National School Lunch Week celebrates progress in farm-to-school efforts

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This is National School Lunch Week 2016, as proclaimed by President Obama, a time to reflect on the positive steps our nation has taken to make nutrition a priority in every U.S. school. This also coincides with the month-long celebration of Farm to School Month, which recognizes efforts to bring local foods into schools and onto students’ trays.

The more than 50 million children who attend schools that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs are experiencing school environments that are healthier than ever. These students have access to balanced meals that reflect the latest nutrition science in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as recommendations from pediatricians and National Academy of Medicine. The meals feature more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat milk. Many of these items can be locally-sourced through farm to school programs.

The fresh, local foods offered through farm to school programs help school meal programs provide healthy, appealing, and diverse offerings. Results of the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census show that more than 42,000 schools nationwide have a farm to school program. These schools report reductions in food waste, higher school meal participation rates, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, notably fruits and vegetables. In the 2013-14 school year alone, these programs invested nearly $800 million back into local economies, helping 23.6 million students develop healthy eating habits and learn where their food comes from.

Building on the progress around the country, this summer, USDA issued two additional final rules: Smart Snacks in Schools and Local School Wellness Policy. For the last few years, schools have been serving breakfasts and lunches that meet the updated standards under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010; in fact, more than 99 percent of schools nationwide currently report meeting those new nutrition standards. The recent regulations put in place by the Smart Snacks in Schools Final Rule and Local School Wellness Policy Final Rule take healthy school environments one step further by holding snacks served in schools and food or beverage marketing students are exposed to during the school day to standards that are consistent with those for school meals.

Healthy school meals are particularly important for the more than 13 million U.S. children who live in food insecure households; for some, school meals may be all nutrition they receive in a day. To help reduce hunger, USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), an optional cost-sharing partnership between the federal government and school districts in high-poverty areas, allows eligible schools in lower income areas to serve nutritious lunches and breakfasts to all students at no cost. Not only does CEP help break down barriers that can prevent children in need from accessing school meals, it also greatly reduces the administrative burden on schools and families. Close to 8.5 million students from more than 18,000 schools across the country participated in the program in school year 2015-16.

Link to USDA News Release

***Cross-post from Planting Seeds Blog***

National Farm to School Month

WC carrots kidsOctober is National Farm to School Month. This year’s theme is “One Small Step” to show how anyone – students, parents, nutrition professionals – can get involved and make changes to advance farm to school in their local communities. To read more about it, check out the National Farm to School Network.

To that end the California Farm to School Network is promoting the CRUNCH event on October 24th, which also happens to be Food Day. This CRUNCH event encourages schools to purchase or use local food, such as carrots or apples from a school garden or local farmer. Check out other events that are taking place here. You can also see what farmers are growing in your area on the California Farmer Marketplace.

National Farm-to-School Month – New toolkit for teachers to discuss nutrition and agriculture

farm to school2The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has released the MyPlate, MyState toolkit for teachers looking to introduce their classes to the interrelationship between nutrition and agriculture. The toolkit is available in connection with National Farm-to-School Month, which continues throughout October.

The resources include lesson plans about gardening, agriculture and nutrition, as well as new MyPlate, MyState activity sheets that can be used throughout the school year.

Through MyPlate, MyState, USDA is working to make the connection between healthy eating and more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide that are selling into local markets through schools and other institutions, farmers markets, farm stands, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, grocery stores, and local restaurants. MyPlate, MyState is part of USDA’s efforts to support local and regional food systems and galvanize the important role that American agriculture plays in feeding American families.

MyPlate, MyState page for California

***Cross-post from Planting Seeds blog***

Farmer Spotlight: Gil Gossett, G – Bar – G Ranch


Apples just starting out

Apples just starting out at G – Bar -G Ranch in Half Moon Bay, California

Gil Gossett II heads up G – Bar – G Ranch in a small canyon near the town of Half Moon Bay, California. Gil started working on the 47-acre ranch full-time about a year ago when his father passed away. They grow and provide fresh-picked, tree-ripened, certified organically grown, fruit from their orchards which have been in production for over 35 years.

Gil enjoys working hard in the beautiful surroundings of the secluded ranch. He loves being able to see the fruits of his labor and, at the same time, continue the passion that his father embodied.

