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National Farm to School Network

News

Supporting Our Community: Farm to School and COVID-19

NFSN Staff Thursday, March 19, 2020

By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director, and Anna Mullen, Communications Director

At its core, farm to school is all about community: when schools, farms, children, families, organizations and businesses come together in mutual support for mutual wellbeing, there’s inherent strength and resilience. That’s the power of community and the power of farm to school. And during this challenging and unexpected moment, it’s the energy of collective community that’s keeping us going. While many public spaces have been closed and our daily routines altered, we know that many of National Farm to School Network’s Partners, Advisors and members across the country are working harder than ever to care for those most impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. Your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed - thank you for all you’re doing. You are the people that make our communities strong. 

As a national organization partnering with communities across the country, NFSN is adapting internally as a staff and externally in the work we do day-in and day-out to keep supporting you, the farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) community, in this rapidly changing and challenging environment. 

How we’re approaching our work

NFSN is committed to centering our work in racial and social equity, and that need is especially urgent now. This means shifting our energy to focus on advocacy efforts that can help address inequities that directly intersect with farm to school and ECE and are made more glaring in this current health crisis. It also means adjusting some of our other planned work, like postponing the 10th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, a decision made through a health equity lens; reprioritizing projects to give Partners more time and space to take care of themselves, their families and communities; and supporting our staff - who already work from home - with additional flexibilities to do what they need to take care of themselves and those closest to them.

We’ve also been listening to our state and national Partners about what support they need during this time. The situation has been fast moving and the needs, strategies and concerns of the farm to school and ECE community are fluid and still evolving. We’ve received questions about resources for helping school meal and child nutrition programs and other feeding efforts respond to the most urgent needs - see our compiled list of resources here. We’re also receiving questions about what the rapid changes to meal programs means for farmers, food producers, food hubs and others who rely on school markets as part of their business plans. Like many small businesses, this is an incredibly difficult situation for them. Our team is working right now to identify helpful information, strategies and tools that can address this sudden change in farm to school practices. If you have ideas or recommendations for this, please contact Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager, at lacy@farmtoschool.org. More coming soon. 

Advocacy opportunities for action now

In the meantime, there are actions we can take right now to keep supporting our community in the coming days and weeks. In particular, we know that this health crisis is exposing numerous inequities that intersect with farm to school and ECE – including millions of children living with the daily reality of not knowing where their next meal will come from, if not from school or early care. As a systems change anchor and advocacy organization, here are some relevant action opportunities we want to share that prioritize supporting those most vulnerable in our farm to school and ECE community: 

  • Support Hungry Kids and Families: Encourage legislators to take action to support families that rely on breakfast and lunch from school and early care settings. See six recommendations from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) here
  • Support Child Nutrition Programs and Staff: School nutrition professionals are doing extraordinary work to ensure ongoing access to child nutrition programs during school closures. Community partners can help support these efforts in numerous ways, including amplifying the message about sites that they are operating. FRAC has more information here
  • Support Early Care and Education Providers: Child care is essential and this crisis has shown that early childhood educators are a crucial part of our nation's fabric. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has 10 steps that states and districts should take to support child care here, and you can ask lawmakers to take federal action here.
  • Support Local and Regional Food Systems: Farmers and food producers are under strain. There are actions that Congress and USDA can take now to unlock already-appropriated funding to support them. Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have an overview of these actions here. Additional information about mitigating immediate harmful impacts on those selling through local and regional food markets is available here
  • Support Family Farmers: In addition to school and institutional markets, many family farmers rely on direct-to-consumer sales for their livelihood. Most farmers’ markets are still open and they are taking extra precautions to help family farmers keep providing fresh, local food to their communities. Be sure to support them! See more from the Farmers Market Coalition here. Additionally, National Young Farmers Coalition has a "Call to Action" to urge your Members of Congress to keep young farmers and ranchers at the forefront of their relief efforts here.
  • Support Native Communities: Native communities and economies are in serious danger under this current health crisis, and ensuring food access in tribal communities is a top concern. The Native American Agriculture Fund, Seeds of Native Health, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and the Intertribal Agriculture Council are partners actively working on these issues. We are in touch with them, and will share actions that can be taken to support Native and tribal communities in the coming days and weeks..
  • Support Your Local Community: Get in touch with your NFSN State Partners to see how you can support local efforts with donations, volunteering or other efforts.  

