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Advisory Board Perspectives: Wande Okunoren-Meadows and Little Ones Learning Center Team

NFSN Staff Wednesday, August 05, 2020
This post is part of National Farm to School Network's new series of interviews with members of our Advisory Board about the impacts, challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 has brought about for the farm to school movement. 


Photo Credit: Linden Tree Photography (courtesy of Little Ones Learning Center) 
Name: Wande Okunoren-Meadows
Title: Executive Director
Organization: Little Ones Learning Center
Location: Forest Park, GA 
First-year on the National Farm to School Network Advisory Board

Little Ones Learning Center Team: Stacie McQuagge (Farm to ECE Educator), Pang Skelton (Little Lions Farm Stand), and Luyanda Koboka (Master Gardener)

Wande Okunoren-Meadows and her dedicated team at Little Ones Learning Center joined Sadé Collins, NFSN Programs Fellow, to discuss the COVID-19 emergency in early care and education (ECE) centers. Wande and partners share how Little Ones Learning Center is using innovation in farm to ECE and the importance of building resilient and equitable community food systems during this time. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“There continues to be a need for wholesome grab-and-go options and funding to support farmers providing local produce and ECE providers continuing nutrition education. Food banks are not enough.” -Wande Okunoren-Meadows


Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia has continued to live up to their motto “Where Children Grow. Serving the Child, Family and Greater Community” even during unprecedented times. Over the years, the center has prioritized healthy eating and bringing their community together to educate parents and children on healthier food choices. Farm to early care and education (ECE) is part of their holistic environment where young learners are able to plant, care for and harvest their own foods on-site. This hands-on engagement provides nutrition education and the promotion of local foods.
Sade: Briefly tell us about your current professional role and your connection to National Farm to School Network. 

Wande: I am the Executive Director of Little Ones Learning Center in Clayton County. The center is located in the suburb area of metro Atlanta where the Child Well Being Index is the lowest of the metro Atlanta counties. The index provides a sense of the direction of overall well-being and resources that are needed to tackle complex issues and drive sustainable change. Supporting child and family well-being during the pandemic has called attention to opportunities for positive change and that there is much work that needs to be done in the area in which the center resides.

Stacie: I have served as the Farm to ECE Educator and the lead for farm to ECE programming for the last 3-4 years.

Pang: I am the assistant to everyone at the center, I do everything. 

Luyanda: I serve as the Master Gardener and am responsible for Tasty Tuesdays.

“Teaching children about social distancing, as the children are transitioning back to the center, is hard because they don’t understand why they cannot be with their friends and other teachers.” -Pang

Sade: Tell us about how the COVID-19 emergency has impacted your work. 

Wande: The COVID-19 emergency has impacted the work of the center in a way that is uncertain.  The impacts have been felt by the community, the local food banks, and the children. Neighbors inquire about receiving food from the center from time to time to help feed their families and local food banks and meal sites were initially not accessible for all children in the area which presented equity challenges. Now, due to public outcry, local administrators have changed their practices to include young children. There continues to be a need for wholesome grab-and-go options and funding to support farmers providing local produce and ECE providers continuing nutrition education. Food banks are not enough.

Stacie: It has been difficult not being able to see the children and children not being able to see us, so we are trying to make things as normal and accessible as possible for children and parents. Our chef is still preparing fresh foods while using fresh ingredients sourced locally as well as from our own school garden. To adapt our Farm to ECE program for COVID-19, we have been using virtual platforms to do taste test activities and learning games with the children that are not able to be at the center, such as Funtastic Fridays, where children do a different activity each week based on the Harvest of the Month. Some of the foods they have made and sampled are berry and yogurt parfaits, blueberry bark, Texas Caviar, and blueberry juice through the USDA Grow It, Try It, Like It kit. To extend our Farm to ECE educational program for the children at home, we are working with the Small Bites Adventure Club for a pilot program at home.  For the families at our center, as well as the families in the community, we have been distributing farm fresh produce through the Hand, Heart + Soul Project's Farmers to Families Food Box program. This program is providing families in the community farm fresh produce every Thursday, for 6 weeks, distributing about 300 boxes per week. [Note: the Hands, Heart + Soul Project received a grant from National Farm to School Network's COVID-19 Relief Fund.]

Luyanda: At this time, I am really missing the children, especially gardening and talking with the young learners about harvesting. Overall, there is a void.

Pang: The number of children at the center has decreased and more families are staying home which has impacted the centers house and teachers schedules. Teaching children about social distancing, as the children are transitioning back to the center, is hard because they don’t understand why they cannot be with their friends and other teachers.

Sade: What inequities and challenges are you seeing as a result of the COVID-19 emergency?  

Wande:  It is frustrating, it is inequity, upon inequity. Grab-and-go, shelf table food while convenient, is not always the most nutrient dense and nutritious, wholesome food to sustain kids long term.

“Getting businesses to help our communities with resources such as food is our goal. We want to provide children with healthy foods such as fresh produce from gardening and the food that is offered isn’t always nutritious and healthy.”-Stacie


Sade: Thinking about what has helped Little One’s Learning Center continue to offer enriching nutrition education and resources for young learners and families, what relationships have been meaningful and impactful during this time?

Wande: Existing relationships, networks and partnerships have provided critical support to Little Ones Learning Center’s work during this time.  Georgia Organics, a non-profit providing direct support to small and organic farmers, has been a great partner in engaging in meaningful dialogue. Additionally, funding from National Farm to School Network will allow the center to purchase more boxes from Small Bites Adventure Club, an organization that offers farm-to-table cooking kits for classrooms, to introduce local foods to kids. 

Stacie: Getting businesses to help our communities with resources such as food is our goal. We want to provide children with healthy foods such as fresh produce from gardening and the food that is offered isn’t always nutritious and healthy. Also, young learners are not getting time in the garden and have to wear masks which is different for small children. Social interaction is also missing because the classrooms are no longer gardening together. 

“Emerging out of COVID-19, there is the idea of understanding collaborations through “equitable dinners”....the sharing of different perspectives would lead to meaningful collaborations.”-Wande


Sade: What are you doing now, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, that you hope to keep moving forward, once we emerge out of an emergency state?

Wande: Emerging out of COVID-19, there is the idea of understanding collaborations through “equitable dinners” by bringing various stakeholders such as health, educators, farmers and parents together to have dialogue. This dialogue would be accompanied by facilitated sessions that are about how the different worlds intersect. For example, explaining monocrop farming, genetically modified organisms and multigenerational farming to parents. The sharing of different perspectives would lead to meaningful collaborations.

StacieEmerging out of COVID-19, there is interest in continuing online taste testing monthly or weekly for family night to keep families engaged.

Luyanda: This time has allowed for focusing on lesson planning and revamping priorities at the center. Overall it has been great seeing parents engage more on social media and through other online platforms.

Pang: Communication through social media has been helpful in engaging families. A weekly newsletter has also been created to keep families informed of what is happening at the center and other local opportunities. I hope all parents support local farmers moving forward. 


“Kids need to know how to grow their own food and understand that they can do many things on their own without approval or waiting on others to "save" them. The less we have to get "permission" from the government or others to do things that we know are good and beneficial to children and for communities, the better.”-Wande 


Sade: What has this crisis shown you about our country’s food system?

Wande: The crisis has uncovered the food system needs work. The “Stay-at-Home” mantra is not applicable to all. It has shown that grocery store workers are essential and they cannot stay at home. Child care centers are still open and needed for people who are working outside of home. 

Sade: Why is farm to ECE, and more broadly, community food systems, so important right now?

Wande: Kids need to know how to grow their own food and understand that they can do many things on their own without approval or waiting on others to "save" them. The less we have to get "permission" from the government or others to do things that we know are good and beneficial to children and for communities, the better. There is no reason that there should be regulations around children eating from the garden or purchasing from their onsite garden. It's nature! If we can reach the kids now, at the foundation, we can change the wiring of a generation. 