When asked about the importance of selling his produce to California school children, as well as other Californians, Gil responded, “We pride ourselves on tree ripening our produce. I feel that few people, let alone children, know what such fruit should taste like and what the texture should be…Children are especially in need of more healthy foods today and should have the opportunity to experience a real-life juicy, crisp, delicious apple.”

One of Gil’s favorite varieties they grow and eat is the Gordon apple. The Gordon apple is a larger, red-variegated, sweet and crisp apple which is well suited for eating, as well as baking. The Gordon apple, which does not appear in most stores, has been a wonderful surprise to Gil’s customers.


September is National Childhood Obesity Month. In California nearly one in three children are considered overweight or obese with low-income children disproportionately impacted. Schools that have shifted to include more locally grown, farm fresh products see an overall increase in school meal participation. Considering that for many low-income children school meals might be their only reliable source of nutrition, they stand to benefit the most from healthy changes made to school lunches.

Recognizing the need for a system to help schools procure more local produce, the CDFA Office of Farm to Fork developed the California Farmer Marketplace. To sign up click here or contact us with questions or feedback.

CDFA’s Secretary Karen Ross kicks off the State Employees Food Drive by donating farm fresh produce

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Secretary Karen Ross visited the Capitol Mall Farmers’ Market to kickoff the State Employees Food Drive by purchasing and donating over 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables from local farmers. The CDFA Office of Farm to Fork organized a fresh produce drive along with the Reverse Food Truck, River City Food Bank and the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, encouraging state employees to purchase produce at the market and donate it through the Reverse Food Truck. Throughout the market’s duration over 450 pounds of produce were donated.

Click here to view the full story of Secretary Ross’ visit to the market.

Agriculture conference digs into ag education

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento is the capital of California, the largest agricultural producer in the nation. Known as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, the city will be home to the 2016 California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, which will prepare and inspire educators from across the state to incorporate agricultural education into their programs.  Attendees will learn new ways to incorporate agriculture into everyday curriculum through innovative presentations, hands-on workshops, inspiring guest speakers and fantastic networking! The conference will be held Sept. 22-24 at the Holiday Inn Sacramento- Capitol Plaza.

Go to California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom website for more details.

***Reposted from Morning Ag Clips & California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom***

Feeding Families Fund Drive

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On September 16th, Gar Tootelian, Inc., the Community Food Bank, KMJ Radio, and Farm Credit will team up for the 3rd Annual Feeding Families Fund drive. For every $10 donated at the Market in Fresno, Gar Tootelian, a local agricultural business, will match $5. Donations will be distributed through the Community Food Bank to valley families affected by the drought. $10 donated will purchase enough food for a family of four for one week. Over the past two years, the Feeding Families Fund Drive has raised $150,000 to provide a million meals.

For more information visit the Community Food Bank website.


Vilsack on decrease in food insecurity

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WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today issued the following statement on the release of the USDA Economic Research Service analysis, Household Food Security in the United States in 2015, which points to the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children:

“Today’s report marks a significant benchmark in our battle against hunger and food insecurity, underscoring in clear terms that our nation’s families and children are better off today than they were when the President took office in 2009. In fact, today’s report points to the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children–a major achievement in our country’s efforts to ensure every child has a safer, healthier future filled with unlimited opportunity. In 2015, household food insecurity fell 1.3 percentage points from 2014 and 2.2 points from 2011–the peak of the recession. At the same time, very low food security has dropped to 5 percent from a peak of 5.7 percent. Today’s data mean that 7.9 million fewer people were struggling to provide adequate food for themselves or household members than when President Obama took office in the midst of the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression. The figures released today also remind us that our work to fight for access to healthy food for our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals is far from over. We must work to preserve the critical Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty or becoming food insecure during the most difficult stretches of the recession. And we must continue to encourage the public and private sectors alike to invest in our rebounding rural communities–the place that produces our food, fiber and fuel. As our economy continues to gain strength with millions of new jobs, falling unemployment and growing wages, today’s report just underscores that America is greatest when everyone gets a fair shot.”


USDA to purchase surplus cheese for food banks and needy families

cheese office of farm to fork

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced plans to purchase approximately 11 million pounds of cheese from private inventories to assist food banks and pantries across the nation, while reducing a cheese surplus that is at its highest level in 30 years. The purchase, valued at $20 million, will be provided to families in need across the country through USDA nutrition assistance programs, while assisting the stalled marketplace for dairy producers whose revenues have dropped 35 percent over the past two years.