Onward

In the immediacy of COVID-19, NFSN is here to support any and all efforts to ensure food reaches all children, families and communities. Please reach out to our team if there are ways we can support you. And, join our network to stay informed on our activities and actions in the weeks ahead.

Despite the extreme difficulties and pain that our global community is facing, we remain hopeful that this is an opportunity to unite in strengthening a just and equitable food system. We’re seeing in real time just how important this work is. While we may be physically distanced, we can spend this time virtually connected and planning and preparing to leverage farm to school and ECE to rebuild community food security and reinforce community connection. Community is at the heart of farm to school. And it’s community that will carry us forward through this time. 

In health, solidarity and community, 
Helen, Anna and the NFSN team 

Honoring Black History and Leadership in Farm to School

NFSN Staff Friday, February 28, 2020

By Anna Mullen, Communications Director

February is Black History Month, a dedicated time to pay attention to the power and resilience of the Black community and to celebrate the many Black leaders on whose shoulders we stand. For the National Farm to School Network, it’s also a time to recommit ourselves to being honest about the racism and inequities that persist within our field of work, and to reaffirm our commitment to working towards a vision of equity and justice. Listening, learning and reflecting on the histories, stories and wisdom of Black leaders in the food movement is one step in this journey, and we invite you to join us. Here are a few recommendations to get you started: 

EXPLORE: Black History Month Food and Farm Justice resource lists - HEAL Alliance

READ: Black Farmers Are Embracing Climate-Resilient Farming, by Leah Penniman - Civil Eats

WATCH: Malik Yankini on Food, Race and Justice - TEDxMuskegon

LISTEN: Karen Washington on Food Justice, Land Stewardship and Legacy Work - WhyHunger

MEET: The Black farm to school pioneers, leaders and kids in the picture above!

Top row:
  • Betti Wiggins, Officer of Nutrition Services at Houston Independent School District and former NFSN Advisory Board member.
  • Students at Kimball Elementary School in Washington, D.C. growing hydroponic lettuce and tomatoes.
  • LaDonna Redmond, founder and executive director of The Campaign for Food Justice Now.
  • A young gardener picking peas at the former K Street Farm in Washington, D.C.

Middle row:
  • Students enjoying a taste test at John Adams Elementary School in Riverside, Calif.
  • Glyen Holmes, founder of the New North Florida Cooperative, and a farm to school movement trailblazer. He's been helping small farmers in Florida sell to schools since the 1990s!
  • A little gardener learning about plants in Tennessee.
  • Rodney Taylor, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Fairfax County Public Schools, pioneer of "farm to school salad bars" in the 1990s, and former NFSN Advisory Board member.

Bottom row:

These are just a few of the many Black trailblazers, innovators and movement makers who are helping power farm to school efforts nationwide. There are many more - including on our staff, Advisory Board, in our network of Core and Supporting Partners, and others - who we also celebrate this month. 

While there are just a few days left of Black History Month 2020, our commitment to listening to and lifting up Black voices and leadership in farm to school doesn't stop at the end of February. Every day is the right day for being honest about and addressing the racism and inequities in our work. (You can read more about National Farm to School Network's commitment to centering our work in equity here.) In March and April, our staff will be participating in Food Solutions New England's 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge - sign up to join us. And, we encourage you join us in continuing to honor the Black leaders who have given, and continue to give, boundless wisdom, vision, creativity and commitment to the farm to school movement.

Centering Our Work in Equity: 2020 Plans & Opportunities

NFSN Staff Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Artwork by Bonnie Acker
In 2007, the National Farm to School Network was founded with core values of local and just food and a vision of equality in the food system. But it was not until more recent years that we’ve come to recognize that the fullest expression of our vision is ultimately equity and justice. Many of the systems and sectors within which farm to school exists—including the food system, education system, economic system, and other public institutions and structures—are deeply racialized and have in the past and continue in the present to exclude, disadvantage, and cause harm to Black, Indigenous, Latino, immigrant and other people of color in our communities. Systems like these that are failing anyone are failing all of us, and we can not engage in farm to school effectively without changing them.

