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National Farm to School Network

News

We Need to Rebuild Our Food System. Schools Can Lead.

NFSN Staff Tuesday, July 21, 2020

By National Farm to School Network and Urban School Food Alliance

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role schools play in our food systems, as a source of food for students, an employer of essential food service workers and a market for food producers. The pandemic also exposed the deep, pervasive inequities in our food system, including the devastating impacts COVID-19 had on those historically underserved.

Our food system is permeated with troubling disparities. Even before the pandemic, access to healthy food has been a challenge most pronounced for people of color who live in low-income communities. And since the onset of the pandemic, a survey has found that nearly 41 percent of mothers with children ages 12 and under reported household food insecurity.

Food system workers, who represent 1 in 5 essential workers, are predominantly people of color who often earn less than a living wage, and have been dying at higher rates from COVID-19 due to prevalence of underlying health conditions. Concerns exist that farmers of color, who make up less than 4 percent of the nation’s producers, are being overlooked in the US Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Combined, these inequities in our food system span urban, suburban and rural communities, the direct result of inequitable and inefficient policies and practices as old as our nation itself.

When, in March, nearly all 100,000 schools across the country closed their doors, there were herculean efforts to ensure that school children – nearly 75 percent of whom receive free or reduced price meals – continued to have access to food. Ensuring every child is fed must be part of our work to rebuild the food system. As conversations turn towards “what’s next” in responding to the pandemic, we have a tremendous opportunity to change our food system and ensure that every person along the supply chain – from grower to eater, is treated justly. To recover from the present health and economic crisis, we must relook at the critical role food plays in health, equity and prosperity in our communities.

Many approaches will be needed to do this work, and we’ve been heartened to see multiple ideas already shared. There is one approach we think deserves more attention: school cafeterias can be a major propeller of this urgent, needed change in how we eat. Here’s how:

School cafeterias are our nation’s largest restaurant chain. When school is in session, cafeterias feed 30 million hungry mouths each day. More than 7 billion meals are served annually through the National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast Program and more than $18.2 billion invested in these programs annually. With schools everywhere, focusing on school food supply chains means focusing on food in every community.

School meal funding recirculates in local communities. The collective purchasing power of school food service provides an opportunity to invest in local communities – both in the food purchased for meals, and in providing stable workforce opportunities. According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools spent nearly $800 million annually on local food purchases, and more than 42 percent of schools report engaging in farm to school opportunities. Every dollar invested in farm to school efforts stimulates an additional $0.60-$2.16 of local economic activity.

School meal infrastructure helps make communities adaptable during a crisis. During this pandemic, many schools have taken on the role of feeding entire communities. The existing infrastructure of school meals and the experience and ingenuity of school nutrition professionals has allowed them to meet this critical need. Furthermore, schools’ existing relationships with farmers have shown resilience during this crisis: a School Nutrition Association survey found that nearly a quarter of schools are supporting local agriculture and serving local foods in their emergency feeding programs. Simultaneously, we’re seeing support of local food systems continue to rise during this pandemic.

School meals are an investment in the future. This pandemic shows we are capable of cooperation and rapid change, and it is important this continues. Every community deserves a strong and just local food system and we must continue to leverage our collective energy for equitable change as we rebuild by seeking opportunities for collaboration and action amongst schools, growers, producers, governmental agencies and community advocates. Investing in school meals is smart and a proven strategy for whole-community health, economic stimulus and resilience. School meals must be part of the conversation as we talk about the future.

Learn more at www.farmtoschool.org and www.urbanschoolfoodalliance.org.

Remembering Philando Castile, School Food Hero

NFSN Staff Wednesday, July 08, 2020
By Noah Cohen-Cline – Lead Program Officer, Food Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation – and Helen Dombalis – Executive Director, National Farm to School Network

This blog originally appeared on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website. 


Photo courtesy of Joan Edman, via TIME.
This week—July 6, 2020—marks the four-year anniversary of the police killing of Philando Castile, only a few miles from where George Floyd was killed in Minnesota, during a traffic stop on his drive home from the grocery store with his girlfriend and her young daughter. Philando was many things to many people; in a statement by his family, he was remembered as “an amazing mentor, supporter, friend, son, brother, and Man.”

And to hundreds of children at a small elementary school in St. Paul, he was “Mr. Phil,” the kind and devoted cafeteria supervisor who handed out meals and made sure that kids had the food they needed to thrive. According to his obituary and to reporting at the time, Philando loved his job, loved the children he served, and often paid for the lunches of students who could not afford them.

