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National Farm to School Network


Farm to School and National Agriculture in the Classroom

NFSN Staff Monday, May 20, 2019
By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

Food and agriculture education is a core element of farm to school and is vital to developing comprehensive and impactful farm to school programs. The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO) and its member state programs, such as the Healthy Communities of the Capital Area (HCCA) in Maine, provide K-12 teachers with educational resources and programs that use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and more. 

Education is a priority area for farm to school, making NAITCO and HCCA natural and ideal partners for increasing farm to school efforts at both the national and state level. The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization is a national nonprofit aimed at working in K-12 education to increase agricultural literacy, the ability to understand and communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life. They work with agriculture programs in most of the 50 states and D.C. to provide resources and standards-based lesson plans and activities. In 2017 alone, NAITCO reached 7.3 million students and 118,000 teachers in K-12, and uses their state partnerships and national conference to demonstrate agriculture related lessons to K-12 classroom teachers from around the US.

Florida Agriculture in the Classroom (FAITC), in partnership with the Florida Nutrition and Wellness Program works to increase agriculture education by holding teacher workshops together throughout the state.FAITC demonstrates K-12 lessons and activities, while FNW’s Chef Paula talks about food and garden harvest, safety, and demonstrates simple recipes that teachers can prepare in the classroom. Together, the two organizations partner to hold a statewide recipe contest to further promote each groups’ programs and increase agricultural education throughout Florida.

Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC), a part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, works to promote the understanding of agriculture and natural resources among students, educators, and the general public. MAITC works closely with Maine Farm to School Network (MFSN) to further increase the reach of the resources, trainings, and conferences available to teachers. MAITC offers grant support to teachers for a broad range of farm to school activities, which provide teachers with training and resources to help start and maintain school gardens, bring agriculture activities to their classrooms, and attend conferences

In addition to helping educators attend the MFSN conference, MAITC works to increase access to resources that enhance farm to school activities in their classrooms and schools. The Read ME Ag program enlists volunteers to read a new book written each year about Maine agriculture.

To learn more about the opportunities and benefits of partnerships between agriculture in the classroom and farm to school, watch a recording of our May 2019 Trending Topics Webinar: Farm to School and National Agriculture in the Classroom.

Bring Stories Into Farm to School this National Library Week

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 10, 2019

By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

April 7-13 is National Library Week, a week to celebrate the opportunities libraries offer to everyone through the free use of books and other resources. Libraries are a natural pairing with farm to school, and the two can work together to connect students everywhere to stories that grow their knowledge of local foods, gardens, agriculture, health, and nutrition.

Here are a list of book ideas that can help strengthen and grow your farm to school activities:

City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan: Marcy decides to transform a vacant lot on her block into a vibrant garden that brings her neighborhood together. A positive story about community action and growing spaces in a big city.

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root: This fun, rhyming mantra teaches readers that almost anything - a box, a bucket, a boot, or a pan - can be used for growing if you have a seed and someone to plant it!

Our School Garden by Rick Swan: Michael enters his new school feeling lonely, until he discovers his school’s garden, where every season offers new lessons to learn and new friends to make.

Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson: This book gives farmers a face, giving readers an introduction to all the work that must be done before food reaches our tables for us to eat.

Food and Farming (Geography for Fun) by Pam Robson: This interactive book provides projects for young readers to think about where food comes from, introducing them to a variety of aspects of the food system, from soil health to food transportation.

Plants Feed Me by Lizzy Rockwell: This book gives students a beautiful introduction to the parts of plants we eat, with easy-to-read labeled diagrams and illustrations!

I Will Never Not Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child: Lola is a picky eater who won’t try new foods until her big brother Charlie makes them more fun and exciting. This story is perfect for picky eaters about the importance of trying new things!

The Perfectly Wonky Carrot by Newmany: Tap Carrotsworth is a strange looking carrot who enters a fruit and vegetable beauty contest to prove there’s nothing wrong with being different. This fun story touches on self-confidence and sustainability, encouraging readers to be themselves and reach for the less-than-perfect foods they see.

Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre: This interactive book celebrates fresh vegetables and the excitement of healthy eating, encouraging kids to get involved and chant along!

Local Foods
To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure:
This book follows a mother and son on a trip to their weekly market. Each food they choose is introduced to readers, who learn how each food arrived at the market, from the growing process to the present.