Stacie: Farm to ECE was very important before COVID-19 and it has come into play because children know where food comes from. Farm to ECE concepts are also translating from the center to homes.

Pang: Children are missing out on essential needs. 

To learn more about the experience of Little Ones Learning Center staff amidst the COVID-19 crisis, watch Wande testify to members of Congress serving on the DNC planning committee.


This Week in Farm to School: 8/4/20

NFSN Staff Tuesday, August 04, 2020
SIGN UP: National Farm to School Network has weekly e-newsletter to share a roundup of COVID-19 related resources and information with farm to school and farm to ECE stakeholders - similar to what is shared weekly in these This Week in Farm to School blog posts. Sign up here to have this information delivered in your inbox weekly.

Every week, we share opportunities, action items and a selection of media stories that relate to the farm to school movement. 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. 


Grants & Funding
1. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Request for Proposals: Research on Agriculture and Local Food Activity in the Appalachian Region. 
Deadline: August 19
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) invites proposals from qualified researchers and consultants to examine agriculture and local food activity in the Appalachian Region (Region) using both quantitative and qualitative analysis. The main purposes of the research are to (1) provide a comprehensive quantitative overview of agricultural and local food activity throughout the Region, including changes over recent years, (2) identify best practices and promising models from across Appalachia, as well as elsewhere in the country, that support the development of local food systems and help farms increase revenues, and (3) identify emerging opportunities in agriculture ,including types of crops and products as well as strategic and technological innovations. The selected contractor will work closely with ARC to shape this effort over the course of a twelve-month period beginning October 1, 2020 and concluding September 30, 2021. Proposals will be evaluated on contractors’ qualifications, expertise, track record, work samples, and cost-effectiveness. Learn more and apply.

2. COVID-19 Northeast BIPOC Farmer Relief Fund 
Deadline: August 20
Are you a BIPOC farmer or fisherperson that has been impacted by COVID-19? The Northeast BIPOC Farmer Relief Fund is now accepting applications from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color) producers with priority for those who use sustainable, regenerative or environmentally sound practices and who contribute to their community in some way. Funded by Farm Aid, this fund will provide $500 relief payments for up to 200 applicants. Learn more and apply.

3. USDA RFA: Innovating Formal and Non-Formal Educational Experiences in Food and Agricultural Sciences During the Time of Social Distancing
Deadline: August 20 
The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Education and Workforce Development RFA now includes a new program area priority to address the need to develop and deploy rapid, reliable, and readily-adoptable strategies in workforce preparation through formal K-14 education, as well as in youth development through non-formal education to cultivate interest and competencies in STEM and agriculture during this challenging time. This program area accepts new applications only. Learn more and apply. Interested applicants are invited to register for an informational webinar on July 28, 2020 at 12:00 pm Eastern Time.

4. USDA's Office of Partnership and Public Engagement RFA: Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program
 Deadline to apply: August 26
Via section 2501 funding, these grants support community-based and non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, and Tribal entities to conduct programming to assist producers. The deadline to apply is August 26th (please note, the announcement in the Federal Register incorrectly states the deadline as September 11!) OPPE will host a call for potential applicants on July 28, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. EST (Telephone Number: (877) 692-8955, Passcode: 6433267). No registration needed. Learn more and apply.

5. Cigna Foundation's Healthier Kids For Our Future Grant Program
Deadline: September 30 
Cigna Foundation is looking to partner with school systems and surrounding communities — including clinicians, local and national nonprofits — to supplement existing mental health programming and help close gaps both within and outside the school environment to address loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. To that end, it will fund programs that foster collaboration between various stakeholders, including school administrators and teachers, clinicians, and local and national nonprofits. The grants are up to $65,000 grants per year for two years. Learn more and apply.

6. USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Foundational and Applied Science Program RFA
Deadlines: Vary based on program, view RFA for details
The AFRI Foundational and Applied Science Program supports grants in six AFRI priority areas to advance knowledge in both fundamental and applied sciences important to agriculture. The six priority areas are: Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities. Research-only, extension-only, and integrated research, education and/or extension projects are solicited in this Request for Applications (RFA). See Foundational and Applied Science RFA for specific details.


Webinars & Events
1. National Farmers Market Week
August 2-8
National Farmers Market Week (NFMW) is an annual celebration that highlights the important role farmers markets play in the nation’s food system. This year, amidst a global pandemic and nationwide unrest, it is more important than ever for markets to do their part in bringing people together safely. Learn more and participate.

2. PSU Summer Series: How to Use AMS Market News Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Information in School Meal Programs
August 4 // 2pm CT
At the end of this webinar, participants will be able to:
1. Identify information in AMS Market News reports to aid in school nutrition procurement decisions, including Buy American;
2. Use AMS Market News to determine the market value of produce and factors that impact cost; and
3. Use AMS Market News to check for seasonal availability and associated costs.
Register here.

3. Webinar: Walk-through of New CEP Grouping Tool, Meals Count
August 5 // 2pm ET 
Strategic grouping can maximize federal reimbursement for districts operating the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). But with so many potential combinations, it can be difficult to know which grouping scenario is the best. Meals Count can help! Meals Count is a free interactive, customizable tool to help districts optimize their CEP groupings, maximize school meal funding, and fight childhood hunger. Join this webinar with No Kid Hungry to learn how to use Meals Count and maximize the benefits of CEP in your district.

4. Facebook Virtual Field Day
August 6 // 12:15pm-12:45pm CT
Have you ever been curious about designing a local ingredient-based meal kit?
Hear what North Iowa Fresh has learned with support from a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Farmer/Rancher grant, while piloting some kits this season. Join on Facebook here.

5. EQUITY Webinar: From 21 to 365: The FSNE 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge - Where are we now and how are we moving from here?
August 6 // 1pm ET
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) invited those of you who took part in the FSNE 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge to join us for a participatory** online session to revisit our shared learnings from the Challenge, consider them in light of what has been happening in the weeks since, and hear from one another in small groups about how we are applying our knowledge and commitments to take action now and in the year ahead. There is no charge to attend, but registration is required. Please come prepared to listen, learn, be inspired and to share your thoughts if you are moved to do so.

6. Prescott College's Food Systems Friday Webinar Series
Aug 7 // 12pm PT
Join Dr. Robin Currey, Director of the MS in Sustainable Food Systems program at Prescott College, as the "Food Systems Fridays" series moderator for Episode 13 of Food Systems Friday: Re-indigenizing Food. Learn more, register, and view past webinars here. 

7. Change For Good Town Hall
August 13 // 12pm CT
The crises facing our nation have revealed how much children and families depend on schools for more than just a quality education. Schools serve as essential community anchors that provide daily meals, outdoor space and critical mental and physical health services. With so much at stake in the upcoming election and the coming school year, Healthy Schools Campaign is hosting a virtual town hall to hear from national and local leaders, education and health experts, and you. A networking session will follow the virtual event at 1PM CST. Register here.

8. Webinar: Delivering More Than Food: Understanding and Operationalizing Racial Equity in Food Hubs
August 24 // 2:30pm ET
The webinar, sponsored by the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems in association with the Racial Equity in the Food Systems Workgroup, will share results from a qualitative study led by a diverse group of food system practitioners as to how U.S. based food hubs understand and operationalize engagement in racial equity work. You will hear examples of how food hubs operationalize equity within their business, and with their partners, and with the community they serve.  Authors and food hub leader discussants will also offer perspectives on the deeper questions that must be addressed to meaningfully support equity across the food system. Register here.

9. NFSN National Farm to Cafeteria Conference Cancelled 
With the utmost concern for the health and wellbeing of our attendees and the Albuquerque community, National Farm to School Network and the 10th National Farm to Cafeteria planning committee have made the difficult decision to cancel the 10th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, originally scheduled for April 2020 and then rescheduled for April 2021. Gathering in person with amazing farm to cafeteria leaders and practitioners from across the country is a highlight of our work, yet protecting the health and safety of everyone in attendance, as well as the community we are traveling to, is our highest priority. More information and details can be found here. 


