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National Farm to School Network


Measures to Support Children, Families & Producers of Color in Drafts of New COVID-19 Relief Bill

NFSN Staff Tuesday, February 23, 2021

By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

This week, the House and Senate are at work on a new round of relief legislation to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a complex procedural move known as reconciliation, the House and Senate may be able to advance relief and stimulus funds with a narrow majority vote. House Committees have released their portions of the proposal, including the House Committee on Education and Labor, and the House Committee on Agriculture. Included are numerous measures that will support those most in need in our farm to school and early care and education community, including an increase in pandemic EBT (P-EBT) for young children, funds for child care stabilization, and an increase of 15% in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits. In addition, the bill would provide money to purchase directly from producers (such as the Farmers to Families food box program), and to strengthen food supply chain infrastructure and worker protection.

Also included in the proposal from the House Agriculture Committee is a historic measure to provide $4 billion in debt relief and financial support for producers of color with USDA farm loans. An additional $1 billion would address historic and ongoing discrimination in the food system, including oversight for racial equity at USDA, support for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and historically Black land-grant universities, and legal resources for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) producers. This legislative language first debuted in the Senate in the Emergency Relief for Producers of Color Act, introduced by new Senate Ag Committee members Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), as well as committee Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and longtime farm to school champion Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The leadership of House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-GA-13) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA-2) in including this measure comes at an especially crucial time. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated long-existing inequities in farm policy, and Black and Indigenous communities have suffered disproportionately from the health, economic, and food security effects of the pandemic. A newly-released analysis from Environmental Working Group found that nearly 97 percent of $9.2 billion in pandemic relief direct payments went to white producers as of October 2020, with white farmers on average receiving four times more than the average Black farmer. Clearly, the status quo is not enough to provide real, equitable relief to BIPOC producers struggling during this pandemic. Debt forgiveness is a direct and immediate measure that government can take to address the structural injustices that are still happening.

As the full legislative package makes its way to the House floor this week, and as the Senate takes up relief measures, National Farm to School Network urges policymakers to prioritize the urgent need for bold measures such as this one during and after the current crisis.

Meet Our 2021 Advisory Board Members

NFSN Staff Thursday, January 14, 2021

Artwork by Bonnie Acker 
National Farm to School Network is fortunate to have an Advisory Board composed of 17 smart and passionate advocates who guide us in the work we do. At the beginning of this new year, we want to extend our deep thanks and gratitude to those who served on our Advisory Board in 2020 and welcome a few new members to this important cohort.

This past year was a significant one for National Farm to School Network, which included navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, deepening our commitment to racial justice, and announcing our new Call to Action. We are grateful to these 2020 Advisory Board members who worked alongside us last year: 
  • Anneliese Tanner, Austin Independent School District
  • Bertrand Weber, Minneapolis Public Schools
  • Betsy Rosenbluth, Vermont FEED
  • Brandon Seng, Michigan Farm to Freezer
  • Caree Jackson Cotwright, University of Georgia - College of Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Catherine Compitello, The Beacon Fund
  • Erin Croom, Small Bites Adventure Club
  • Haile Johnston, The Common Market
  • Jamese Kwele, Ecotrust
  • Janie Hipp, Native American Agriculture Fund
  • Laura Edwards-Orr, Center for Good Food Purchasing
  • Ricardo Salvador, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Silvia Abel-Caines, Organic Valley
  • Simone Washington, Business for Social Responsibility
  • Sommer Sibilly-Brown, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition
  • Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Little Ones Learning Center
  • Vanessa Herald, University of Wisconsin - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
At the end of 2020, we said farewell to Janie, Ricardo and Vanessa. We are especially grateful to Janie for advising us on working with Native communities, to Ricardo for contributing his racial justice and policy advocacy expertise, and to Vanessa for her farm to school content expertise and for being a long-time and continued NFSN state partner. 