Philando—like so many other Black people who have died at the hands of police violence recently and throughout our country’s history—was a victim of institutional racism. Because Philando was a school nutrition professional, we also remember him as a champion of racial justice—because school food programs, and the thousands of workers who make them run, are a bedrock of equity in our food system.

We knew before the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent Black Lives Matter protests that our food system is rife with racial inequities and that the current public health crisis has only exacerbated them. Our nation’s economy and our agricultural system are built on a foundation of racism and exploitation. Beginning with the theft of indigenous land from Native people and then the enslavement and forced labor of Africans to build our country’s wealth, the way we grow and produce food and get it from farm to table—both historically and today still—relies heavily on the underpaid and undervalued labor of Black, Latinx, and Native American communities. These inequities in our food system contribute to economic and health inequalities: the same people that provide labor in our food system often can’t afford nourishing food for themselves and their families. As a result, Black, Latinx, and Native American communities are significantly more likely to face hunger and food insecurity than White individuals, and to suffer from diet-related diseases like diabetes.

School food programs play a central role in addressing this injustice. By serving 30 million children every day—22 million of whom qualify for subsidized meals based on family income—school meal and child nutrition programs are delivering critical nourishment to the children who have been most underserved by our economic and food systems’ structural racism. School food alone cannot dismantle systemic racism, nor can any food access program. But schools can play a critical role by providing the nourishment that all children, of every race and ethnicity, need to grow, learn, and thrive.

In addition to providing equitable food access, many school food directors are finding innovative ways to use their programs to drive equity and sustainability in the broader food system. Good Food Purchasing Programs in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and many other cities are using the collective market power of their school food budgets—totaling $18 billion nationally—to advance racial and social equity on farms and in food businesses and communities. National Farm to School Network’s early advocacy efforts for values-based universal meals—and the team of organizations and schools supporting this model—show promise for a national shift in how we spend our resources, and serve our children, to become a system rooted in racial equity and justice instead of the opposite.

School food heroes show up every day, motivated by the needs of the children they serve. They work tirelessly—often for unreasonably low wages and with limited training and subpar equipment—to serve our children nourishing meals. They’re serving balanced, nutritious meals on unrealistically tight budgets, and they have met the challenges of the global pandemic with innovation and devotion. They do this because they believe every child, everywhere, deserves to eat well and thrive.

Philando Castile was one of these heroes. As we remember his life and honor his legacy, let us also recognize and support school food programs and school nutrition professionals as the essential drivers of racial justice that they are.

View the original blog, posted on The Rockefeller Foundation’s website, here.

How We’re Taking Action for Racial Justice (A Start)

NFSN Staff Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Last month, in the wake of the modern-day lynching of George Floyd, we shared a statement acknowledging that we know we cannot achieve food justice if we're not willing to do racial justice work. We also shared our commitment to being an anti-racist organization and an active participant in the fight for justice. As a predominantly White-led organization, we cannot be silent allies. We must act. 

As a follow up to that statement, we want to share some of the concrete, actionable ways that we will continue to deepen our commitment to being an anti-racist ally in this work: 

  • We will conduct an internal racial equity assessment by the end of 2020. From that assessment, in early 2021, we will develop a racial equity action plan based on where transformational change needs to take place within our organization and our work. 
  • We will build leadership capacity for our staff to take action and meaningfully engage in advancing racial equity through our work. 
  • We will invest our resources in ways that prioritize and center Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. One current example: round two of our COVID-19 Relief Fund will prioritize funding for organizations that serve and are led by Black people and Indigenous people. 
  • We will continue to move forward the other equity actions we committed to taking this year, shared by Helen Dombalis, our Executive Director, in January. See a list of those commitments here
We fully acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive list – there is much more work to be done. However, we aim for these actionable steps to move us in a direction of continuing to build the foundation of our commitment to being an anti-racist organization, and from which transformational actions and goals must follow. 

We share these actions in hopes that other White-led organizations – especially those who partner with us in the farm to school movement – can learn from us as an example. We valued your words of support and appreciation for Helen’s statement on Racial Justice in May. Now, we must move our words into action. 

Honoring Juneteenth - Learning, Listening & Acting

Anna Mullen Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the news that the Civil War was over and that slavery had been abolished. It's important to recognize that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, did not immediately free all enslaved people – it took more than two years for this news of freedom to reach every part of the country. Texas was the last to find out, on June 19, 1865. 