Research & Resources
1. NFSN COVID-19 National Farm to School Network  (NFSN) COVID Support Survey
More than 100 days into the COVID-19 pandemic, NFSN remains committed to supporting you, the farm to school & ECE community, through this crisis. As a new school year approaches, we're pausing to ask - what kinds of support can National Farm to School Network provide to help you do your work in the coming months? Please take our short, 8 question survey to share your feedback!

2. COVID-19 NFSN National Farm to School Network - 2020 Back to School: Farm to School/ECE and COVID-19 Resource List
National Farm to School Network is compiling back-to-school resources that will be relevant to farm to school and farm to ECE stakeholders during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. See the resource list. Have resources to suggest? Please email us at info@farmtoschool.org

3. COVID-19 The Longest Summer: Childhood Hunger in the Wake of the Coronavirus
No Kid Hungry has released a new research-driven report, The Longest Summer: Childhood Hunger in the Wake of the Coronavirus. Through two national surveys and a series of video diaries capturing the stories of families from across the country, The Longest Summer Report provides new insight into COVID-19’s impact on children and families. Learn more here. 

4. Study: Association of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act With Dietary Quality Among Children in the US National School Lunch Program
The investigators of this study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded that Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was linked to improved dietary quality for lunch for children who were part of National School Lunch Program. Unfortunately, as the study notes, the act has been watered down over the years. It now allows less whole grains, more flavored milk, and more sodium. Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture is currently considering changing the policy to allow participating schools to serve fewer servings of vegetables. Read more and access the full report.

5. COVID-19 Brief: Child Care and Feeding Young Children during the Pandemic: Exploring the Role of the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program
Many young children depend on the food they receive in child care settings, and specifically food funded by the Child and Adult Food Nutrition Program (CACFP), to meet their daily nutritional needs. Yet many children lost access to these meals when the COVID-19 pandemic caused many child care programs to at least temporarily close. Now, months into the pandemic, a quick scan of existing data and interviews with experts reveals how the CACFP system and policy needs to shift to support young children and the people that care for them. Read more.

6. Earth to Tables Legacies Project
Since 2015, the Earth to Tables Legacies project has brought together a small group of food activists across big differences for an exchange around food justice and food sovereignty. You're invited to explore the new, ever-evolving website that introduces the 17 collaborators (Storytellers), the framing ideas of dynamic tensions and the collaborative methodology (Setting the Table) and 10 videos and 11 photo essays (Conversations) which are the heart of the exchange. Earth to Tables has filmed their conversations and food initiatives, culminating in a multimedia educational package that includes facilitator’s guides, further resources and commentaries by activists and academics. Learn more.

7. No Kid Hungry Back to School Resources
These resources are designed to help schools and child nutrition program operators navigate the unprecedented challenges of School Year 2020-2021 and ensure that children continue to receive the nutrition they need. No Kid Hungry will continue adding new resources and updating this page. View the repository here.

8. A Guide to Transformative Land Strategies: Lessons From the Field
This report, published by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), synthesizes the practices and strategies of transformative community land organizations under three primary themes: participatory comprehensive planning, partnerships across grassroots and mainstream organizations, and community and cooperative financing.  These findings are relevant for activists, practitioners, planners, policymakers, and educators - and the many working between these roles - who are invested in the transformative potential of the Community Land Trusts and other community land ownership models. Read the full report.


Policy News
1. COVID-19 NFSN Sign-On To Endorse NFSN's COVID-19 Federal Policy Platform
As Congress works to finalize its next COVID-19 response bill, NOW is that time to make our voices heard. National Farm to School Network's federal policy platform calls on Congress to strengthen its support for school meal and child nutrition programs, farmers and those who feed us, Native communities, essential workers, children and families, and others who have been historically underserved and underrepresented. Please add your voice by endorsing our federal COVID-19 policy platform, and help us advocate for key food systems priorities on Capitol Hill. Sign on here.

2. COVID-19 NFSN Action Alert: Senate Must Do More For Kids, Farmers & Schools
Last week, Senate leadership released their latest set of COVID-19 relief bills, a $1 trillion bundle of legislation covering business aid, money for schools and agricultural aid funding. While National Farm to School Network is glad that Senators have recognized that our schools and farmers are in urgent need of critical funding support, this proposed legislation from the Senate falls far short of targeting the actual needs of our kids, farmers, educators and school nutrition professionals. Congress should be taking bolder action to respond to this emergency, support those most impacted and help advance us towards a more equitable future for all. Read more on our blog, and take 5 minutes to call your senators using our easy call script

3. COVID-19 "Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act" Introduced
House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott has introduced legislation to make all students eligible for free school meals during the 2020-2021 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act would allow all children to access breakfast, lunch, and afterschool snack programs either in school or through “grab and go” and delivery options. National Farm to School Network has endorsed this bill. Read more here. 

4. Small Farm to Schools Act Introduced in House
Last week, Rep. Antonio Delgado (NY-19) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) introduced the Small Farm to School Act, bipartisan legislation that would create an eight state pilot program where local public schools would be reimbursed at a higher rate for sourcing school lunches from small farmers under the National School Lunch Program. Read more here. 


Job Opportunities
1. Director of Operations, The Food Conservancy (Springdale, Arkansas)
The Food Conservancy is a start-up Local Food aggregation and distribution warehouse that seeks to develop an innovative and replicable regenerative food system in Northwest Arkansas. The Director of Operations is responsible for overseeing all functions related to the Food Conservancy’s food hub operation including overseeing product procurement, warehouse operations (stocking, inventory, order fulfillment, quality control), and delivery to customers. Learn more and apply.


In The News
Op-Ed: Opening Iowa to a Just Food System
In a time when racial prejudice and widespread social inequities are finally being acknowledged as unacceptable, I want to draw attention to a kind of systemic injustice we have gotten used to in Iowa. I call it food system brutality. (The Storm Lake Times)

What It Really Means When We Talk About 'Food Justice'
There’s a big difference between charity or philanthropy and real justice that comes from eliminating the barriers to create an equitable future. The energy is different, the aim is different and the actions are different. It’s important for white folks to learn how to pour their resources into people that are already doing that work, as opposed to trying to come into it and taking over. When you give your money over to someone else, you are saying, “I trust you to solve this issue.” (Huffington Post)

What Foodservice Needs Now: Innovation in Produce Processing and Packaging
“Students and school nutrition leaders alike want more options than just baby carrots and sliced apples,” says Dayle Hayes, founder of School Meals That Rock and a Produce for Better Health Foundation Fruit and Vegetable Ambassador in Action. “There is a big opportunity for the produce industry to introduce kids to a greater variety of fruits and vegetables if products can be packaged and ready for distribution to students with no labor needed for prep.” (Produce Business)

Should the Dietary Guidelines Help Fight Systemic Racism?
The new guidelines, published every five years, don’t reflect the nation’s growing diversity, or the particular health and dietary risks that communities of color face. (Civil Eats)


Read past editions of This Week for more funding opportunities, webinars and events, jobs, and ways to take action to support farm to school growth across the country.

Advisory Board Perspectives: Miguel Villarreal

NFSN Staff Monday, August 03, 2020
This post is part of National Farm to School Network's new series of interviews with members of our Advisory Board about the impacts, challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 has brought about for the farm to school movement. 

Name: Miguel Villarreal
Title: Director of Child Nutrition
Organization: San Ramon Valley Unified School District
Location: Danville, CA
Miguel served on the National Farm to School Network Advisory Board from 2017-2019, and as the Advisory Board Chair in 2019.

