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National Farm to School Network

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Supporting Farmers & Vibrant Rural Communities: CoBank and National Farm to School Network

NFSN Staff Friday, October 30, 2020

Farm to school is all about relationships and partnerships. We often hear about the relationships between farmers and schools – a literal farm to school kind of relationship. But there are many other types of partnerships, collaborations and support networks in the background that make the farm to school movement thrive. One of those important partnerships is between National Farm to School Network and CoBank, which have a shared goal of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. CoBank, one of the nation’s largest providers of credit to the U.S. rural economy, has been a financial supporter of the National Farm to School Network for more than six years, making important farm to school projects – like data research and evaluation, national networking events, National Farm to School Month celebrations, and so much more – possible.

Since 2014, CoBank has been a sponsor of National Farm to School Network’s biannual National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, which has brought together thousands of stakeholders from across the country to network, learn, and collaborate on advancing farm to school and wider cafeteria efforts, including expanding new market opportunities for farmers and agricultural producers and strengthening rural economies.

In 2017, CoBank and fellow Farm Credit bank AgriBank sponsored the development of National Farm to School Network’s “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools” report, which quantified the financial benefits to farmers when schools source food locally. The report found that not only were surveyed farmers satisfied or very satisfied with most aspects of farm to school sales, but farms participating in farm to school tend to purchase more inputs from the local economy, which results in positive overall local economic impact. 



CoBank has also been a significant supporter of National Farm to School Network’s National Farm to School Month celebration campaigns in October. This year’s theme of It Takes a Community to Feed a Community honors all of those who contribute to feeding our kids and communities – including farmers, harvesters and food hub distributors, school nutrition professionals, educators, garden coordinators, bus drivers and more. Among this year’s campaign activities has been the nomination and selection of 30 Community Food Champions from across the country for special recognition of their important efforts to keep kids and their families fed, especially during this difficult year. CoBank’s sponsorship has allowed National Farm to School Network to specifically recognize the exceptional efforts of five farmers, producers and agricultural community leaders:
  • Rena and Mark Guttridge - Ollin Farms, Longmont, CO - Kena and Mark grow high quality produce for schools and early care and education centers across Boulder County. They also offer farm trips and educational classes to teach and excite students about where their food comes from.
  • Lenny Xiong - Farmer, Cannon Falls, MN - Lenny grows and delivers strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, eggplant, sugar snap peas, and more to Minnesota schools and early care and education centers. Just this month, he grew loads of colorful carrots for schools in Roseville, MN - a great way to celebrate National Farm to School Month!
  • Mateo Carrasco - Food Justice Organizer, Albuquerque, NM - This summer, through his work with the Southwest Organizing Project, Mateo partnered with Cornelio Candelaria Organics to harvest and distribute more than 1,000 pounds of fresh, local produce to families from Whittier Elementary School in Albuquerque.
  • Josefina Lara Chavez - Farmer Advocate, Davis, CA - Josefina works with Latinx growers on the California Central Coast to coordinate and aggregate their agricultural products for sales, including to school districts, and during the pandemic, to emergency meal programs and food banks. She has helped facilitate thousands of dollars of fair price sales for Latinx growers, who sometimes have otherwise faced language, financial, and other barriers in selling their products.
  • Lauren Jones - Urban Farmer, Shreveport, LA - Lauren, through a partnership with Shreveport Green and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is leading the establishment of a multi-acre urban farm in the heart of downtown Shreveport that will feed 150 families, teach gardening and nutrition education, and foster leadership development opportunity for youth.
Looking forward, National Farm to School Network and CoBank’s partnership is continuing in the coming months with the launch of a new quantitative and qualitative analysis of the producer and supply chain impacts of Washington, D.C.'s Healthy Tots Act, which includes a local procurement incentive program for child care programs purchasing from local farmers and producers. This evaluation will provide valuable data on the impacts of procurement incentive programs and will inform new policy advocacy tools to help elected officials and decision-makers explore and implement policies that support new economic opportunities for farms and increased access to healthy, nutritious food for kids. Stay tuned for more on this new project coming in 2021!