While this Juneteenth celebrates the day 155 years ago that the last enslaved people in the United States learned that they were free, our country still has a long way to go towards realizing its claims of freedom and justice for all. At the National Farm to School Network, we acknowledge that racism, including anti-black racism, persists in our work and the farm to school movement at large. We have a responsibility and a commitment to correct this and to be an anti-racist organization. Our organizational vision is a food system centered on justice, and we know that we cannot achieve food justice without racial justice

Today, Juneteenth, we honor those that can celebrate the rich history, resilience, and joy found in the Black diaspora. Today we honor those who have fought, sacrificed, and died for justice. Today we honor those who cannot celebrate because there is still work to be done.

Today we celebrate with the Black community, including our staff, Partners, Advisors and members. And to White and non-Black people of color, we ask you to spend this day with us reflecting on the history of Juneteenth, what it symbolizes, and the work that still needs to be done to correct the lasting consequences of slavery and ensure justice for all. Here are some of the articles, videos, podcasts, and resources about Black history and resilience that our staff have been digging into and reflecting on together these past few weeks, that we hope might be helpful in your work to being an anti-racist, too. 

LISTEN & LEARN 
Read how Black Communities Have Always Used Food as Protest
. Amethyst Ganaway writes about how Black people in America have used food as a means of resistance, rebellion, and revolution for over 500 years. Here’s a snippet, relevant to our work in school food. "Noticing that most students didn’t eat or had never had breakfast before school, the [Black Panther Party] began to provide free meals for all students in their communities. Despite attempts to thwart the Free Breakfast Program, including police conducting raids while children ate, the government followed suit years later and began a similar program of their own." Read here

Watch The Hunger For Justice Series
. A Growing Culture is hosting a daylong broadcast of The Hunger for Justice Series, celebrating Black voices and the fight for justice in the food system. The broadcast, which starts at 12pm ET, will be held as a live event simulcast across A Growing Culture's digital channels, with over a dozen presenters. Watch here

Listen to Black Farmers and Scholars Talk About Resilience, Survival and Activism. Stephen Satterfield, host of the Point of Origin podcast, has two great interviews with Dr. Monica White, author of Freedom Farmers, and Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black. Listen here

Learn about Overthrowing the Food System’s Plantation Paradigm. Ashanté Reese and Randolph Carr write about the connections between abolition, prisons and our food system. "As we continue to uplift abolitionist demands, those of us also committed to land and food work must insist on building self-determining food economies and fully commit to overturning the food system’s plantation paradigm." Read more.  

Pick a book to dig into about anti-black racism and food. Epicurious has compiled a list of books that cover the intersection of race and food, and can be helpful ways to learn about anti-Black racism in the food system. Check it out here, and find a list of Black-owned independent bookstores you can order from here.
 

ENGAGE & TAKE ACTION
Listening, learning and reflecting are just one part of the work White people must do in racial justice work. If learning does not propel us into action, then those efforts have no purpose. Here are several ideas of actions you can take to honor Juneteenth today, and into the future. 

Join a Juneteenth event in your community, or digitally. Movement for Black Lives has an easy-to-search database on in-person and virtual events happening across the country on Juneteenth. Find an event to join here.  

Support your local bail fund. Support those protesting for racial justice by donating to your local bail fund. Bail fees further repress and cause harm to communities of color already suffering from structural racism in the legal system. During protests and their aftermath, pretrial detention is often used to suppress dissent and disrupt community organizing. Donate to your local bail fund through this list compiled by the National Bail Fund Network. (Thanks to Tides, our fiscal sponsor, for calling out this opportunity.) 

Start talking. Having meaningful, and sometimes difficult, conversations with those closest to you - including family, friends, and colleagues - is essential for confronting the underlying prejudice in White communities that perpetuates racial injustice, anti-Blackness and police violence. There are many great resources available to help you have these conversations - including guides for talking to children, older students, your parents or an elder, colleagues, and advice on finding entry points for these important conversations. 

The Common Market’s Mission-Driven Response to COVID-19 Nourishes Communities

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 23, 2020

Photo credit for all images in this blog belong to The Common Market
By Jenileigh Harris, NFSN Program Associate

When the coronavirus started to spread rapidly throughout New York City in early March, Janice, a woman in her sixties from Jackson Heights signed up for a free food delivery service operated by New York City. “Some of the food I had received was poor quality, canned, and sugary,” she said. Then, The Common Market stepped in and her first Farm-Fresh Box arrived. “The box came with fresh bread, dried beans, potatoes, a beet, kale, canned crushed tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. My first thought was that someone wants me to live and it almost brought tears to my eyes.”
 