Jessica Gudmundson, NFSN Senior Director of Finance and Operations, sat down with Miguel for a conversation about how the COVID-19 emergency has impacted his work as a Food Service Director, the challenges and innovations he’s seen, and what all of this means for the future of farm to school and our food system.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“When I moved out to California [nearly 20 years ago] and started working, I still hadn’t heard of farm to school but what I realized was that the community I was working in had over 60 nearby organic farms and there wasn't any local food being brought into schools. And I thought, something’s very wrong. I didn’t know what it was but I knew that something wasn’t right and I needed to figure it out. That is what ultimately led me to farm to school.”

Jessica: Welcome Miguel. To start, briefly tell me about your professional role and your relationship to NFSN.

Miguel: I’m Miguel Villarreal, Child Nutrition and Warehouse Director, with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District where I've been spending the last year. Prior to that, I was in Novato Unified School District where I spent 17 years. I also spent 20 years in Texas as a School Food Service Director before moving out to California. And honestly, the concept of farm to school was never a thought when I was in Texas. When I moved out to California and started working, I still hadn’t heard of farm to school but what I realized was that the community I was working in had over 60 nearby organic farms and there wasn't any local food being brought into schools.

And I thought, something’s very wrong. I didn’t know what it was but I knew that something wasn’t right and I needed to figure it out. That is what ultimately led me to farm to school. Many different allied groups I met along the way influenced a lot the decisions I've made over the years in how I looked and thought about school foodservice. And it led me to the National Farm to School Network where I spent 6 years as an Advisory Board member.

It’s one of the best organizations I’ve been involved with because of the people that are involved. The way I thought and looked at things have changed over the years. I’ve said before to you Jessica, 90% of my decisions are now made with my heart and 10% with my head. When I met folks from the National Farm to School Network - not only people who work for the organization but all people involved - I realized they also made decisions the same way. We do what we do because we care.

Jessica: I couldn’t agree more. People make up this movement and people are the heart of this work. We do this work because we value everybody’s lives along the food chain. We’re going to talk about COVID-19 and farm to school. How has this emergency impacted your work as a Food Service Director?

“The one thing that Food Service Directors are and food service programs are, is accustomed to change. We adapt well to many different circumstances.” 
Miguel: My work and every other Food Service Director across the country. It’s turned our lives upside down. The one thing that Food Service Directors are and food service programs are, is accustomed to change. We adapt well to many different circumstances. In fact, I've said many times, it’s a curse in a way. We make it happen, regardless of what’s going on. We put food on the table for kids every school day and nobody has any idea how it got done. All they know is that children got fed.

COVID-19 was not any different for many Food Service Directors. We adapted literally overnight. We changed our programs. We went from full salad bars to no touch points, overnight.

Jessica: Have you implemented anything new that you’d like to see continue moving forward?

Miguel: First, I’m hoping the recognition of the importance of the work that’s being done in schools will continue moving forward. The Child Nutrition folks have stepped up to the challenge to feed America’s children during a pandemic.

We’re also seeing more education and meal connection in our programs. I was hearted to see child nutrition professionals on the cover of TIME magazine. When was the last time that happened? Never! They are really essential employees. Why is that so important? For years it was just the minimum - hours worked, salaries earned. I hope that changes. That school administrators, states and federal governments recognize the importance of the School Child Nutrition employees’ work.

Secondly, using local food and focusing not only on locally grown, but also more importantly making sure that food is being produced as organic or regenerative farming, or both. We’re not only taking care of the health of our children; we are taking care of the health of our environment and the planet in general. I’d like to see that continue moving forward.

“Moving forward, I’m hoping we have that universal meal program mentality where we are providing to anyone that needs it. Not just providing food but the best food we can - organic, food good for our children’s health, the environment’s health, and the health of animals.” 
Third, serving everybody universal free meals. This is happening right now. We’re seeing some families come by and pick up meals that may not be on the National School Lunch Program. And we’re also seeing families not participating. Is it because they don’t like our food? No, it’s because they feel like they don’t need our services right now. They haven’t lost a job. They’re not in that situation. We’re providing a service for families that need it. Moving forward, I’m hoping we have that universal meal program mentality where we are providing to anyone that needs it. Not just providing food but the best food we can - organic, food good for our children’s health, the environment’s health, and the health of animals. All that together contributes to a healthier community and society. Not just for our own personal health, but also our economic health as a society.

Jessica: We have also seen some of the exciting things you mentioned in response to COVID-19, and we want to see them continue as we move forward too. The future feels uncertain at this point in time and I know there’s a lot of speculation about what school will look like in the fall. Are kids going back to school? What will school meals look like? How do you plan for those unknowns?

Miguel: We have no idea what the future is going to bring. What we do know is this: School food service programs are super resilient. School food service employees are super resilient. The people in charge are super resilient and able to adapt and figure things out. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve proven that over and over again.

We really need to develop a roadmap of standards. We have this opportunity now. Who needs to be at the farm to school table? I think we have the people and the resources to make those decisions. We need to invest in them.

We’ve seen it in communities around the country where you invest in school food service programs by bringing in the right leadership and providing them with the right resources, whether it be finances or infrastructure. It really has a huge impact in the community. They are seeing the benefit of that. I think we have this opportunity with COVID in that we can bring these community benefits to everybody’s attention.

Jessica: Universal meals is a great platform or starting place to think about all those different components: Investing in leadership, investing in food and justice across the board, taking a look at how school meals happen and why, and how we can improve them. I know many people are concerned about the privatization of school meal programs, meaning schools will hire external companies to implement programs because of financial losses during COVID, and this will impact the quality of food provided to children. Is this something you are worried about?

Miguel: In terms of school districts considering privatizing, you have to step back and see what’s best for your program. Ultimately I think that if you manage foodservice programs correctly and you have the right leadership in your school district, you don’t privatize. The decision to manage the school foodservice program moving forward should not just rely on one economic factor. Such as, are you in the black? Does that need to be considered? Absolutely. But it's not the only economic factor that needs to be considered.

What else is contributing to the economic livelihood of that program? How much are we spending on local farmers? How much are we contributing to the local economy?

What we don’t look at is long-term health. The fact that kids are consuming more fruits and vegetables, in many instances organic, what effect does that have on long-term health consequences? Not only for the children but for the healthcare system. And also, educating the kids along the way - what kind of decisions are they making down the road because of habits they’ve established in schools and at home? So we aren’t only focusing on what's going on in schools, but we are also reaching out to homes and telling families what we are doing and getting them engaged as well. All those things need to be addressed and privatization doesn’t take all of that into consideration.

All that to tell you how important it is that we continue to focus on hiring the right people. I used to say this for years, and I still do: If you are trying to accomplish everything I just mentioned in your program and you’re not seeing results with the people you have, maybe it's time to change. Not privatize, but change the leadership. Or, more importantly, invest in people, make sure they are trained properly and have the right resources. This is what you can get for your community as well.

“The thing is, we have school food service programs and they exist in every community. They truly can be the hub for creating nutrition and wellness environments.” 
Jessica: One of the things that COVID-19 has done is shine a spotlight on schools as centers of community and places that serve communities. It truly demonstrates that the value of school meal programs is what it puts out into the community.

Miguel: Absolutely. The thing is, we have school food service programs and they exist in every community. They truly can be the hub for creating nutrition and wellness environments. I see this around the country in some localized school districts where they are reaching out and creating collaborative partnerships. They’ve invited people to the farm to school table. It’s happening across the country. The attention to our programs has really surfaced.

Jessica: Building on some of the changes we’ve discussed, what challenges are you seeing because of COVID-19? What inequities are you seeing?

Miguel: Yeah, there’s challenges from all directions. That will continue to be part of our program because of people's mindsets. And I’ll use myself as an example. Before I moved to California and was working in Texas, I really wasn’t thinking about the food system in general. My job was to feed children, provide nourishment to children, and work with distributors and manufacturers. That was it. What does a manufacturer produce and who can I get it from, and how is that going to impact the bottom line? That was my focus for the better part of 20 years until I moved out here to California and realized that the food system we work in is much broader and involves so much more than I had ever thought about. By taking that all into context I realized it's far more challenging than we think. There’s so many moving parts you have to consider. Not only the manufacturers but where did the food come from to begin with? Where was it sourced? How is it being grown? Is it organic? What impact does it have on children, environment, animals and so forth?