How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food (Exploring the Everyday) by Chris Butterworth: This book is a great introduction to the steps it takes to produce food, from planting to picking and beyond.
Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson: This story follows one family’s tradition of making applesauce with the first apples of the season. It describes the buying, peeling, cooking, and stirring, introducing students to the cooking process and providing an appreciation for food rituals!

These are just a few of the countless books available to try this National Library Week! Check out these additional lists for even more farm to school story ideas:

FoodSpan: Teaching the food system farm to fork

NFSN Staff Monday, March 11, 2019

Guest post by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

While public interest in where our food comes from continues to grow, there is a dearth of resources available for teaching young people about the food system. That’s a key reason the FoodSpan curriculum created by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has hit the mark with a lot of educators, especially those teaching social studies, science, and family and consumer sciences, but also health and language arts.

As of March 1, FoodSpan lesson plans had been downloaded nearly 57,000 times. This free online curriculum contains 17 lesson plans that span the food system from production through consumption and also includes lessons on food waste, food safety and food policy. It culminates with a food citizen action project, which gives students an opportunity to put their new knowledge to work by designing an intervention to address a food system problem.

“FoodSpan provides the materials and lessons necessary for our students to investigate critical issues surrounding public health, equity in food resources, sustainability, and the environment,” said Mike Wierzbicki, a social studies teacher at North County High School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. “The lesson plans are filled with tremendous visuals that capture student attention and promote a deep understanding of material.”

FoodSpan dovetails well with the work of the National Farm to School Network, which works to empowers children and their families to make informed food choices.

This inquiry-based curriculum is designed for high school students but has been frequently adapted for use at both higher and lower education levels. It is written at a ninth-grade reading level. FoodSpan lessons also align with national education standards including NGSS, NCSS, CCSS for English Language Arts & Literacy, and NHES.

Teachers can use FoodSpan in its entirety, or pick and choose lessons they think will be most relevant or engaging for their students. The most downloaded lesson is the introductory “Exploring Our Food System.” It gets students thinking about food in a systemic way, for example by following food items through the supply chain, and by looking at relationships among myriad players in the food system, including people, institutions, and natural resources. Lessons on crops and on the industrialization of agriculture are also among the most popular.

The curriculum includes 140 activities, including 62 extension activities. Among many other things, students are challenged to:

  • Assess the food environment in their school
  • Create food maps
  • Devise educational and advertising campaigns
  • Develop presentations for policy makers
  • Investigate a foodborne illness outbreak
  • Debate controversial food system topics
  • Journal about their personal views after each lesson
  • Produce art projects (e.g., posters, infographics, videos)
  • Watch and discuss food-related films
Teachers who want to get up to speed on a food system topic before presenting it to their students can benefit from CLF’s Food System Primer, which offers short readings on many topics, along with links to further reading. Teachers can also point students to this resource, particularly if they have been assigned to write a report on a food system topic.

CLF also maintains a Food System Lab in a Baltimore greenhouse, providing “real-world examples of solutions to these pressing issues” in the food system, as Wierzbicki put it. The Lab uses its aquaponics and composting projects as jumping-off points to discuss larger food system topics.

The Center for a Livable Future (CLF) has been a leader in “food system thinking” for more than 20 years. CLF teaches about the food system, both at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and through online courses available to the public. It has produced a textbook called Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity.

Learn more about the FoodSpan curriculum here.

Getting school gardens ready for back to school

NFSN Staff Wednesday, August 15, 2018

By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

Back to school: a season of crisp new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and often, overgrown, untended school gardens, wilting from the summer heat. Whether you’re trying to get your garden in shape before school starts or want to plan your first few class garden days to get ready for the year ahead, here are some simple reminders to get you growing in the right direction.

Make a plan. It’s hard to plan ahead, but it’s even harder to plan while juggling everything else that the school year brings. Try to put aside a little time to set some goals for your garden this year: What do you want to plant? When? Where? What can you improve upon from years past? What is a dream you have for your garden this year? Don’t feel pressured to stick rigidly to your plan, but put it somewhere you will see it often and use it as an inspiration and a guiding post when the year gets hectic.

Pull some weeds! I have a love/hate relationship with weeds. I have been known to say of my school gardens: “Who cares what the garden looks like, as long as we’re learning!” Having said this, I have to admit that pulling weeds does make a garden look nice and fresh, and there’s something about getting things in order that just feels right at the beginning of the school year. Start or end each time you’re in the garden with a few minutes of rigorous weed pulling and slowly chip away at any summer weeds that may have taken over your garden. Or better yet, if you don’t get to those weeds before the school year starts, implement some weed pulling contests in each garden class or at recess time until your problem is gone (or at least temporarily managed).