“CoBank’s partnership with National Farm to School Network supports creating new markets for local farmers,” said Sarah Tyree, Vice President, Policy and Public Affairs of CoBank.

“National Farm to School Network is grateful for CoBank’s partnership and investment in our efforts to strengthen farm to school across the country, which is providing new opportunities for farmers, strengthening rural economies, and fostering vibrant and healthy communities,” said Helen Dombalis, Executive Director of National Farm to School Network. “CoBank’s commitment to supporting our mission has been instrumental in allowing us to expand our reach, deepen our impact, and move closer to turning our vision of a just food system that corrects inequities and benefits everyone into reality.”

Preschool's Farm & Food Partnerships Keep Kids Eating Local

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 30, 2020

Photo credit: Sonflower Seeds Christian Preschool and Learning Center, taken in 2019. 
Guest blog by NC Farm to Early Care & Education, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Based in Silk Hope, North Carolina, Sonflower Seeds Christian Preschool and Learning Center (Sonflower Seeds) has cared for children from 6 weeks old to age 12 for the past 15 years. Silk Hope is a small rural community near the Triangle of NC and beyond their play area lies 500 acres of pasture. Sonflower Seeds has been a leader in their county for many years for their support of local food and farms. 

Though the number of children at the Center has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonflower continues to serve many children of farmers, paramedics, police, and other essential workers. We spoke with Heidi Lineberry, Sonflower Seeds’ Director, to learn how sourcing local food has allowed them to continue serving nutritious meals to the children throughout the pandemic while supporting farmers nearby. 

The NC Farm to ECE Initiative, facilitated by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, works with early childhood facilities and their communities to purchase local food and provide children with experiential learning around local food. The Farm to ECE Collaborative organizes community teams throughout North Carolina to connect food and early childhood systems. 

Sonflower Seeds has been part of the Collaborative for a few years now. In 2019, with support from NC Farm to ECE, Sonflower Seeds formalized their commitment to local food by implementing a center policy that they serve fresh produce five days a week.

Sonflower Seeds’ dedication to sourcing locally began about eight years ago, when Heidi realized that she could have milk and other dairy products delivered from a local dairy, Homeland Creamery, rather than using staff time and gas for hauling 20+ gallons of milk from the grocery store every week. They also source most of their produce locally from Red Roots Farm, Okfuskee Farm, and Kildee Farm, eggs from Edell’s Eggs, apples and berries from Millstone Creek Orchards, and ground beef from Smithview Farm. Several of these farmers have children or grandchildren who attend Sonflower Seeds. Heidi connected with other farmers through word of mouth or recommendations from other farmers. 

Sourcing food from local farmers as well as having a garden on site, has benefited Sonflower Seeds in many ways, including: 

Product availability even during emergencies: Sonflower Seeds’ existing connections with local farmers has allowed them to serve nutritious, local foods without disruption even when other centers in their area have struggled to find milk and other products during the pandemic. They were already well accustomed to ordering and delivering procedures and local suppliers prioritized Sonflower Seeds as loyal customers.

Child nutrition, experiential learning, and family engagement: Heidi believes serving nutritious local foods is part of their commitment to caring for the “whole child.” When produce is delivered, children get to know the farmers by name and learn that real people in their community grow their food. Sonflower also hosts a pop-up farmers market for parents to meet the farmers and learn how the food is produced. When the center receives carrots with the greens on, children learn which part grows below the ground and which part above and practice preparing fresh produce with child-friendly utensils. The children also love to walk through the center’s strawberry patch, and parents are interested in helping in the garden too.  

When the egg farmer has fewer eggs during the winter, the center overcomes this by slightly altering their menus and uses this as a learning opportunity to share with the children how it’s natural for chickens to take a break from laying eggs in the wintertime. One of the farmer's children was excited to share when his family got more chicks and to tell his friends they’d have more eggs soon!

Food quality and taste
: The local produce is fresh and delicious. Sonflower Seeds offers taste tests for the children and many opportunities to try new foods, and has seen the children become more adventurous. Children might not eat cooked spinach, but will pluck the leaves and eat them raw from the garden.