“I guess the way I would gauge success is when people stop talking about the food system and it’s just inherent. We eat healthy. That’s when we have success when it just becomes who we are. We don’t have to think about it.” 
Jessica: Why is farm to school and our food system so important right now? What are some critical relationships and partnerships that you’ve relied on to do this work?

Miguel: When I came to California, I started creating lots of different collaborative partnerships within our community because I knew that was missing. Starting directly with the schools. Who have I not been talking to?

For example, I had only met about 5 school teachers the entire time I worked in Texas. I had relationships with administrators of course, but I had not considered the teachers in the classroom as partners. And when I came to California, I stood back and asked who are our partners right here, in this school community? Well, it’s made up of teachers, administrators, students. It was so important to make partnerships with those teachers early on. I’m proud to say I made the effort to introduce myself and meet all the teachers in the district. And it took time to make that happen. I wanted them to know that I supported their efforts in the classroom. And in turn, teachers could support Child Nutrition efforts, but we had to work together for the benefit of the students.

I started meeting with lots of student groups as well. It happened over a period of 10 years - it didn’t happen overnight. I met teachers, students, and then the families, through PTA groups. Then I worked on building collaborations outside of the school community. Where are we buying our food from? It included our farmers and ally groups that wanted to join. The collaborative groups grew and developed over the years. Because of that, we had lots of successes. We all want to be a part of a winning team.

Start within and expand outwardly. People want to be a part of the team once they see positive impacts.

I’ll share this last thing: A farmer asked me one time ‘how do you know that you’ve been successful? How do you gauge success? That everything you've put in place is working?’ He caught me off guard but I remember thinking, I guess the way I would gauge success is when people stop talking about the food system and it’s just inherent. We eat healthy. We have success when it just becomes who we are. We don’t have to think about it.

NFSN Awards $75,000 to 15 Projects in Second Round of COVID-19 Relief Fund

NFSN Staff Friday, July 31, 2020

Top L to R: Little Ones Learning Center; Keres Children's Learning Center; Our Core Inc.; HoChunk Community Development Corps. Bottom L to R: Dreaming Out Loud; Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute; Can Wigmunke; Palette of Expressions. 

National Farm to School Network is pleased to announce the second round of grants awarded from our COVID-19 Relief Fund. This round, 15 organizations have each received a $5,000 grant to support their efforts helping kids and families continue eating, growing and learning about just and sustainable food – and farmers continuing to produce and supply it – during this global pandemic.

When the COVID-19 crisis emerged early this year, National Farm to School Network made a strategic decision to shift our planned programmatic activities to focus on providing support through these unprecedented times. This included reallocating our funding resources to go directly towards supporting community-based projects that are keeping those who have been most impacted by systemic inequities fed and cared for. 

As an organization rooted in a vision of a just food system, we have been committed to ensuring that the resources of our COVID-19 Relief Fund specifically reach and impact communities that have been systematically underserved and disproportionately affected by this pandemic. This round of funding was dedicated to organizations led by and serving Black and Indigenous communities. We are proud to be able to support the efforts of these 15 organizations in meeting the urgent needs of their communities: 

Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute - White Earth Reservation (Minnesota) 
To support the transformation of food production and nurture youth through gardening and raising chickens, pigs and horses. 

Can Wigmunke, the Rainbow Tree's Rebel Earth Incubator Farm - Oglala Lakota Nation, Pine Ridge Reservation (South Dakota) 
To support Rebel Earth Incubator Farm in expanding food production, training new farmers online and continuing existing operations through the pandemic. 

Charles W. Reid Help Center - Michigan 
To support food bundle deliveries to families and seniors, providing nutritious fresh produce and other healthy food to those in need. 

Dreaming Out Loud, Inc. - Washington D. C.
To support the Farm and Food Hub at Kelly Miller, a 2-acre project and central food hub that grows healthy food and aggregates, stores and distributes food to the District. 

E. E. Rogers SDA School - Mississippi 
To support families by creating a safe environment where students who need somewhere to go during virtual learning days can come during the pandemic. The project includes healthy meals and technology resources that will continue student learning safely and healthily. 

Fortunate Kids - Michigan
To provide young scholars with a fresh farm basket alongside healthy meals and snacks, to nourish their minds and bodies during the summer months. 

HoChunk Community Development Corp. - Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska Reservation (Nebraska) 
To support the piloting of a farm to food bank model that will prioritize serving families with children, elders and families that have been directly impacted by COVID-19. 

Keres Children's Learning Center - Cochiti Pueblo (New Mexico)
To provide fruits and vegetables, sourced from local farmers, to Keres Children's Learning Center families during this time of pandemic so that they will continue to be healthy and active. 

Little Ones Learning Center, Hand, Heart and Soul Project - Georgia
To support the Hand, Heart and Soul Project and provide Small Bites Adventure Club local food taste test kits for children and their families to use at home. 

National Women In Agricultural, Texas Chapter - Texas
To support the Engaging Agricultural Resources Together Honorably (E.A.R.T.H) program, which will increase the production of fresh produce for residents living in a food desert community in Waco, Texas. 

Our Core Inc. - Family and Farmer Relief - New York
To broaden and expand emergency food access to the Newburgh community, prioritizing supporting small, Black, local farmers and with an eye towards teen leadership in food distribution. 

Palette of Expressions - California 
To support the participation of 10 family child care centers in the Bay Area in a year-long project that introduces farm to school curriculum and focuses on gardening and nutrition with young children. 

Picuris Pueblo - Picuris Pueblo (New Mexico)
To retrofit an agricultural lab to set up a vegetable nursery, to develop a Youth operated chicken coop, and to teach skills such as leaders and connection to plants and animals. 

Seedleaf, Inc. - Kentucky 
To convert two growing spaces into outdoor classrooms for use by school teachers and parents who are homeschooling during the 2020-2021 school year. The sites will shift from being solely community gardens to become spaces for engaged student learning. 

Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, Inc. - Virgin Islands
To support the emergency and collaboration efforts of the Virgin Island Good Food Coalition, including sourcing and distributing emergency fresh food boxes. 

Since launching the COVID-19 Relief Fund in May, National Farm to School Network has awarded a total of $120,000 to 24 organizations across the country. More information about additional awardees can be found here. Our COVID-19 Relief Fund has been made possible by the generous support of small donors like you who share our vision of farm to school and farm to ECE programs supporting strong and just local and regional food systems that strengthen the health of all children, farms, environment, economy and communities across the country.

This round of funding was made possible by donors like you and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Thornburg Foundation and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.


Top L to R: Picuris Pueblo; E. E. Rogers SDA School; Charles W. Reid Help Center. Bottom L to R: National Women In Agricultural, Texas Chapter; Seedleaf, Inc.

WATCH: Horizon Summer Camp for Farm Fun & Education

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 29, 2020
This post is sponsored by Horizon Organic. 

Summer looks different this year. Travel has been sidelined, vacations upended and summer camps cancelled. With more than 14 million campers and counselors heading to summer camps across the country each year, there’s a need to educate kids and help families get through these months.

To help fill the void, Horizon Organic has opened the barn doors to host Horizon Summer Camp - a virtual camp that brings educational content from Horizon Organic farms right into the homes of children across the country.

Bringing this program to life are Horizon Organic’s HOPE Scholars, a group of outstanding college students pursuing degrees in agriculture who are hosting these fun, educational activities that include milking cows and demonstrating creative ways to recycle. Over the past 12 years, the HOPE Scholarship Program has gifted nearly $160,000 to 55 college students pursuing a degree in agriculture and related fields.