As we begin this new decade, we’re reflecting on National Farm to School Network’s journey to centering our work in equity and focusing our intentions towards justice. Learn about our efforts in 2019 to further our commitment to equity, and see what we’re planning for in 2020 below.


By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

As I shared at the end of 2019, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) aims to center our work in equity and doing so requires persistence and patience. It also requires planning while knowing that this work is not linear, and partnerships while knowing that privilege impacts opportunity to engage. In the spirit of planning and partnerships, I am excited to share what we’re planning for in 2020 to continue NFSN’s equity journey and to invite you to join us in these efforts. This year, we’ll be: 

Updating our mission and vision statements to better reflect that we center our work in equity, and that justice is our end goal. 

Updating our equity commitment statement to better explain the history and intentional racism behind the cited statistics and our role in this work. 

Updating our core values to better highlight the myriad values embedded in farm to school, and then we’ll be pushing ourselves and our partners to strive for farm to school that supports not only local but also just food systems. 

Embedding programmatic equity content throughout our 10th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference program, from workshops and posters to keynotes and field trips. We’re also providing scholarships to make this important gathering more accessible to persons who have been impacted by racial and social inequities in the food system. (Be sure to save the dates: April 21-23, 2020 in Albuquerque, NM!)

Using our Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool to increase our capacity to identify inequities embedded within farm to school programming and policy advocacy initiatives, and to support decision making processes which maximize opportunities for advancing equity.

Starting all meetings with our community agreements.

Meeting monthly as staff and weekly as staff teams to discuss progress along our equity journey, and all staff are embedding equity goals into our job plans.

Allocating professional development funds to equity trainings for all new staff hires.

Participating in the 21-day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge starting on March 30. 

Hiring an equity consultant to facilitate some of the above activities and to offer us new, more impactful ways of thinking about our equity work.

Conducting biannual organizational equity assessments (and we may develop our own tool to do so), and we’ll be developing a dashboard to track progress on concrete goals. 

Seeking and engaging in celebrations and events like the National Day of Racial Healing, Black History Month, and Native American Heritage Month to share stories, listen, learn, and connect with other people, organizations and movements.

Using our financial resources to deepen farm to school engagement and impact in four high-opportunity locations via our network of partners, and to provide 20 travel stipends to ensure equitable access for participation in our Annual Farm to School Leaders Meeting.

Hosting the first NFSN Equity Learning Lab cohort.

And, we’re exploring more opportunities - like forming an NFSN Staff Equity Team, participating in equity trainings specific to our positions, developing a leadership plan for staff of color, and holding a staff training on how to talk about the equity imperative and what happens if it isn’t achieved. Centering our work in equity means being open to learning, creating and reflecting as we go. 

This is an extensive list for one year, but as I said in my last blog about our equity journey, this is work that must be done. Too many inequities in our food system and society persist. What from the list above inspires you? Have you reviewed your mission and vision statements lately with an equity lens? Have you tried out our equity tool? Have you even started conversations about equity in your communities? We want to hear from you!

If you are not already a member, please join us (it’s free) to stay up-to-date in 2020 for more regular news about our equity journey. And, if you’re inspired by reading this, we always welcome donations to support our continued equity journey. Happy New Year, and here’s to a bright and bold 2020 together! 

Centering Our Work in Equity: 2019 Reflections & Looking Ahead

NFSN Staff Friday, December 20, 2019

Artwork by Bonnie Acker
In 2007, the National Farm to School Network was founded with core values of local and just food and a vision of equality in the food system. But it was not until more recent years that we’ve come to recognize that the fullest expression of our vision is ultimately equity and justice. Many of the systems and sectors within which farm to school exists—including the food system, education system, economic system, and other public institutions and structures—are deeply racialized and have in the past and continue in the present to exclude, disadvantage, and cause harm to Black, Indigenous, Latino, immigrant and other people of color in our communities. Systems like these that are failing anyone are failing all of us, and we can not engage in farm to school effectively without changing them.

