotwright, University of Georgia - College of Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Catherine Compitello, The Beacon Fund
  • Erin Croom, Small Bites Adventure Club
  • Haile Johnston, The Common Market
  • Jamese Kwele, Ecotrust
  • Janie Hipp, Native American Agriculture Fund
  • Laura Edwards-Orr, Center for Good Food Purchasing
  • Ricardo Salvador, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Silvia Abel-Caines, Organic Valley
  • Simone Washington, Business for Social Responsibility
  • Sommer Sibilly-Brown, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition
  • Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Little Ones Learning Center
  • Vanessa Herald, University of Wisconsin - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
At the end of 2020, we said farewell to Janie, Ricardo and Vanessa. We are especially grateful to Janie for advising us on working with Native communities, to Ricardo for contributing his racial justice and policy advocacy expertise, and to Vanessa for her farm to school content expertise and for being a long-time and continued NFSN state partner. 

As we say these thank yous and farewells, we are also excited to announce the addition of three new board members in 2021
  • Jennifer Gaddis - Jennifer is an assistant professor of Civil Society and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Jennifer's scholarship centers the perspectives of frontline cafeteria workers and focuses on topics including the history of the national school lunch program, farm to school efforts, food work as a form of care work, and values-based universal school lunch programs. 
  • May Tsupros - May is a Founding Collaborator of SunTree Collaboration and co-founder of Gardeneers. In addition to her work with SunTree Collaboration, whose mission is to unearth, build, and strengthen connections between many local food, environmental, and health-related stakeholders, May is also Director of People and Partnerships at Partridge Creek Farms where she works to promote food education and improve local access to fresh produce.
  • Valerie Segrest - Valerie is a Native foods nutritionist and the Regional Director of Native Food and Knowledge Systems for the Native American Agriculture Fund. Valerie is an enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and is a nutritionist who specializes in Native American Food Traditions and has over a decade of experience developing food sovereignty strategies and culturally relevant food and nutrition curriculum and educational interventions.
We are also appreciative of those stepping into leadership positions on the board this year:
  • Haile Johnston, Chair
  • Simone Washington, Vice-Chair
  • Laura Edwards-Orr, Governance Committee Chair
  • Betsy Rosenbluth, Strategic Plan Committee Chair
This year, the Advisory Board will be focused on implementing our 2020-2025 Call to Action, which focuses on racial equity and shifting power in our food system; continuing the NFSN Advisor-Staff Mentor Program; taking part in board professional development activities (including racial equity, shifting power, and policy advocacy); and diversifying our funding and increasing support for general operations of our organization. (Want to give them a jump start? It’s easy to make a donation right now! )

Many thanks again to our outgoing Advisory Board members, and welcome to our new members! We look forward to working alongside you these next 12 months towards our vision of a racially just food system for all. 

Condemning More of the Same and Working To Change It

NFSN Staff Friday, January 08, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

2020 – and now the start of 2021 – are pushing the conversation around race and systemic racism in this country to the main stage. Despite this recent heightened level of attention, what I and everyone around the world witnessed on Wednesday in our nation’s capital is not something that was created overnight nor over the last four years. Racism and otherness are the foundation of our nation, democracy, and food system.

As a white woman in America, I have the privilege of not seeing and feeling the hatred that is prevalent everyday for people of color in our country. I only see it when it is pushed to the main stage, and even then, I don’t feel it because my skin color protects me from that. And to be able to brush aside reality when it’s inconvenient, sad, or otherwise something I want to pretend doesn’t exist is exactly what white privilege is. I must speak out against the very privilege I hold and we saw displayed on Wednesday instead of condoning it through silence.

What unfolded this week is a reminder for us at National Farm to School Network about the necessity and urgency of doing anti-racist work. White privilege, white political power, and white supremacy are forces with long legacies in the history of this country and were undoubtedly on display through acts of intimidation, normalization of violence, and use of blatantly racist symbols and rhetoric by extremists this week, aiming to invalidate democratically cast votes in states with large Black and Indigenous populations.

National Farm to School Network condemns what happened. Also, we know this week’s events are yet another example of the deeply rooted structural and institutional racism and conscious bias that exists within our country. And it’s a reason why as Executive Director of National Farm to School Network – and on a personal level as a human being and mother – I remain committed to refocusing NFSN’s work to shifting power to those who have historically and systematically been marginalized, exploited, oppressed, and excluded. Dismantling racism and upholding democracy are fundamental actions we must take in order to achieve food justice, and to achieve justice in every aspect of our society. Standing up for justice and deferring to the leaderships of Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian, and other people of color who do the essential work of organizing and advocating in their communities every day is what we strive for and what this moment reminds us we must continue to do.

Farm to School & ECE Support in New Pandemic Relief and FY 2021 Spending Bill

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 22, 2020

By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

In a late-night sprint on Monday, Congress passed a combined bill of $900 billion in coronavirus relief aid and $1.4 trillion in spending for fiscal year (FY) 2021. While the need for economic, nutrition, and public health relief is far greater than the scope of the relief provided, it nevertheless contains some wins for farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE), and much-needed funds for our farmers and communities.