The first day of camp officially kicked off on July 10, and the inaugural session is led by HOPE Scholar Shila who shows how to upcycle a milk carton into a bird feeder. Not only does the session show a fun, innovative way to repurpose Horizon Organic cartons, but there are step-by-step instructions on how to make a bird feeder, combining education and arts and crafts.



Earlier this month, the summer camp provided instruction to kids about cow milking. The interactive session takes you into the barn to see the cows first hand and has instructive components from teaching the campers what the six different types of cows we have in the United States are to how many times cows get milked a week. The program offers an all-encompassing, educational experience for the campers.

Last week, campers learned about organic dairy cows’ daily life. The routine consists of how much they eat and sleep each day and how long each cow is out at pasture. The good news is there is still learning to come. Rounding out the program, campers will be going on a full farm tour, bringing the various elements of the program together.

Horizon’s goal with the Summer Camp series is to foster curiosity about the environment and teach children about the role that healthy soil and best in class care for animals play in contributing to a sustainable future for all. This program is part of an effort that builds on Horizon Organic’s 30-year legacy of advancing the organic industry, supporting family farmers, and respecting the environment to provide the best dairy products possible.

Action Alert: Senate Must Do More For Kids, Farmers & Schools

NFSN Staff Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Late yesterday afternoon, the Senate released their latest set of COVID-19 relief bills, a $1 trillion bundle of legislation covering business aid, money for schools and agricultural aid funding. Included in the legislation is $70 billion for K-12 schools ($46 billion is reserved for costs of reopening in-person school this fall), tax credits and Payroll Protection Program Extensions, and $20 billion in agricultural aid funding with no additional guardrails to correct the shortcomings of USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (see here and here). While we’re glad that Senators have recognized that our schools and farmers are in urgent need of critical funding support, this proposed legislation from the Senate falls far short of targeting the actual needs of our kids, farmers, educators and school nutrition professionals. 

We need targeted policies that match the scale of this current crisis. Specifically, we need policies that directly support Black, Indigenous and small scale farmers, early care and education providers, and school food service operators – they all play a critical role in feeding and caring for our communities, and especially so during this pandemic. That’s why, as the Senate and House work out the details of this next round of COVID-19 relief, we’re calling on policymakers to: 
  • Fully fund universal free school meals, informed by these values, this next school year. 
  • Provide immediate funding support to early care and education centers.
  • Create a set-aside small business relief fund for farmers of color.
  • Waive the non-federal match requirement for local food and agriculture programs, including the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, for the next two years.
We are pleased to see some of these bold solutions already coming from the champions in the House and Senate. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) yesterday introduced the Small Farm to School Act, a bipartisan bill to pilot increased reimbursement for local procurement. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has included targeted support for Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color who grow vegetables and fruit, and a waiver of the non-federal match for USDA Farm to School Grants, in his Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets Act. Bills like these should be leading this round of COVID-19 relief from Congress. 

It’s essential that your Senators hear from you about what your community needs right now to support kids, educators, farmers and school nutrition professionals. This legislation is expected to move quickly, so don’t wait - take this quick 5 minute action right now!

Call your Senators TODAY and tell them you want to see more support for kids, farmers and educators in your community included in the HEALS Act. Here’s how: Step 1: Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Step 2: Ask to be connected with your Senator's office. Not sure who your Senators are? (You have 2!) Give the Switchboard your zip code and they can connect you to the correct offices. Step 3: Leave a message for your Senators like this: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a constituent and a ____ [parent, teacher, farmer, etc.]. I’d like to ask [your Senator’s name] to advocate for the following things to be included in next round of COVID-19 relief legislation:Fully fund universal free school meals this next school year. Provide immediate funding support to early care and education centers.Create a set-aside small business relief fund for farmers of color. Support the Local FARM Act (S. 4140). These issues matter to me because ____ [tell your story!]. Thank you!

Already made your two calls? Sign-on to endorse our COVID-19 Federal Policy Platform that includes more measures we think the Senate must include to ensure immediate relief for the people most impacted by this crisis, while building towards longer-term policies that strengthen a resilient, just food system.

If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Instead of calling your Senators to discuss specific policies, share general information about farm to school experiences and needs in your community. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which we can all do! 

Taking action right now, while this relief bill is in discussion, is especially crucial.  Make your calls, sign-on to the platform, and forward this message to a friend. THANK YOU for taking a few minutes out of your day to make your voice heard. 

This Week in Farm to School: 7/28/20

NFSN Staff Tuesday, July 28, 2020
SIGN UP: National Farm to School Network has weekly e-newsletter to share a roundup of COVID-19 related resources and information with farm to school and farm to ECE stakeholders - similar to what is shared weekly in these This Week in Farm to School blog posts. Sign up here to have this information delivered in your inbox weekly.

Every week, we share opportunities, action items and a selection of media stories that relate to the farm to school movement. 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. 


Grants & Funding
1. COVID-19 Emergency Funding to Support Meal Programs 
Deadline: July 31   
The National Recreation and Park Association provides emergency grants for federal nutrition plans that are at risk of reduced or disrupted operations due to the pandemic. Funding amounts are unspecified and may be used to support operating expenses such as personal protection equipment and cleaning supplies. Eligible applicants include local park and recreation agencies operating open sites, including in-person, grab and go, or pick up models, that serve meals to any and all children in their community under the age of 18 through one of the following three federal nutrition programs: Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the National School Lunch. Learn more and apply.

2. COVID-19 Northeast BIPOC Farmer Relief Fund 
Deadline: August 20
Are you a BIPOC farmer or fisherperson that has been impacted by COVID-19? The Northeast BIPOC Farmer Relief Fund is now accepting applications from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or People of Color) producers with priority for those who use sustainable, regenerative or environmentally sound practices and who contribute to their community in some way. Funded by Farm Aid, this fund will provide $500 relief payments for up to 200 applicants. Learn more and apply.

3. USDA RFA: Innovating Formal and Non-Formal Educational Experiences in Food and Agricultural Sciences During the Time of Social Distancing
Deadline: August 20 
The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Education and Workforce Development RFA now includes a new program area priority to address the need to develop and deploy rapid, reliable, and readily-adoptable strategies in workforce preparation through formal K-14 education, as well as in youth development through non-formal education to cultivate interest and competencies in STEM and agriculture during this challenging time. This program area accepts new applications only. Learn more and apply. Interested applicants are invited to register for an informational webinar on July 28, 2020 at 12:00 pm Eastern Time.

4. USDA's Office of Partnership and Public Engagement RFA: Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program
 Deadline to apply: August 26
Via section 2501 funding, these grants support community-based and non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, and Tribal entities to conduct programming to assist producers. The deadline to apply is August 26th (please note, the announcement in the Federal Register incorrectly states the deadline as September 11!) OPPE will host a call for potential applicants on July 28, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. EST (Telephone Number: (877) 692-8955, Passcode: 6433267). No registration needed. Learn more and apply.

5. Cigna Foundation's Healthier Kids For Our Future Grant Program
Deadline: September 30 
Cigna Foundation is looking to partner with school systems and surrounding communities — including clinicians, local and national nonprofits — to supplement existing mental health programming and help close gaps both within and outside the school environment to address loneliness, anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. To that end, it will fund programs that foster collaboration between various stakeholders, including school administrators and teachers, clinicians, and local and national nonprofits. The grants are up to $65,000 grants per year for two years. Learn more and apply.

6. USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Foundational and Applied Science Program RFA
Deadlines: Vary based on program, view RFA for details
The AFRI Foundational and Applied Science Program supports grants in six AFRI priority areas to advance knowledge in both fundamental and applied sciences important to agriculture. The six priority areas are: Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities. Research-only, extension-only, and integrated research, education and/or extension projects are solicited in this Request for Applications (RFA). See Foundational and Applied Science RFA for specific details.