One of the many things that the COVID-19 crisis has illuminated for our country is just how flawed our food system is and always has been, particularly when it comes to accessing fresh food. This crisis has also illustrated, however, that organizations like The Common Market - with existing infrastructure, relationships and investment in community food systems - are able to adapt and respond. 
 
A mission-driven response to COVID-19
The Common Market, a mission-driven distributor of regional farm products, is partnering with farmer and grower networks, city governments, school districts and other community organizations across the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Texas regions to ensure vulnerable communities receive fresh, healthy food and producers can continue business operations, pay workers and meet community needs. 
 
The Common Market was founded 12 years ago in Philadelphia, PA as a Mid-Atlantic regional food hub and distributor to improve fresh food accessibility in lower-income communities as well as farm viability and community and ecological health. In 2016, they expanded their model to the Southeast (located in Atlanta, Georgia) and Texas (located in Houston, Texas) in 2018. 

Historically, most of their work was with institutional kitchens, including schools (including early childhood education sites, traditional public schools, public charters, and independents), hospitals, colleges and universities, eldercare, stadiums and corrections facilities. 

“Once the coronavirus outbreak really took hold in our regions, our large institutional customers began shutting down,” describes Caitlin Honan, Marketing Coordinator with The Common Market. “Some of our farmers wondered, how would they continue to work with us? How could they follow through with their crop plans?” 

Leaning on their mission to serve, The Common Market acted swiftly and pivoted to a Farm-Fresh Box model in order to keep their commitments with their farmers as much as possible, while serving communities in need. The Farm-Fresh Boxes include a variety of seasonal produce delivered in a food-safe, self-contained box that requires minimal handling and maximum efficiency. Each box is curated by Common Market staff and farmers and represents what’s in season and available locally in each region. For example, in Texas, a typical box may include cauliflower, grapefruit, herbs, button mushrooms, red onions, kale and sweet potatoes. In the Southeast region, a box may include lettuce, shiitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kale, asparagus, strawberries, mustard greens and in Atlanta, the boxes also include meat and eggs. And in the Mid-Atlantic region, boxes may include asparagus, apples, scallions, lettuce, radishes and tatsoi along with bread, cheese, and dried beans.


The Common Market Mid-Atlantic Farm-Fresh Box for New York recipients.
They deliver to the most convenient aggregation point for their communities such as hospitals, community centers, childcare facilities and churches. The program provides much needed revenue for their local, family farms and offers flexible pricing for their community partners. The Farm-Fresh Box program has resulted in an unprecedented number of deliveries to families and individuals. The Common Market Texas, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions are averaging 200-300, 6,000, and 13,000 boxes per week, respectively. 
 
Honoring existing partnerships and commitments
Trusted relationships in their regions have been invaluable to The Common Market’s ability to respond to current needs. 

The Common Market Texas partners with
  • The Texas Center for Local Food to deliver boxes for families at the Family Health Clinic in Elgin, TX, a community-based clinic that offers free services for low-income families 
  • The Harris Health System to provide fresh food access for Harris County - which includes the city of Houston - hospital staff and patients, with plans to expand into a community curbside pickup with SNAP accessibility
The Common Market Southeast partners with 
  • The Atlanta Housing Authority to deliver Farm-Fresh Boxes weekly to doorsteps of seniors sheltered-in place
  • Enrichment Service Program (ESP) Head Start in southwest Georgia to deliver 165 boxes to ESP Head Start in Columbus, GA for families with young children
  • The Community Farmers Markets (CFM) and a network of small farmers to allow Atlanta-based farmers’ markets to operate out of The Common Market’s facility
The Common Market Mid-Atlantic partners with
  • Greener Partners to distribute 3,500+ pounds of local food to more than 500 seniors and families in Pennsylvania
  • Newark Public Schools in Newark, New Jersey and Red Rabbit in Harlem, New York to distribute local apples among emergency school meals 


The Common Market Southeast Farm-Fresh box drop at ESP Head Start in Columbus, GA. 
Through these regional partnerships, The Common Market has been able to honor existing commitments with farmers and producers and help their businesses weather this crisis. Several producers who were on the brink of laying off their entire teams have been able to keep everyone employed due to the demand facilitated through The Common Market’s contracts. “We’re incredibly grateful. It’s amazing to be a part of the relief effort in New York City. Our farmers are relieved to have a pathway for our produce, to know that our instincts and our hearts were in the right place [when we decided to move forward with our 2020 crop plans],” shared a farmer partner at Sunny Harvest, located in Kirkwood, PA. 