Highlights of the COVID relief measures include:
  • Relief for CACFP providers, replacing 55 percent of the total reimbursement funding lost for each claiming month from April 2020 to June 2020, plus half of March 2020.
  • A similar relief measure for schools participating in federal Child Nutrition Programs.
  • Expanded Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) to all income-eligible children under six years old.
  • Relief funding for a number of local food systems programs, and reduction of the matching funds requirements (note: unfortunately this does not include the Farm to School Grant Program) and measures to better tailor direct agricultural payments to specialty producers.

The FY 2021 spending bill also contains a number of big wins for farm to school and farm to ECE: 
  • The highest-ever level of funding for the Farm to School Grant Program – $17 million total!
  • $500,000 allocated for a regional institute to disseminate farm to school and ECE research and technical assistance.
  • $2 million in Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding for farm to ECE work.
  • Robust funding for other CDC programs promoting nutrition and addressing racial health equity, such as $63 million in funding for the Racial and Ethnic Aspects of Community Health (REACH) grants, of which $22 million is set aside for Native communities. 
Update: These measures were passed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020.

Our 116th Congress Policy Wins

NFSN Staff Monday, December 14, 2020

By Karen Spangler, Policy Director

2020 has been a tumultuous year for so many of us – educators, farmers and fishers, school nutrition professionals, and of course children and families affected by the pandemic and its impact on the economy. While these crises are ongoing and there is still much work to be done, we want to take a moment to recognize the hard-won progress that our movement has made, together, in federal farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) policy during the 116th Congress. In particular, there have been numerous important marker bills introduced in both the US House and Senate since this Congress convened in January 2019, including:

  • Small Farm to School Act: Would create an eight state pilot program of local procurement incentives providing extra reimbursement under the National School Lunch Program.
  • Farm to School Act: Would expand funding and eligibility for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, and increase equity by prioritizing grants that engage diverse farmers, serve high-need schools, and increase partnerships between tribal schools and tribal producers.
  • Kids Eat Local Act: Would allow schools to require local procurement for child nutrition programs, rather than including geographic preference as just one factor in the overall bid.
  • Universal School Meals Program Act of 2019: Would establish free breakfast, lunch, and summer food service available to all children in school and early care and education, including an incentive to procure at least 30% of ingredients locally.
  • Justice for Black Farmers Act: Would address discriminatory practices in USDA policies, including establishing independent civil rights oversight, creating a land grant system for Black farmers, and banning anti-competitive practices in livestock and poultry.
  • School Food Modernization Act: Would provide grants, loan guarantees, and technical assistance to help school nutrition professionals have the infrastructure and equipment they need to prepare meals with more fresh and unprocessed ingredients.
  • Improving Training for School Food Service Workers Act: Would require that USDA-provided training for local food service personnel take place during regularly scheduled, paid hours, and use hands-on methods whenever possible.
  • Food and Nutrition Education Act: Would establish a pilot program to support local education agencies to hire full-time food and nutrition educators, school gardens, and other hands-on nutrition learning opportunities for students.
  • Local School Foods Expansion Act: Would establish the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fresh Fruits and Vegetables as a permanent program and expand it to more states.
You can read more about each of these bills and see who co-sponsored them here.

Despite the difficulties of this year, these are shining bright spots that can set us up for significant federal policy opportunities with the new 117th Congress in 2021. To make that happen, your legislators need to hear from you that these marker bills are important!

ACTION: Take 2 minutes to scan the list of co-sponsors of these bills, identify if any are your members of Congress, and give them a call at the Capitol switchboard [202-224-3121] to thank them for their leadership. Then, take a second to thank yourself and your fellow farm to school advocates for your own hard work that has laid the foundation for these policy wins to be possible.

When the 117th Congress begins on January 3, 2021, we will need legislative champions to advance the priorities of farm to school and farm to ECE, including re-introducing bills like these and passing the critical COVID-19 relief measures our communities need. (Read more about the COVID-19 federal measures we’re pushing for here.) Your voices have never been more necessary to thank federal farm to school champions and forge ahead on policies towards a just food system.

P.S. Your donations make our policy work possible and will help us continue important farm to school and ECE advocacy with the next Congress. Will you make an end of year, tax-deductible donation today to support our ongoing policy efforts? Thank you!

Looking Back and Ahead: Our Racial Equity Journey in 2020 and into 2021

NFSN Staff Tuesday, December 08, 2020

By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director

National Farm to School Network was founded in 2007 on core values including food justice, and we have more recently moved to focus on the importance of race in this work, since food justice is racial justice. We are also working to move beyond words into action, since while words like our equity commitment statement matter, words alone will not achieve a racially just food system. We also need tangible action, such as our efforts in 2019.

Twice in 2020 - in January and June - we publicly made commitments to action for racial justice through our work and have been carrying through on those steps throughout the year. This fall, we launched our call to action for the food system that will guide us in the years ahead.