Plant something new. Once your weeds are pulled and your gardens are looking fresh, decide which of the remaining plants you want to keep and which are ready to go. Then, use your plan to get something new growing. Depending on where in the country you live, planting at the beginning of the school year may not yield your best harvests, but just like pulling those weeds, getting something planted sets a good intention for the year ahead.

Include your gardens in Back-to-School Night. Back-to-School Nights are a great time to show off your gardens and engage with families. If you work better with a deadline, the pressure of Back-to-School Night might be just the kick you need to get your garden looking spiffy in a timely manner! And if the garden isn’t looking its prettiest by then, that just might help your case in recruiting volunteers.

Relax! Most importantly, remember that your school garden does not have to look perfect when the school year starts (or ever)! Perfect is rarely fun or interesting. Gardens are living things, and as such, they are constantly growing and changing. Even though you may have a long list of garden tasks you want to complete before your garden is “ready” for students, take comfort in knowing that those tasks you feel piling up are fun and interesting learning opportunities.

Looking for more ideas to keep your school garden growing strong? Find garden lesson plans, garden to cafeteria guides, garden assessment tools and more by searching the “School Garden” topic in our Resource Library.

Local Food Sheroes

NFSN Staff Monday, March 26, 2018

By Molly Schintler, Communication Intern

March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, I knew that I wanted to write a blog focused on the role of women in food and agriculture. Originally, I envisioned focusing on historical, female leaders whose work laid the foundation for today’s food and agriculture systems. In retrospect, this may have been a bit ambitious. Thankfully, however, I have access to a powerful resource in the many individuals and organizations that make up the National Farm to School Network. When I reached out and asked our partners to share the names of female leaders, past and present, who have played an important role in food and agriculture in the U.S., almost all of those who responded shared the names of women who they know personally.

Many partners mentioned female colleagues, political representatives, and leaders of non-profits as women who have inspired them in their farm to school work. But inspirational women working in food systems existed long before 2018. Throughout history, women have been farmers, researchers, educators, political activists, scholars, marketers, and more in the name of advancing food systems. Who were the original lunch ladies? Who were the first women to champion agriculture education?  Which female farmers planted seeds of change, literal and figurative, in their communities a hundred years ago?

To quote Dolores Huerta, a historical food activist who is still leading change in our food system today: “That's the history of the world. His story is told, her's isn't.” Dolores co-founded the National Farm Workers Association alongside César Chávez in the 1960s. For decades, she has championed farmworkers rights, and yet many people recognize Chávez’s name and not Huerta’s. For me, it is not about recognizing a name for the sake of recognizing a name. It is about knowing a women’s name because you’ve heard her story. It is about saying a women’s name because you are teaching others about her contribution to our food system. Dolores Huerta is one of so many female food leaders who our farm to school work can and should be teaching about. 

If today’s students are taught about local food sheroes past and present, then we can start to tell a more complete, equitable history of our nation’s food system. In the garden, classroom, and cafeteria, let’s educate our students about the:

Activism of Fannie Lou Hamer, who in 1969, founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in opposition to the inequitable and pervasive sharecropping system of agriculture. She also led early, grassroots organizing in support of Head Start programs.

Leadership of Denise O’Brien, who, when asked about her life’s work as a farmer and founder of the Women Food & Agriculture Network said, “My life has been devoted to raising women’s voices in agriculture. My dream is that the landscape of industrialized agriculture will change as women become the decision makers on their land. To that end I will devote my time on this earth to women, prairie restoration and seed saving.” 

Vision of Chef Ann Cooper, who is devoted to creating a future where being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food is no longer considered “renegade.” 

Persistence of Karen Washington, who has lived in New York City all her life, and has spent decades promoting urban farming as a way for all New Yorkers to access to fresh, locally grown food.

Initiative of Chellie Pingree, who has been an advocate in Congress for reforming federal policy to better support the diverse range of American agriculture—including sustainable, organic, and locally focused farming. 

Talent of M.F.K Fisher, who elevated food writing to poetry as a preeminent American food writer in the 20th century.

Community Organizing of Gloria Begay, a Navajo educator and founding Naat’aanii Council member of the Dine’ Food Sovereignty Alliance to restore the traditional food and culture system on the Navajo Nation. 