Marketing: Sourcing locally has helped Sonflower Seeds to attract new families too. They send out a questionnaire to new families about children’s dietary needs and preferences and promote their participation in Farm to ECE so parents know it is a priority. They display a Farm to ECE poster provided by the Collaborative on a fence outside of the building. This year alone, Sonflower Seeds added five new families because of their commitment to local foods. 

Heidi says, “The Farm to ECE Collaborative has grown our Center. It has helped us to see that a little bit of what we were already doing can be done on a broader scale, it helped turn us into a niche program by putting into policy that we serve fresh and local fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, and promoting it. Once you put things out there more things come to you.” 

The Center receives wholesale pricing from many of the local producers and says their monthly Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) reimbursement more than covers the costs of local and organic foods. She also learned that CACFP offers reimbursement for plants, seeds, and vegetables grown by the Center.

Heidi says she really enjoys the Farm to ECE Collaborative and the energetic staff, so much so that she decided to become one of seven mentors for other centers in North Carolina. As a co-leader of an Affinity group for center directors, Heidi helps to facilitate monthly meetings to discuss food and gardening and support other centers in meeting their Farm to ECE goals. The Chatham County Partnership for Children and their Child Care Health Consultant, Dorothy Rawleigh, has also helped Sonflower Seeds with connecting with farmers, other centers nearby, and purchasing materials for raised bed gardens.

“So much of children’s time is spent eating, why not make the quality of the food a priority?” Heidi’s advice for other centers considering Farm to ECE: “You have to be willing to do trial and error. Try to meet a farmer every month, and be willing to collaborate with other directors nearby. Just give it a try!”
  
Interested in getting started with sourcing locally? Check out these local food purchasing resources from the NC Farm to ECE Initiative. 

USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and Local Food

NFSN Staff Monday, April 27, 2020

On Friday, April 17, USDA announced the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. While there is still much unknown about how the program will be implemented, it may be an opportunity for local product to make its way to emergency feeding programs, addressing a vital need for market opportunities for local producers and food access needs in communities. The program aims to support producers and consumers with two approaches:

  • Direct Support for Farmers and Ranchers
  • USDA Purchase and Distribution 
What You Need to Know 
  • Direct Support for Farmers and Ranchers - USDA is in the process of developing rules for how support will be distributed and who will be eligible. NFSN and partners are working to ensure all farmers are able to access this program by pushing USDA to target local and regional producers and to outline the measures it will take to equitably include producers of color. What you can do: We anticipate a brief rulemaking process to direct how this money will be distributed. We encourage partners to be prepared to submit comments. We also encourage partners to work with their state departments of agriculture to put pressure on USDA to commit to the measures the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition outlines.
  • USDA Purchase and Distribution - On Friday, April 24, USDA opened solicitations (view RFP here) for regional and local distributors who can coordinate purchase of agricultural products, the assembly of commodity boxes and delivery to identified non-profit organizations that can receive, store and distribute food items. Included in the application is a request for applicants to describe how they intend to support small farmers and those serving local and regional markets. Applicants are also responsible for identifying non-profit organizations for distribution, and this could potentially include schools and early care sites. What you can do: Share relevant information (see links below) with local food hubs, intermediaries, producers, and relevant food businesses. Awardees are expected to capitalize on exisiting networks and relationships, so this is a vital opportunity for local and regional food networks to activitate local distribution chains.  
Additional Resources and Information

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.

National Farmers Union is Celebrating National Farm to School Month

NFSN Staff Monday, October 28, 2019
Guest blog by the National Farmers Union - Aaron Shier, NFU Government Relations Representative and Josie Krogh, NFU Intern


John Peterson, Owner and General Manager of Ferndale Market, raises pastured turkeys in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Ferndale turkey is featured on school food menus throughout Minnesota.

This blog is cross-posted on the National Farmers Union website - read it here.

October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate connections happening all over the country between schools, food, and local farmers, ranchers, and fishers!

Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has boomed across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. Farm to school – which includes kids eating, growing, and learning about local foods in schools – is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity and food insecurity. In addition to improving student health, farm to school presents an important financial opportunity for farmers by connecting them to a profitable institutional market. According to the USDA Farm to School Census, schools reported spending $789 million on food from local farmers, ranchers, fishers and food processors during the 2013-14 school year. 

Many National Farmers Union members are involved in farm to school efforts. And National Farm to School Month seemed like the perfect time to highlight some of their great work. 

Minnesota Farmers Union member John Peterson is a third-generation turkey farmer who has been selling his free-range, antibiotic-free turkey to local school districts for over a decade. Their family farm Ferndale Market started off selling turkey to a few school districts that were able to handle and cook raw turkey, but when Minneapolis Public Schools decided to bring locally produced foods into all their cafeterias, the school district became a major buyer of Ferndale turkey.

Peterson said there has been a lot to learn about what products schools are able to work with. “Some districts handle raw protein, but certainly not all. Many schools don’t have traditional cooking facilities. So working with processors has been crucial.” Most of what Ferndale Market sells to schools are value-added, ready to cook products like turkey hotdogs and fully-cooked burgers.

Working with Minneapolis Public Schools has benefited their business by allowing them to utilize all parts of the turkey and by stabilizing demand. “The world of turkey suffers from a seasonality problem, especially because of Thanksgiving through retail outlets,” said John. “So, farm to school programs provide good year-round stability for us by helping smooth out demand.” 

Aside from being good for business, Peterson said he takes pride in knowing they’re providing clean, healthy products to nourish students in their community. Ferndale often does events at schools where their turkey is served, which helps students get a better understanding of where and how their food is raised. “It’s common sense on so many levels,” he said. “It’s one of those things where everyone involved benefits. Farmers, students, the local economy. A win-win-win.


Anthony Wagner (far right) pictured during a farm to school group tour on his farm and orchard in Corrales, New Mexico.

Another farm to school success story can be found in New Mexico, where dedicated farmers such as Danny Farrar of Rancho La Jolla Farm and Orchard and Anthony Wagner of Wagner Farms (who are also Farmers Union members), have been major champions of farm to school efforts in the state. Danny and Anthony, in addition to growing fruits and vegetables for schools, have participated in legislative hearings, advocated for a statewide farm to school program, and have provided numerous farm tour opportunities for school food service directors.

Danny and Anthony are also board members of the organization Farm to Table in New Mexico, a Core Partner of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). Farm to Table has focused on farm to school issues for more than twenty years and in partnership with Farmers Union and other national, regional, and local organizations, has been pivotal in advancing policy and capacity building around farm to school. For example, Farm to Table and its partners helped pave the way for the establishment of the USDA Farm to School Grant program. And subsequently, in part thanks to USDA grants and the leadership of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, they were able to establish a state farm to school program as well.

Pam Roy is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Farm to Table and the Government Relations Director in New Mexico for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (which covers the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming). Pam explained that “Farm to Table and its partners recently helped establish the New Mexico Farm to School Program in the Public Education Department and secured permanent funding of $510,000 per year for the program.” This program helps schools purchase New Mexico-grown produce. “We are so glad to report that the program helped generate more than $879,000 in locally grown fruit and vegetable purchases by New Mexico Public Schools during the 2017-18 school year, not including grant funding,” said Pam.

Farm to school enriches the connections communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing education and food purchasing practices at schools. By encouraging school districts to purchase food from within their local community, farm to school increases farmer incomes and strengthens rural economies.

Honoring America’s Farmers

NFSN Staff Friday, October 11, 2019


The blog is sponsored by CoBank, who shares the National Farm to School Network's mission of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. We thank CoBank for being a sponsor of our 2019 National Farm to School Month Celebrations.

Guest blog by CoBank

In recognition of National Farmer’s Day, CoBank honors America’s farmers and ranchers who toil each day to produce the food, fuel and fiber on which we all rely. Through our funding relationship with 21 local and regional Farm Credit associations, we support 70,000 producers with the essential financing they need, and also provide direct financing to thousands of farmer-owned cooperatives and agribusinesses.