Webinars & Events
1. Horizon Summer Camp - Farm Education Video Series
July 2020
Horizon Organic is opening up the barn doors for Summer Camp! Kids and families are invited to tune-in to this summer camp video series to get a behind-the-scenes look at farm life. Throughout July, Horizon will be sharing fun and education activities - like creative ways to upcycle milk cartons, how to milk a cow, and a farm tour - on their YouTube page. Check-in weekly to see what's new at camp! Watch the summer camp video series here: www.youtube.com/HorizonDairy
2. COVID-19 USDA Adapting SNAP-Ed to COVID-19 Webinar Series
The SNAP-Ed Connection and the SNAP-Ed Toolkit invite you to join us for a 3-part webinar series where you’ll hear from state and local SNAP-Ed programs who are creating, innovating, and delivering SNAP-Ed remotely in the COVID-19 era. Register here.  The next webinar is, July 28, 1-2:30 PM EST Adapting SNAP-Ed Programming to Remote Delivery

3. One Day Workshop: Speciality Crops Challenges: Crop Insurance, Citrus Greening, Labor and Water
July 29 // 10:30AM to 6:30PM EST (7:30-3:30 PT)
The Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics is proud to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service to promote this free, one-day workshop. This program is a pre-conference online workshop ahead of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association’s annual meeting Aug. 10-11. There’s no fee, but admission is limited to the first 100 registrants, and organizers ask that only those who can commit to the full, day-long workshop sign up. Learn more and register.

4. Webinar: Protecting Pollinators: Nurturing Sustainable Communities with Pollinator Gardens
July 30 // 1PM EST
Join ioby and Island Press for a conversation about turning areas historically dominated by invasive species into vibrant pollinator habitats. See why these pollinators are so important not just to our natural world, but to our local neighborhoods as well. And, get perspectives from project leaders that successfully created thriving pollinator gardens in their local communities. Register here.

5. COVID-19 EQUITY Webinar: Ending the Triple Pandemic: Advancing Racial Equity by Promoting Health, Economic Opportunity and Criminal Justice Reform
July 30 // 2-3:30pm ET
Join Trust for America’s Health, American Public Health Association, NAACP, and the National Collaborative for Health Equity for a congressional briefing that will discuss the disproportionate health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Black community and other communities of color, and how structural racism drives systemic inequities in health, the economy, and criminal justice. The session will also highlight policy recommendations to move the nation toward equitable opportunity and racial justice. With remarks by the Honorable Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL) and the Honorable Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). Register here.

6. National Farmers Market Week
August 2-8
National Farmers Market Week (NFMW) is an annual celebration that highlights the important role farmers markets play in the nation’s food system. This year, amidst a global pandemic and nationwide unrest, it is more important than ever for markets to do their part in bringing people together safely. Learn more and participate.

7. USDA Produce Safety University Summer Series
August 4 // 2PM CST
As a supplement to the 2020 Produce Safety University (PSU) program, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Office of Food Safety (OFS) and its training partners – the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Chef Cyndie Story, PhD, RDN, CC, of Culinary Solutions, LLC. – have developed a four-part webinar series for school nutrition professionals addressing the most popular topics presented at Produce Safety University. Each webinar is an individual learning opportunity, and you can participate in one or more as you choose. There is a separate registration page for each, and all webinars begin at 2 pm CST every Tuesday in August.
August 4 - How to Use AMS Market News Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Information in School Meal Programs

8. EQUITY Webinar: From 21 to 365: The FSNE 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge - Where are we now and how are we moving from here?
August 6 // 1PM EST
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) invited those of you who took part in the FSNE 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge to join us for a participatory** online session to revisit our shared learnings from the Challenge, consider them in light of what has been happening in the weeks since, and hear from one another in small groups about how we are applying our knowledge and commitments to take action now and in the year ahead. There is no charge to attend, but registration is required. Please come prepared to listen, learn, be inspired and to share your thoughts if you are moved to do so.

9. Virtual Event: Child Care and Early Education Policy Research Consortium 2020 Annual Meeting
August -September 2020
The Child Care and Early Education Policy Research Consortium 2020 Annual Meeting (CCEEPRC 2020) will be featured as virtual events starting in July and continuing through September. This meeting is the collective effort of the Consortium – a rich network of stakeholders working in a variety of professional spaces who are committed to strengthening the bridges between child care and early education research and policies. The CCEEPRC 2020 virtual events build on continuing discussions, while also trying to foster new connections and inquiries. To this end, sessions bring together researchers, policymakers, and practitioners engaged in policy-related Child Care and Head Start research to share findings/innovations, discuss challenges and solutions, and generally make connections across projects to maximize what we can learn from OPRE-funded research. Click here for session and agenda information. 


Research & Resources
1. NFSN COVID-19 National Farm to School Network  (NFSN) COVID Support Survey
More than 100 days into the COVID-19 pandemic, NFSN remains committed to supporting you, the farm to school & ECE community, through this crisis. As a new school year approaches, we're pausing to ask - what kinds of support can National Farm to School Network provide to help you do your work in the coming months? Please take our short, 8 question survey to share your feedback!

2. No Kid Hungry Back to School Resources
These resources are designed to help schools and child nutrition program operators navigate the unprecedented challenges of School Year 2020-2021 and ensure that children continue to receive the nutrition they need. No Kid Hungry will continue adding new resources and updating this page. View the repository here.

3.  COVID-19 North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE): Environmental Education Guidance for Reopening Schools
Reopening schools will require new or modified procedures for everything from classroom configuration and educational plans to arrival and departure schedules, transportation, and health screenings. Community-based environmental and outdoor education programs can help to address these dire needs and discrepancies through innovative partnerships and educational investments and policies. This guide, developed by NAAEE and members of its Affiliate Network, presents information and strategies for how community-based environmental and outdoor education programs can help schools to equitably reopen during and after the COVID-19 crisis.  Read more.

4. COVID-19 Call for Papers: Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development  (JAFSCD) Call for Papers on COVID-19 and the Food System
Deadline: September 30
JAFSCD is calling for four types of submissions related to COVID-19 and the Food System. Three options for immediate publication are COVID-19 Policy and Practice Briefs, COVID-19 Voices from the Grassroots essays, and COVID-19 Commentaries. The COVID-19 pandemic is stretching community safety nets to the breaking point and even snapping them. Even the mainstream food supply is threatened, as farmers who have been dealing with distortions in the global food system due to trade wars and climate change are scrambling to find and protect laborers who are the backbone of the food supply. JAFSCD would like to share how the good food movement is responding to these issues. Learn more.

5.  COVID-19 Green Schoolyard Americas COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Resources and Guidance
Schools across the United States are facing an uphill battle as they figure out how to navigate COVID-19 physical distancing requirements that will allow students to return to campus. Repurposing outdoor spaces is a cost-effective way to reduce the burden on indoor classrooms while providing fresh air, hands-on learning opportunities, and the health benefits associated with increased access to nature. This webpage shares information for the new National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. Learn more.

6. Help Michigan State University Extension Learn More About Farm to Institution Produce Safety
Deadline: August 31
Do you purchase fresh produce for an institution or know someone that does? Participate in a national survey about institutional food safety programs to inform educational initiatives for fresh produce buyers. The aim of this survey is to gather data on accepted food safety verification programs for fresh produce, awareness of the program’s requirements for farms, and confidence in these verification programs. Please consider taking and/or sharing a survey by the Michigan State University Extension about food safety requirements for suppliers. All of the questions are in multiple choice format and the survey will take an estimated time of 7 minutes to complete. Responses are anonymous and participation is completely voluntary. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the survey, feel free to contact Mariel Borgman from MSU Extension at mborgm@msu.edu. Learn more.