As we say these thank yous and farewells, we are also excited to announce the addition of three new board members in 2021
  • Jennifer Gaddis - Jennifer is an assistant professor of Civil Society and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Jennifer's scholarship centers the perspectives of frontline cafeteria workers and focuses on topics including the history of the national school lunch program, farm to school efforts, food work as a form of care work, and values-based universal school lunch programs. 
  • May Tsupros - May is a Founding Collaborator of SunTree Collaboration and co-founder of Gardeneers. In addition to her work with SunTree Collaboration, whose mission is to unearth, build, and strengthen connections between many local food, environmental, and health-related stakeholders, May is also Director of People and Partnerships at Partridge Creek Farms where she works to promote food education and improve local access to fresh produce.
  • Valerie Segrest - Valerie is a Native foods nutritionist and the Regional Director of Native Food and Knowledge Systems for the Native American Agriculture Fund. Valerie is an enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and is a nutritionist who specializes in Native American Food Traditions and has over a decade of experience developing food sovereignty strategies and culturally relevant food and nutrition curriculum and educational interventions.
We are also appreciative of those stepping into leadership positions on the board this year:
  • Haile Johnston, Chair
  • Simone Washington, Vice-Chair
  • Laura Edwards-Orr, Governance Committee Chair
  • Betsy Rosenbluth, Strategic Plan Committee Chair
This year, the Advisory Board will be focused on implementing our 2020-2025 Call to Action, which focuses on racial equity and shifting power in our food system; continuing the NFSN Advisor-Staff Mentor Program; taking part in board professional development activities (including racial equity, shifting power, and policy advocacy); and diversifying our funding and increasing support for general operations of our organization. (Want to give them a jump start? It’s easy to make a donation right now! )

Many thanks again to our outgoing Advisory Board members, and welcome to our new members! We look forward to working alongside you these next 12 months towards our vision of a racially just food system for all. 

Condemning More of the Same and Working To Change It

NFSN Staff Friday, January 08, 2021

By Helen Dombalis, NFSN Executive Director

2020 – and now the start of 2021 – are pushing the conversation around race and systemic racism in this country to the main stage. Despite this recent heightened level of attention, what I and everyone around the world witnessed on Wednesday in our nation’s capital is not something that was created overnight nor over the last four years. Racism and otherness are the foundation of our nation, democracy, and food system.

As a white woman in America, I have the privilege of not seeing and feeling the hatred that is prevalent everyday for people of color in our country. I only see it when it is pushed to the main stage, and even then, I don’t feel it because my skin color protects me from that. And to be able to brush aside reality when it’s inconvenient, sad, or otherwise something I want to pretend doesn’t exist is exactly what white privilege is. I must speak out against the very privilege I hold and we saw displayed on Wednesday instead of condoning it through silence.

What unfolded this week is a reminder for us at National Farm to School Network about the necessity and urgency of doing anti-racist work. White privilege, white political power, and white supremacy are forces with long legacies in the history of this country and were undoubtedly on display through acts of intimidation, normalization of violence, and use of blatantly racist symbols and rhetoric by extremists this week, aiming to invalidate democratically cast votes in states with large Black and Indigenous populations.

National Farm to School Network condemns what happened. Also, we know this week’s events are yet another example of the deeply rooted structural and institutional racism and conscious bias that exists within our country. And it’s a reason why as Executive Director of National Farm to School Network – and on a personal level as a human being and mother – I remain committed to refocusing NFSN’s work to shifting power to those who have historically and systematically been marginalized, exploited, oppressed, and excluded. Dismantling racism and upholding democracy are fundamental actions we must take in order to achieve food justice, and to achieve justice in every aspect of our society. Standing up for justice and deferring to the leaderships of Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian, and other people of color who do the essential work of organizing and advocating in their communities every day is what we strive for and what this moment reminds us we must continue to do.

Advisory Board Perspectives: Miguel Villarreal

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

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

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

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFSN Staff Friday, July 31, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 and

Advisory Board Perspectives: Bertrand Weber

NFSN Staff Monday, July 13, 2020
This post is part of National Farm to School Network's new series of interviews with members of our Advisory Board about the impacts, challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 has brought about for the farm to school movement. 

Name: Bertrand Weber
Title: Director, Culinary and Wellness Services
Organization: Minneapolis Public Schools
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
First-year on the National Farm to School Network Advisory Board.

Betrand Weber joined Lacy Stephens, NFSN Senior Program Manager, to share insights on how the COVID-19 emergency has impacted school nutrition programs, what it has revealed about our food system, and how nutrition programs and communities have responded in the short term and are preparing for long term change.

“At its core value, from the beginning, farm to school was about making a connection
back to the food system for our students, providing our students with the best quality
food, reducing carbon footprint, and increasing local economies and sustainability,
those are still all there, none of that has gone away. We will have to adapt on how we
provide that to our customers, but at its core, that is still there and still a value we need to continue.”
 – Bertrand Weber

Harvesting the Benefits of Hydroponics: Highlights from the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project

NFSN Staff Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Preschoolers getting ready to taste their hydroponically-grown lettuce. Source: San Pedro Elementary, San Rafael, California, March 2020 Final Survey
By Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate

National Farm to School Network in partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and collaboration with KidsGardening is excited to release Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide. This lesson guide is the product of the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project and includes basic how-to information for growing plants hydroponically in the classroom, lesson plans to help students learn through hands-on investigations, construction plans for simple hydroponic setups, and additional reference materials to support educators. The lessons are designed to align with third through fifth grade Next Generation Science Standards but can be adapted for both younger and older students and those with different abilities. The lessons are sequenced so that each topic builds upon the previous topics but the activities can also be used independently, in any order.

The Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project, launched in the fall of 2019, was aimed at integrating indoor hydroponics growing systems into systemically under resourced schools across the country. National Farm to School Network supported hydroponics experts, KidsGardening, in developing the curriculum guide, Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide. During the 2019-2020 school year, the curriculum was used in conjunction with Scotts Miracle-Gro’s AeroGarden hydroponic kits in 15 schools across California, New York and Washington D.C. In addition to introducing hydroponics into their science, technology engineering and math (STEM) classrooms, pilot schools participated in peer learning and networking calls to share successes and challenges with each other.

“The grow station is the shining light in an amazing space. It draws visitors to it and opens up conversation about what we do at FoodPrints and Kimball. The students love to talk about it. Thank you for letting us participate!” -Kimball Elementary School, Washington, D.C.
Between the 2018-2019 and the 2019-2020 school year, there was an overall increase in both engagement of students in garden-based activities as well as the total number of students reached by gardening or farm to school activities that align with Next Generation Standards as a direct result of the hydroponics system and curriculum.

By March 2020, a total of 2204 students were reached through the pilot project with gardening or farm to school activities that align with Next Generation Science Standards across New York, Washington D.C., and California, and 1954 students were directly engaged in lessons or activities using the hydroponics growing system. Additionally, between September 2019 and March 2020, there was a perceived 20% increase in student interest and a 15% increase in adult interest (teachers, administration, teaching aides, community members) in gardening as a direct result of the hydroponics system and Exploring Hydroponics curriculum.

“The Exploring Hydroponics guide has really been a huge asset to our science curriculum.” -Amidon-Bowen Elementary, Washington, D.C.

Pilot schools cited many observed benefits and positive outcomes due to the hydroponics curriculum and growing systems for students, families and adults in their respective school communities. These include:

Benefits for Students  Benefits for Students, Families, Educators and Community Members
  • Interest and knowledge of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts
  • Increased demonstration of social-emotional development (e.g., cooperation, empathy, self-regulation)
  • Access to fresh fruits and vegetables 
  • Increased engagement
  • Improved attitudes, knowledge and behaviors
  • Improved knowledge about gardening, agriculture and food systems 

Teacher, Helene, leads students in exploring the hydroponics garden and learning about how far away their food comes from. Source: P.S. 32 The Belmont School, New York, January 2020 Site Visit
When schools began closing in March, some pilot schools were able to pivot and continue hydroponics and gardening learning at home. At Kimball Elementary, the FoodPrints teacher has encouraged kids to find bean or vegetable seeds, wrap them in damp paper towels, insert into a plastic bag, tape to a window with lots of sunlight and observe daily for germination. At other schools, teachers were able to take the hydroponics units home and update students remotely through online meetings and photos. The Exploring Hydroponics guide offers many remote-adaptable lessons and at-home opportunities including how to build an aeration system at home, map your meals explorations, exploring land use worksheets, discussion questions and digging deeper videos.

“I documented the plants before we left school, transplanted them with students into soil and we are studying how they are growing at home now via live meetings and pictures. Students have been engaged in a "regrow" vegetables from scratch lesson, and have shared amazing results of starting vegetables in water with scraps they normally would've thrown out.” –P.S. 32, The Belmont School, Bronx, NY
National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation learned a lot from the schools as they piloted and adapted the Exploring Hydroponics curriculum, troubleshooted the AeroGarden grow kit, and brought the hydroponics learning experience to life for their students. By all measures, the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project has been a success: there was an overall increase in student and family engagement in gardening and farm to school activities as a direct result of the hydroponics growing system and curriculum. While the benefits and positive outcomes are substantial, opportunities for growth have also emerged:

Strategies for better curriculum integration of opportunities to encourage at-home hydroponics and gardening
  • Adapting curriculum for younger ages
  • More opportunities to support sustained implementation (e.g., to purchase pods and other necessary resources)
  • Incorporating more multimedia tools or approaches within curriculum (e.g., instructional video)
  • Collecting and disaggregating data based on race and income (e.g., which students are more likely to have access to gardening at home?)
  • More opportunities to engage families

Students giving presentations to their classmates about hydroponics. Source: P.S. 214, Bronx, New York, March 2020 Final Survey
National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation are excited to see how schools continue to use their hydroponic curriculum and systems in the upcoming school year, whatever that may look like, and beyond. We know students increased their understanding of where their food comes from, the environmental impacts of growing food in soil versus water, their access to fresh produce, and we can’t wait to see these benefits grow. 

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