CoBank appreciates the dedication, expertise and hard work it takes to raise crops and tend livestock. Only 2 million farmers and ranchers produce all of America’s food – that’s less than 1.5% of our population responsible for feeding 3.9 billion people, plus others around the world.  From nuts and produce, to grains and meats, to dairy, eggs and wine, U.S. production is a cornucopia of safe, affordable food, as well as cotton, timber and biofuels – and nearly 96 percent of the farms producing this plethora of agricultural products are family owned, often passed down through generations. 

The production these farmers achieve using both modern and traditional techniques and equipment forms a significant portion of the nation’s economy: in 2017, America’s farms contributed $132.8 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product; including related industries that rely on our farms’ output, agriculture, food and related industries contributed $1.053 trillion, or 5.4 percent, to our GDP.  

That value stems directly from the hard work of our farmers, who are up before dawn and working long past dusk, seven days a week. On this National Farmer’s Day, and every day, CoBank thanks American agricultural producers for their dedication to their mission to feed, clothe and fuel our population, as we continue to deliver on our mission to support agriculture and rural communities with the essential financing they need to thrive.

Growing the “Farm” in “Farm to School”

NFSN Staff Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Farm to school is as much about the farm as it is the school. Farmers and producers are the movers and shakers that make local foods served in schools and early care and education settings possible. From the cafeteria to the classroom, their products are used to educate students about where food comes from and generate excitement for trying new, healthy foods. And farm to school is just as much a win for farmers, too!

However, farmers are often underrepresented in the farm to school movement. That’s why the National Farm to School Network is committed to providing learning opportunities, sharing innovative resources, and propelling new ideas to support farmers and producers in the farm to school movement. 

For example, we focused our 2017 Innovation Awards, with funding support from Farm Credit, on celebrating beginning farmers (in their first 10 years of farming) and farmer veterans for their exemplary efforts in selling local produce to schools and engaging kids in learning where their food comes from. Our two awardees – John Turner of Wild Roots Farm Vermont and Dylan Strike of Strike Farms in Montana - shared their stories with us on our blog, in webinars and social media takeovers, helping inspire more farmers and schools to take the first steps in getting involved. The awards also supported their ongoing engagement in farm to school activities in their own communities. Dylan used the Innovation Award to host fall farm field trips free of charge to Bozeman, MT-area schools and continued to strengthen relationships with several schools that purchase his produce for school meals and Montana Harvest of the Month activities. Jon Turner expanded his educational outreach and engaged in new projects to support food systems learning opportunities for the K-12 community in Addison County, VT. He specifically focused on establishing a compost system with Bristol Elementary School and Mt. Abe High School, which included mentoring students to lead the composting project and working with a local illustrator to develop a comic series about composting to educate and engage more students in local food systems activities. 

Dylan Strike and students at Strike Farms. 

Jon and Dylan are just two examples among many of farmers who’ve found success with farm to school. Here’s a snapshot of some of the other stories that farmers have shared with us:  

Clearview Farm - Massachusetts
Rick Melone, owner of Clearview Farm, explains that business relationships with schools have provided his farm a valuable and necessary market. “I’m too small to work with huge markets like Whole Foods and other grocery store whole-salers," he says. "But I can bring a truck load of apples in (to schools) and they will use them that day.” It's schools that have become one of his most reliable and valuable customers.

Fisheads Aquaponics - Georgia
One of Fisheads Aquaponic’s first regular customers was Burke County Public Schools, located just 17 miles from the aquaponics operation. Burke County Schools has a standing order for Fisheads lettuce, and the positive relationship helped Fisheads expanded to selling to several other school districts, as well. In order to keep up with demand for their produce, Fisheads is doubling their production with the addition of a second greenhouse and hiring more staff. 

Moon on the Meadow Farm - Kansas
Jill Elmers says that her business relationship with schools has given her farm, Moon on the Meadow, a consistently reliable market. “The core items that they (schools) buy, they know how much they need every week, and so those sales are consistent.” 