New partnerships and collaborations
While existing relationships and infrastructure positioned The Common Market to readily respond to this crisis, it is the innovative new partnerships and collaborations that have supported their ability to scale up and meet the unprecedented and growing needs of the communities they serve. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, The Common Market contracted with city governments in New York and Philadelphia to provide specific farm foods to their departments of corrections. For example, in New York they won the bid to provide all of the humane cage-free eggs to Rikers Island prison complex, which demanded a full truckload every other week. 

The Common Market is increasingly seeking contract opportunities with government entities to provide more consistent and significant opportunities for the farmers they represent. “We see contracting with municipalities and school districts as a way to scale positive impact for both urban and rural communities,” explains Haile Johnston, one of The Common Market’s co-founders.*


The Common Market Texas Farm-Fresh Box contents.  
Now, due to an initiative from Mayor Bill de Blasio, The Common Market Mid-Atlantic has partnered with New York City to deliver meals to New Yorkers who are unable to access food on their own. The Common Market tapped into existing models to specifically address areas that already lack access to healthy and fresh food options. 13,000 Farm-Fresh boxes like the one Janice in Jackson Heights received - including a variety of produce, dried beans, cheese and fresh bread - are reaching New Yorkers weekly. 
 
The New York City contract connected The Common Market with the National Guard – a partnership to help with the last mile of direct at-home delivery and curbside pick-ups. The National Guard regularly meets up with The Common Market employees to help break down the pallets and load Farm-Fresh boxes into taxis and limos in order to deliver the fresh food to people’s homes. According to a recent Daily News article, more than 11,000 New York City taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers have become city-employed food delivery workers during the pandemic, earning a $15-an-hour salary. “It’s amazing to be contributing to such a massive effort. It’s very meaningful to be able to maintain outlets for our farmers’ harvests through this partnership” describes Yael Lehmann, Executive Director of The Common Market Mid-Atlantic. 
 

Members of the National Guard loading The Common Market boxes into vehicles for distribution throughout New York City.
Looking ahead
The Common Market has made significant changes to its model to respond to this crisis. However, there are several adjustments that The Common Market regional directors hope will continue beyond the immediate crisis. “I look forward to continuing our Farm-Fresh box program, which we launched in response to the crisis, retaining community engagement and government activity,” describes Margaret Smith, Director of The Common Market Texas. 

All of The Common Market locations have had to pivot their business model to adjust for shifting customer demands, including hiring additional warehouse staff and drivers to help with the increased workload and shifting their outreach approach to the community. “Our outreach efforts have centered around establishing and strengthening relationships with community partners who are serving the most vulnerable in our community: senior care facilities, homeless shelters, food pantries and organizations providing resources to needy families” says Bill Green, Executive Director of the Common Market Southeast.


The Common Market Mid-Atlantic Driver, Erick, wearing a Food Delivery Crisis Response team vest.
The Common Market has also seen that there is a huge role for their organization to play in serving urgent food and hunger needs. “We’ve been fortunate, and have heard directly from individuals receiving our food,” says Lehmann. “They’ve shared how grateful they are to receive high-quality, fresh, healthy and locally grown food during this time. For some of them, until they received our Farm-Fresh Boxes, they have mostly received low-quality, processed and packaged foods that aren’t the healthiest, and unfortunately this is the norm in the emergency food world.” 

Resilient food systems are community-powered 
The Common Market and its network of producers, delivery service providers and community organizations are showing just how resilient community-powered food systems are. Resilient community food systems are designed to manage crises; they have strong feedback loops and rely on strong local economies and policies, robust infrastructure, flexible distribution networks, innovative partnerships and trusted relationships. 
 
It is organizations like The Common Market who are pushing the dialogue around what food justice and health equity means and how we all can emerge from this crisis with the evidence, tools, stories and relationships to push for lasting and transformational change in our food system.

“Now, more than ever, we believe in the importance of resilient food systems that support our health and are strong enough to withstand any challenge,” says Smith. “It’s times like these when our vibrant community must shine the brightest. Our values, our networks built on mutual support, and our innovation will see us through as a community.”

*Haile Johnston, co-founder of The Common Market, is Advisory Board Chair of the National Farm to School Network.

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! 

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