Trailblazing of Betti Wiggins, who has worked to feed kids healthy food for over 30 years. As the director of food service for the Detroit Public Schools, Betti reformed the school lunch program through championing school gardens and local food. Today, she is still trailblazing for school food as Houston school dictrict’s officer of nutrition services.

Promise of Haile Thomas, who at the age of seventeen, is leading her generation toward a healthier food system. As a health activist and founder/CEO of The HAPPY Organization, Haile has engaged over 15,000 kids in activism since 2010.  Haile will be a keynote speaker at the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference this April. 

Our network extends our humble thanks to the many women and non-binary identifying people whose work has built and continues our food system toward a more healthy, equitable future.  We may never know all of your names, but we certainly know that our work would never be possible without you.  Thank you for being local food heroes and sheroes! 

Youth empowerment through farm to school

NFSN Staff Friday, December 15, 2017
By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern
At our 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in June 2016, LaDonna Redmond gave keynote remarks focused on ending systemic oppression in the food system. In her address, she urged the audience to understand that “every community has the intellect to heal itself.” She explained that the role of individuals working within farm to cafeteria is to use our skillset to uncover the intellect in our communities so that people believe in themselves. What if this approach was seriously considered within farm to school and farm to early care and education work? What would it look like for youth to be leading the movement? 

Many organizations throughout the country focus on youth leadership as a way to further farm to school efforts.  In our most recent Trending Topics: Youth Engagement through Farm to School Webinar, our network highlighted three organizations that put youth empowerment front and center in their work: 

  • YES! Youth Empowered Solutions: Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!) is a nonprofit organization that empowers youth, in partnership with adults, to create community change. 
  • Alameda County Office of Education’s Project EAT:  Project Eat works to end health inequities and close the achievement gap in school communities.
  • Vermont FEED’s Jr. Iron Chef VT: This statewide culinary competition challenges teams of middle and high school students to understand how they can effect change in the food system by creating healthy, local dishes that inspire school meal programs.
Mary Beth Louks-Sorrell, Executive Director for YES! highlighted that when youth are not included, “One fourth of the population is being ignored, instead of tapped for their potential to contribute to improving things.” Additionally, Mary Beth offered up a set of best practices to consider before starting work with youth, including asking these questions:

  • What will be the role of youth in your work?
  • What do you hope to achieve from the inclusion of youth
  • Why are you interested in the thoughts, ideas, input, and leadership of youth?
  • What are some ways you might envision the way you and your organization operates or the direction of the work changing once youth are involved? 
Vermont FEED’s School Food Programs Coordinator, Marissa Watson commented on the importance of holding space for kids to participate, stating that, “school food change takes many players: students, food service, parents, and the community.” 
Kate Casale from Alameda County’s Office of Education explained that including youth as leaders within farm to school work is a perfect opportunity to tap into their creativity and innate interest in justice. She also reminds us about the importance of letting youth tell their stories in their own words. 

Jason, a seventeen year old from the program Bronx Youth Force explains, “If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.” 

Young people are the changes makers of tomorrow, and today. Their ideas, contributions and voices are invaluable to the work of growing more just and equitable food systems, and we should always be conscious to have a place for them at the table. 

Appetite For Change is a North Minneapolis nonprofit organization that uses food as a tool to build health, wealth and social change. "Grow Food" is the culminating project of Appetite For Change's Summer 2016 Youth Employment & Training Program. Urban Youth wanted to share their message - the importance of actively choosing healthy foods - with their peers in a fun, accessible music format. Learn more about Appetite For Change here.

If you are interested in learning more about youth leadership within farm to school and the local food movement, we invited you to join us at the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio in April 2018. An entire conference workshop track is dedicated to “Youth Leadership and Engagement” within the farm to cafeteria movement, and we’d love to have you be part of the conversation! 

Photo Credits (from top to bottom): Vermont FEED and Alameda County Office of Education (middle and bottom). 

Tower Garden Grows More Than Plants

NFSN Staff Monday, October 23, 2017
By Jesse Graytock, Program Manager, The NEA Foundation
Students walking by the window to Sabrina Sullivan Conner’s classroom were perplexed. The large white column that they saw didn’t seem to make any sense. Was it a birdhouse? A piece of a maintenance equipment? Some sort of elaborate game board?