As we begin this new decade, we’re reflecting on National Farm to School Network’s journey to centering our work in equity and focusing our intentions towards justice. Below, learn about our efforts in 2019 to further our commitment to equity, and see what we’re planning for in 2020 here.


By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

I do this work every day from a place of equity. The early years of my career were spent in direct service - first working with kids with developmental disabilities and then with adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses - without realizing my upbringing afforded me privileges that advantaged me and made it difficult to understand the realities of those I was attempting to serve. As my career focus shifted to making nutritious foods available to all people, I quickly learned that there’s more to the equation than want; everyone wants to live healthy, fulfilling lives, but there are intentionally inequitable and discriminatory systems and policies affecting access and ability to do so. People should not have to want for nutritious food; everyone has a right to food that nourishes them. So I shifted my focus to demand that right through advocacy and systems change. I remain grateful to the clients that inspired that shift. There was the client that took me to the grocery store with his SNAP dollars (then food stamps) at the start of the month; he held up a box of mac’n’cheese and an apple - both about $1 - and asked which I thought he would choose. (The mac’n’cheese of course; it’s more filling.) There was the client that took me to the food pantry and showed me that the foods I was teaching about in our cooking classes were far from the sugar- and salt-laden foods on the shelves.

As Executive Director of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), I am honored and challenged to center our work in equity every day. Our food systems was built on injustices, and I cannot seek to change it without standing against those injustices. The work is urgent, because specific groups have been consistently impacted, and this has to stop now. There remain too many injustices in our food system and society

In 2007, NFSN was founded with core values of local and just food and a vision of equality in the food system. But it was not until more recent years that we’ve come to strive for equity (not just equality), and that far more is required beyond acknowledging need. In our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, we made intentional and practice-orientated goals for making our commitment to equity more than just talk; we worked to put equity “in action.” If we are to truly achieve our vision, nothing less than this will do.

We also recognize that we have a responsibility as a national movement building organization to have a broad and diverse reach, including over 20,000 members, 70,000 followers on social media, and more than 12.5 million people plugged into National Farm to School Month in October. We have significant reach, and great potential to drive justice-oriented work in the farm to school movement and beyond. We have an important role to play in inspiring more partner organizations - at the national, regional, state, community, and sovereign levels - to create equity-driven impact in their work. We certainly know that this is not a linear process; we work forwards, backwards, and sideways. And we know it will take all of us - as reflected in our tagline Growing Stronger Together - to make forward progress.

In this spirit, I want to share what National Farm to School Network did in 2019 to further our equity work. First, we’ve kept the conversations going. Prioritizing discussions about equity ensures we all continue our learning (because there’s always something new to learn) and make the time for the work. This is a journey. We used to notice how it was too easy to set aside our focus on equity for the day-to-day things that “had” to get done: grant deliverables, fundraising, and so on. But the truth is, equity work is the work that “has” to get done. So we make time for it. Thanks to inspiration from other organizations, a group of NFSN Partners and Staff led the creation of the NFSN Community Agreements for our Annual Meeting with Core and Supporting Partners this spring. We recently realized that those agreements are a good way to start not only our annual gatherings, but all meetings, so we’re now doing so for everything from staff and board meetings to meetings with our partners. Take a few minutes of meetings to make space to remind us why we’re here and how to come to the conversations with respect. 

Our staff continued internal monthly calls dedicated to discussion for grounding our work in equity, and mid-year, we began rotating facilitation and topic identification between staff to ensure professional development opportunities for all. Topics for these calls ranged from how to embed equity into our 10th National National Farm to Cafeteria Conference (coming April 2020) program and communications, to reviewing the results of and discussing opportunities for growth stemming from our biannual organizational equity assessments. We also dedicated calls to approaching Native American Heritage Month as allies and adding land acknowledgement to our email signatures (which we now do), practicing removing deficit-based language in our communications, deciding about companies to take money from based on values alignment, integrating equity into research and evaluation, and reviewing our hiring processes with an equity lens. The two NFSN Staff teams also held weekly informal discussions about emerging equity issues and questions in our work and the world, and NFSN Advisory Board members participated in an equity enrichment activity at the in-person meeting. 