In the spirit of holding ourselves accountable and in hopes of inspiring each of you to set measurable goals in your work towards achieving racial justice in our food system, we’re sharing our story from 2020. We’d love to hear your story too!

2020: Reflecting back, we:

2021: Looking ahead, we will be:
  • Updating our mission and vision and our values to explicitly center them in racial justice. 
  • Updating our equity commitment to provide more context about the history and intentional exploitation and oppression behind the statistics we cite.
  • Asking ourselves and all of you what shifting power looks like and setting measurable goals and tracking progress towards this.
  • Updating our equity assessment tool for programs and policies.
  • Developing an organizational equity assessment tool for us and our partners. 
  • Continuing to invest in racial equity professional development opportunities for staff and board members.
  • Creating a “People to People Language Guide” for communicating about race, ethnicity, gender, social class, disability status, and other forms of identity.
  • Continuing work with our external equity consultants.
  • Continuing to examine and address white supremacist culture in our organization.

Onward, together!

2021 Transition Recommendations for USDA

NFSN Staff Monday, November 23, 2020

By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

The transition to a new Presidential administration comes with a change in leadership at important federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This moment can be an inflection point, where farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) advocates can call for new leadership in how policies and programs are administered. While the federal Farm to School Grant Program has escaped major regulatory attacks over the last four years, it relies on and supports other programs within USDA that have suffered from agency actions. A new administration, in addition to undoing harm, has the opportunity to elevate farm to school and ECE as a proven strategy aligned with USDA’s multi-faceted mission of nourishing children and families and providing economic opportunities for farmers and communities. Additionally, the following recommendations are steps to advance the strategic goal of the National Farm to School Network: By 2025, 100% of communities will hold power in a racially just food system.

Actions for the new administration specific to farm to school and ECE:
  • Withdraw the proposed rule on Broad Based Categorical Eligibility, and revisit USDA rules that may negatively impact participation in school meals. Any attempts to restrict school meal or CACFP participation should be corrected.
  • Develop more formal guidance for school food authorities (SFAs) on using a values-aligned procurement framework (in addition to strictly geographically local preference) for RFPs and the bidding process.
  • Initiate agency legal research into statutory barriers to further values-aligned purchasing.
  • Research USDA authority to issue waivers for greater cash in lieu of USDA commodity foods, if SFAs applied with proposals to increase their local and/or values-aligned purchasing.
  • Initiate research on increasing transparency within the USDA Foods supply chain, and assess what would be needed to apply more stringent conservation compliance and fair labor standards within that supply network.
  • Research barriers that prevent producers from participating as a vendor in DoD Fresh procurement. Recommend policy changes if necessary to reduce barriers for small local and regional producers, to increase the ability of SFAs to procure locally through DoD Fresh.
  • Continue and expand the AMS and FNS administered successful Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetables, an alternative to USDA Foods and DoD Fresh for USDA purchases, authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.
  • Conduct research on administrative and overhead savings provided by pursuing a universal approach to school meal and child nutrition programs. Additionally, assess the potential economic impact of local and values-aligned procurement for the farm economy as part of such an approach.
  • Identify regulatory and other barriers related to developing farm to school programs, including direct and indirect compliance costs of production and marketing to schools and early care and education programs, barriers to local and regional market access for small-scale production, barriers to funding projects which might otherwise be eligible for a federal Farm to School Grant, barriers to funding Tribal projects under farm to school programs, and barriers to local and regional market access for Tribal farmers and ranchers.

Actions for the new administration for a just food system:
  • Resume the farm labor prevailing wage survey, and ensure that H2-A agricultural workers receive the very modest protections the program currently has.
  • Take immediate action to protect food and farm workers at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic, and enforce occupational safety and health rules in our food system.
  • Restore the antitrust and competitive practices protections in the livestock and poultry industry, which are rife with unfair practices that exploit producers and lead to more consolidation in our food system.
  • Rebuild the personnel capacity of USDA’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to collect, analyze, and release important data.
  • Work with small producers to understand and reduce the regulatory barriers of compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
  • Scrutinize programs that have been authorized, but not funded, to include in the President's budget request. Programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account, which would provide matching savings for beginning producers, require no additional authorizing authority and could get funds directly into the hands of producers who need it most.

A PDF version of these recommendations is available here. For more information, please contact Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director, at or 248-535-3709.

This Week in Farm to School: Archive

NFSN Staff Thursday, November 19, 2020


We’re changing the way we do This Week in Farm to School! 

This Week in Farm to School is a weekly e-newsletter roundup of opportunities, action items and a selection of media stories that relate to the farm to school movement.  Anyone can now sign up to receive the This Week in Farm to School weekly e-newsletter. 

Be sure to check “Weekly” for the type of email you’d like to receive (in addition to any others!) in your inbox every Tuesday. Archived copies of This Week in Farm to School are also available here. 

To submit an item for consideration, send us an email. To be considered, content should be of national interest to the farm to school community. 

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