It turns out that it was simply a way to bring farming not just to schools, but to have it in schools. At Strongsville Middle School in Strongsville, Ohio Mrs. Conner, an intervention specialist who works with students with moderate to intensive disabilities, used a $2,000 grant from the NEA Foundation to work with her students to build a tower garden in their classroom. The tower, which pumps water through a central base and then filters it up to twenty different vegetables and herbs, allowed students to grow crops year-round and served as an invaluable hands-on learning tool.

Students were responsible for building the tower, choosing and planting the vegetables and herbs, and maintaining the system, which included pruning, checking water levels, filling the tank, and harvesting. “We wanted to teach healthy living and vocational skills to individuals with autism, Down syndrome, and multiple disabilities,” said Mrs. Conner. “I want my students to have access to opportunities to build skills to help them eventually live independently.”

In addition to acting as a catalyst for experiential learning, the garden also led to a significant change in students’ eating habits. Once the province of chocolate and pretzels, snack periods morphed into sessions with tomatoes, spinach, and thyme. But this transition was not without some hiccups.

“At first they were very confused,” remembers Mrs. Conner. “Most of my students have autism and are very rigid with their diets. Some of them have never really tried fresh vegetables. Many have never given a thought to the growing process – they only knew that vegetables came from the store.”

As time passed, and as students began to realize the fruits (and veggies) of their labor, attitudes changed. One student developed a deep love for basil. Others enjoyed sliced cucumbers with a light dressing. Every week, a group of students would choose a recipe, make a list of ingredients, and cook a meal for each other. Their pride in the garden was palpable. 

After a few months of having the tower in the window, students in the general education population began to ask how they could get involved. Eventually more than 100 students signed up to volunteer to assist their special needs peers with planting and harvesting.

The success of the project can’t be measured simply by students’ new appreciation for vocational skills, healthy living, and life science (although that was clear). For Mrs. Conner, the deep impact comes in the form of watching her students embrace this type of hands-on learning and turn it into a self-directed odyssey. “I’ll catch them smelling the plants and trimming off dead leaves or overgrowth independently and unprompted,” she recalls.

“They inspire me every day.”

Sabrina Sullivan is an intervention specialist at Strongsville Middle School in Strongsville, Ohio. She and thousands of other educators throughout the country have received a grant from the NEA Foundation. To apply for a $2,000 or $5,000 grant for classroom projects or professional development endeavors, visit

Farm to School in the Every Student Succeeds Act

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 08, 2017
By Ariel Bernstein, Farm to School and Education Fellow

Farm to school is a multifaceted movement with many intersecting components. As stakeholders continue to engage in policy levers for farm to school, a large piece of education legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), comes into the conversation. To help you stay aware of and take advantage of the opportunities this legislation provides, the National Farm to School Network has created a toolkit outlining how farm to school engages with ESSA. As the farm to school movement continues to grow, it is imperative to seek new opportunities where farm to school can impact students and families. ESSA is one of them.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been one of the most important education policies to shape the way states and districts interact with their most vulnerable students and lowest performing schools. It has provided opportunities for low-income, migrants and native students, as well as outlined Title I funding, data reporting and many forms of enrichment education. In December of 2015, Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into legislation, reauthorizing ESEA and replacing its predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA has taken a different approach than NCLB did, shifting more decision making authority to states, opposed to having power concentrated at the federal level. Under the new legislation, State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) design their own education plans, giving them leverage to choose how federal funding is used. ESSA also has a heavy focus on non-academic factors that contribute to improving education. Aspects such as school climate, health and wellness, and family engagement are being pulled into conversations about student success, creating a more holistic and well-rounded educational environment for students.

These themes provide great potential for farm to school and early care and education (ECE) to interact with this legislation. There are opportunities for the inclusion of farm to school and ECE in the design and implementation of state and local plans for ESSA. Farm to school can improve educational outcomes through methods such as social and emotional learning, health and food education, family and community engagement, and healthier school climate, just to name a few. ESSA’s focus on well rounded education is a great connection point for farm to school, and one that should be taken advantage of by educators, school health professionals, parents advocates and all other farm to school stakeholders.

With education as one of the three core elements of farm to school, it is key that we stay engaged with this legislation and the opportunities it provides. This new toolkit is designed for educators, advocates, parents and farm to school and ECE stakeholders to understand and act upon the opportunities ESSA offers, and to continue to expand the reach of farm to school and ECE in our communities. 

Ready to learn more? Join us on March 21, 3-4pm ET, for a Q&A style webinar about farm to school in ESSA. Register here. Or, contact Ariel Bernstein, National Farm to School Network Farm to School and Education Fellow, at

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