In 2018, we’re excited to continue connecting with farmers and producers and sharing more resources and opportunities for farmers and schools to dig in to new partnership opportunities. Here are several upcoming webinar opportunities to hear more stories of success and learn about resources for jumpstarting farm to school partnerships: 

Farm to School 101 & Funding Opportunities
February 28 // 5pm ET
Hosted by USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems and the National Young Farmers Coalition, this webinar for farmers and food producers that will cover different ways to incorporate farm to school into your business plan, how working with schools can impact and bring value to your operation, and funding opportunities. Register here
 
Trending Topics Webinar: Engaging Farmers in Farm to School
March 1 // 2pm ET
Hosted by the National Farm to School Network, this webinar will explore how farmers and producers can garner economic and social benefits through farm to school, and will feature several guest speakers who wills hare innovative yet practical approaches for engaging farmers in a wide variety of farm to school activities. Register here

The Business of Farm to School
March 15 // 5pm ET
Hosted by USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems and the National Young Farmers Coalition, this webinar will cover the procurement (purchasing) rules that schools follow, describe questions and talking points to discuss when selling to and building relationships with schools, identify which products schools are looking for, and highlight the different Child Nutrition Programs (CNP’s) that provide these opportunities - hint, it’s not just school lunch! Register here
 
If you’re ready to take your farm to school partnerships to the next level, we hope you’ll join us in Cincinnati this April for the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference! With 36 skill-building workshops, inspiring keynote addresses, short courses, field trips, poster presentations and lots of networking opportunities, this one-of-a-kind gathering will help you bring real food solutions home to your community. Learn more and register here

In the meantime, check out more great stories about the farmers who make farm to school happen on our blog, explore resources for getting started in our free Resource Library, or find local farm to school networking event taking place in your state in our national events calendar

Farm to School Brings a Consistent Market to this Kansas Farm

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 26, 2017


By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Growing up in suburban Dallas, Jill Elmers felt far from farm country. Even as a young adult, she did not envision her life as a farmer. Jill began her career as an engineer, got burned out, and took time off to farm in 2000. Ever since her first season, she has had a little bit of land every year. Then in 2006, Jill saved up enough money to buy her own farmland. Today, she owns and operates Moon on the Meadow Farm in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Moon on the Meadow is a six-acre, certified organic farm growing a variety of produce including: fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers. In addition to Jill, up to six employees work at the farm, some seasonally and a few year round. Through the use of season extension techniques such a tunnels, Jill is able to produce all year for the farm’s retail and wholesale markets including: farmers markets, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and farm to school. 

This is the farm’s second year selling to local schools, and Jill says that this business relationship has given her farm a consistently reliable market. “The core items that they (schools) buy, they know how much they need every week, and so those sales are consistent.”  Last year, the farm sold cucumbers and cherry tomatoes to the Lawrence schools, and this year they have added romaine, cilantro, and winter salad mix. 

Jill is one of a number of U.S. farmers discovering the economic benefits of farm to school. Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools, a recent report from the National Farm to School Network and Colorado University, examines the economic impact of local purchasing and provides new insight into the potential for farm to school procurement to positively impact local economies. This report finds that not only were surveyed farmers satisfied or very satisfied with most aspects of farm to school sales, but farm to school farms purchase more inputs from the local economy, which results in positive local economic impact. Beyond the economics, farm to school has far-reaching and positive impacts for students, farmers, and communities

Jill is happy that farm to school has secured her a more reliable farm income; however, she was quick to explain that farm to school is about so much more than that. The team at Moon on the Meadow Farm is proud to supply healthy, organic food to the schools surrounding them. Since the farm is located eleven blocks from the center of Lawrence, the schools that this urban farm supplies actually surround it. Jill’s favorite farm to school moments are when students make the trip to the farm. Specifically, the Lawrence 7th grade health students who take a field trip in the fall and spring.  Jill explained that the students not only inspire her but all of her farm’s workers. It seems some type of poetic that the students inspire Jill and her team, because I am most certain that the farm inspires the students - maybe even a future farmer or two.

The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!

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