7. EQUITY Indigenous Futures Survey Research Project
Deadline: August 1
IllumiNative, Native Organizers Alliance, and Aspen Institute’s Center for Native American Youth are partnering with acclaimed researchers Dr. Stephanie Fryberg (Tulalip) of the University of Michigan and Dr. Arianne Eason of the University of California, Berkeley, to conduct the Indigenous Futures Survey -- a groundbreaking research project for Native peoples by Native peoples. The 15-20 minute survey launched Tuesday, June 23, 2020 and will close on August 1, 2020. IFS researchers are looking to reach as many Native relatives as possible, and are seeking to partner with organizations and tribal leaders to help disseminate the survey to at least 2,000 participants 18 years of age and older. IFS disseminating organizations and tribes can request access to data collected from the survey to be helpful to their future work. To participate in the IFP survey dissemination, or have questions regarding the survey, please email indigenousfuture@aspeninstitute.org or call (202) 736-2905. Learn more and take the survey.  

8. Resource: Tips for Caring for a Garden with Young Children
Need a break from the virtual world? Georgia Organics and Georgia Farm to Early Care and Education have developed some simple tips for gardening with toddlers to fiver-year olds. Check out the video here.


Policy News
1. COVID-19 NFSN Sign-On To Endorse NFSN's COVID-19 Federal Policy Platform
As Congress works to finalize its next COVID-19 response bill, NOW is that time to make our voices heard. National Farm to School Network's federal policy platform calls on Congress to strengthen its support for school meal and child nutrition programs, farmers and those who feed us, Native communities, essential workers, children and families, and others who have been historically underserved and underrepresented. Please add your voice by endorsing our federal COVID-19 policy platform, and help us advocate for key food systems priorities on Capitol Hill. Sign on here.

2. Call for Nominations: USDA's National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board (NAREEEAB) Vacancies 
Deadline: July 31 
NAREEEAB provides advice to the Secretary of Agriculture and land-grant colleges and universities on top priorities and policies for food and agricultural research, education, extension, and economics. The NAREEEAB's main objective is to contribute to effective federal agricultural research, education and economics programs through broad stakeholder feedback and sound science in its ongoing role as advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Advisory Board also, by law, provides reports and recommendations to the appropriate agricultural committees of the U.S. Congress. Membership categories include representatives from: National Farm or Producer Organizations, Academic or Research Societies, Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education, and Industry, Consumer, or Rural Interests. Many members have diversified expertise and occupations and are well-respected leaders in their respective areas. There are currently fourteen vacancies on the NAREEE Advisory Board. View the Federal Register.

3. National School Lunch, Special Milk, and School Breakfast Programs; National Average Payments/Maximum Reimbursement Rates (July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021)
The annual payments and rates adjustments for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs reflect changes in the Food Away From Home series of the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. The annual rate adjustment for the Special Milk Program reflects changes in the Producer Price Index for Fluid Milk Products. The payments and rates are prescribed on an annual basis each July. Overall, reimbursement rates this year for the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs either remained the same or increased compared to last year while the rate for the Special Milk Program went down slightly. Learn more.

4. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Offers Grant to Support Farm to School Connections
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has released a grant for both schools and food vendors. The Department of Ag hopes this grant will help communities grow and strengthen farm to school connections across Minnesota. Read more.

5. United Nation's Policy Brief on Food Insecurity
There is more than enough food in the world to feed the world’s population of 7.8 billion people. But, today, more than 690 million people are hungry, the food systems are failing, and the Covid-19 pandemic is making things worse. It is increasingly clear that we must act now to address the impending global food emergency and avoid the worst impacts of the pandemic, the Secretary-General stresses in his latest Policy Brief on Food Security. Read more.


In The News
The Last Mile
National Farm to School Network's Policy Team have written an op-ed on how the last mile– between food distribution sites and their front doors – can be the hardest for students and families as well as food distributors. "During and after this public health crisis, public investments should increase the capacity of local and regional food systems to bridge that last mile." Read more.

Stories from the Front Lines: Betti Wiggins
Betti Wiggins, current director of food & nutrition services for the Houston Independent School District and former National Farm to School Network Advisor, talks about her career and her challenges as a Black woman taking her up through the industry from segregated hospital kitchens in the early 1970s through receding but still real discrimination in the following decades. (Food Management)

Millions of Kids May Lose Out on Free Meals as They Return to School
During the spring and summer, as the coronavirus health crisis exploded, the government allowed most families to pick up free meals from whichever school was closest or most convenient without proving they were low-income. But that effort is on the verge of expiring as states prepare for children to return to school, and as school systems are pushing the federal government to continue the free meals program through the fall. (Politico)

Read past editions of This Week for more funding opportunities, webinars and events, jobs, and ways to take action to support farm to school growth across the country.

The Last Mile

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 22, 2020

By Karen Spangler, Policy Director, and Erika Rincon, Program and Policy Assistant

Whether you’re a farmer, food bank or school serving meals to-go during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last mile is frequently the hardest equation to solve. It’s one that the USDA “Farmers to Families” program has aimed to cover, with $3 billion in contracts with vendors to provide nonprofits with “truck to trunk” food distribution. But as food banks and other community organizations apply for deliveries from the approved vendors, that last mile – getting the delivered food into the hands of the hungry – is turning out to be a considerable barrier. The CEO at the Food Bank of the Rockies says that distributing food donated through the Farmers to Families program is costing $40,000 per month just for transportation. Since May 15, the San Antonio Food Bank has spent more than $83,000 to store and distribute the food they’ve received from an event company that was awarded the USDA contract for the region.

Like food banks, schools all over the country have drastically altered how they feed kids during this pandemic, pivoting to outdoor distribution, grab-and-go pre-packaged food and social distancing in their kitchens. But the last mile for students – between food distribution sites and their front doors –  can be the hardest. In the first few weeks of distribution this spring, some schools saw only a fraction of their usual free and reduced-price eligible students showing up to collect meals, sometimes attributing this to lack of transportation. So some schools mobilized their dormant fleet of school buses and drivers to deliver meals to distribution locations throughout their districts.

For low-income families who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or who have received Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) to feed their kids while school meals are unavailable, the expansion of online EBT purchases offers the potential to make purchases without risking exposure. However, in most states this expedited pilot includes only a few big retailers, leaving out local and regional producers who could serve this market. Moreover, online EBT customers do not have the option for pickup in many states, but delivery fees can’t be covered by SNAP or P-EBT funds (which must be used only for food). Immediate measures to help smaller retailers deliver during the pandemic, as well as long-term solutions to make sure all eligible retailers can accept online SNAP, have been proposed in Congress but not yet passed.  

For those who are able to stay home, delivery services spare customers exposure from going into grocery stores with long lines or tight spaces. But the increasing reliance on convenient delivery means that the last mile – from the warehouse, grocery store, or restaurant – is served by workers who are risking exposure. 

Food banks and local food pantries also face their own challenges in the last mile, the miles that patrons have to travel to access these distribution sites. A recent survey by Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks, reported that 40% of clients are getting help from a food bank for the first time. For these new customers, first identifying and then traveling to a distribution location can be challenging, especially when avoiding public transportation. Some food banks have undertaken mapping projects to link customers with resources and help them find out what’s available in their area. 

Farmers who relied on institutional sales to restaurants or schools have been left with a surplus in their fields, but for them, the last mile to the food bank is expensive and time-consuming. The cost of harvest, transportation, and navigating the patchwork of operating hours of local food pantries – often narrow windows of time, constrained by volunteers (many of whom are elderly at at high-risk) and a lack of storage capability at the distribution site – means extra difficulty in getting excess produce to its destination. New York state is trying to solve this problem through $5,000 refundable tax credits to farmers for donating crops, and $25 million in funds for food banks to buy from local and regional producers and invest in storage capacity. This approach is faster, more flexible, and more cost-effective than the federal Farmers to Families approach.

The “last mile” is often an afterthought in government programs, as evidenced by the Farmers to Families dilemma. COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to evaluate our supply chain and the security of our food system. During and after this public health crisis, public investments should increase the capacity of local and regional food systems to bridge that last mile. 

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