To track that our discussions and idea sharing are being put into action, we use the aforementioned biannual organizational equity assessments and also an equity action plan dashboard, developed in conjunction with our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan. We’ve also developed a standard practice of  using the NFSN Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy that we developed in 2018 to meaningfully advance equity in our advocacy and programming. For example, the legislative language in the Farm to School Act of 2019 was not a simple copy-paste from the 2017 and 2015 versions. Rather, our Policy Team conducted listening sessions and thoughtfully reviewed the language to better ensure that the USDA Farm to School Grant funding is prioritized for communities that have been systematically disadvantaged by the food system, often communities of color. 

Integration of equity throughout the work of our organization also goes beyond programming and policy. I was reminded by my colleagues many times throughout the year that there’s always an “equity path” to take. This includes everything from the contractors and vendors we pay for services to the way our staff celebrate the holiday season. There are always opportunities to center our practices - no matter how small - in equity; sometimes, it just takes slowing down, talking to others, and thinking through what that path is and how to find it. Finally, recognizing demand from NFSN Partners to dig deeper into integrating this work into their own organizations and communities that we get in Annual Meetings and webinars, and with guidance from our equity consultant, we envisioned and then successfully fundraised for our first official equity program, the NFSN Equity Learning Lab. Stay tuned for more on this in 2020. 

Thank you for being part of the farm to school movement and for the work you do in your communities every day to advocate for equity and justice through our food system. If you have not been part of this work, we welcome you as new partners in this work. If you are not already a member, please join us (it’s free) to stay up-to-date in 2020 for more regular news about our equity journey. And, if you’re inspired by reading this, we always welcome donations to support our continued equity journey. Happy holidays, and here’s to a bright and bold 2020 together! 

National Farm to School Network Announces New Equity Learning Lab

NFSN Staff Monday, December 16, 2019

Thanks to the generous support of National Co+op Grocers and Newman’s Own Foundation, National Farm to School Network is excited to launch a new initiative aimed at advancing racial and social equity and addressing injustices in farm to school and the wider food movement. Our Equity Learning Lab, launching in 2020, will train farm to school leaders from across the country in equity principles and strategies that will maximize impact towards creating a more equitable and just food system. 

Advancing equity has been a core value of the National Farm to School Network since our founding, and we are committed to centering equity in all of our work. During our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, we focused on developing resources and tools to help farm to school practitioners put equity into action. We created the Racial and Social Equity Assessment Tool for Farm to School Programs and Policy, hosted numerous webinars on equity topics, invested in farm to school in Native communities, and more. We’ve heard resounding feedback from our partners and members that they look to the National Farm to School Network as a leader for advancing equity in farm to school, and they’re eager for more tools and support to further this important work in their organizations and communities. We hear your feedback, and meeting this need is our vision for the Equity Learning Lab.

Our concept for the Equity Learning Lab is to take a collaborative and innovative approach, where project stakeholders will co-construct the programmatic content and curriculum alongside National Farm to School Network staff. Given this dynamic structure, the first Equity Learning Lab will be open to twelve NFSN Core and Supporting Partners. We believe serving a smaller group of stakeholders as an intimate group will provide the ideal environment for learning. Session topics will include identifying inequities in the food system and related history and policies; why farm to school is an approach to addressing inequities and why farm to school cannot be successful without addressing inequities; NFSN’s approach to advancing equity and how we implement it through programs and policy; equity in action; and more. It’s also our goal that this model be replicable. We’ll be using a “train the trainer” approach so that the impact of the Equity Learning Lab can extend beyond the participants, giving them tools, resources, and knowledge to share what they’ve learned back in their communities. 

The launch of our Equity Learning Lab has been made possible through generous support from National Co+op Grocers and partners within the natural/organic foods industry, who raised funds for the Equity Learning Lab during NCG's annual grocery and wellness conference and tradeshow earlier this year, and support from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman. 

We will be sharing more details about the initiative and its outcomes in the upcoming months. Be sure you’re signed up for our e-newsletter to receive the latest updates and opportunities to get involved. Have questions? Contact Krystal Oriadha, Senior Director of Programs and Policy, at krystal@farmtoschool.org

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