“We understand that the nation’s dairy producers are experiencing challenges due to market conditions and that food banks continue to see strong demand for assistance,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a cheese surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein food to the tables of those most in need. USDA will continue to look for ways within its authorities to tackle food insecurity and provide for added stability in the marketplace.”

USDA received requests from Congress, the National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau and the National Milk Producers Federation to make an immediate dairy purchase. Section 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935 authorizes USDA to utilize fiscal year 2016 funds to purchase surplus food to benefit food banks and families in need through its nutrition assistance programs.

USDA also announced that it will extend the deadline for dairy producers to enroll in the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for Dairy to Dec. 16, 2016, from the previous deadline of Sept. 30. This voluntary dairy safety net program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating dairy producers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the producer. A USDA web tool, available, allows dairy producers to calculate levels of coverage available from MPP based on price projections.

On Aug. 4, USDA announced approximately $11.2 million in financial assistance to U.S. dairy producers enrolled in MPP-Dairy, the largest payment since the program began in 2014.

While USDA projects dairy prices to increase throughout the rest of the year, many factors including low world market prices, increased milk supplies and inventories, and slower demand have contributed to the sluggish marketplace for dairy producers.

USDA will continue to monitor market conditions in the coming months and evaluate additional actions, if necessary, later this fall.

Link to full news release

Salinas Ag training program shares in USDA grant for new farmers and ranchers

Children exploring fields and crops

The USDA has announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers, including $600,000 for the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, or ALBA, in Salinas. ALBA generates opportunities for farm workers and limited-resource, aspiring farmers to grow and sell crops from two organic farms in Monterey County. CDFA produced a video about ALBA as part of its award-winning Growing California series.

The USDA investment is made through the agency’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP.

With the average age of the American farmer exceeding 58 years, the USDA (and CDFA) recognizes the need to bring more people into agriculture. Over the course of the Obama Administration, USDA has engaged its resources to provide greater support to the farmers of the future by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach, education, and technical support.

***Cross-post from Planting Seeds blog***

Mixer Helps Contra Costa Schools Put Local Farmers’ Produce on the Menu

Farmers and food service directors

Farmers and food service directors exchanging contact information.

Many school districts are interested in purchasing more local fruits and vegetables but lack the needed connections to make these changes. This past July the Bay Area nonprofit Fresh Approach brought together farmers and food service directors from eight districts in Contra Costa County for a face to face meeting to build relationships and facilitate purchases from local farms for school meals.

Buttercup Farms in Clayton, First Generation Farmers in Brentwood, Cipponeri Family Farms in Turlock, Swank Farms in Hollister, and a produce distributor from Davi’s Produce, attended the event and provided a little background on what they grow and the logistics of working with their businesses. Food service directors were able to ask specific questions regarding pricing, delivery, and availability.

Attendees took time in the morning for a tour of Pittsburg Unified School District’s new warehouse which will act as a food hub for the other districts. The space will allow for larger fresh produce purchases that can then be distributed to the other Contra Costa County school districts. The group’s collective purchasing is supported through a USDA Local Food Promotion Program Grant with guidance from the CDFA Office of Farm to Fork and the Center for Ecoliteracy. In addition to discussing regular purchases, farmers and school food service directors discussed the possibility of last minute menu changes based on crop availability.

The meeting allowed for farmers and school districts to discuss their respective challenges as well as areas for collaboration down the road. Both farmers and food service directors left with contact information and plans for fall fruit and vegetable purchases.

Celebrating the Fruits of Farmers Markets During National Farmers Market Week

Statistics and facts of farmer markets

Farmers Markets: Building Businesses & Helping Communities highlights results from the 2015 Farmers Market Managers Survey. The full report of the data will be released later this year.

Posted by Elanor Starmer, Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator

National Farmers Market Week is the perfect time to reflect on the evolution we’ve witnessed in our nation’s local and regional food systems, and to celebrate the results of the public and private partnerships that have made success possible.

The local food sector represents more than $12 billion dollars per year in sales, according to industry estimates.  That’s a lot of economic growth and opportunity for American producers and businesses.  And, in the newly-released results of the 2015 survey of nearly 1,400 farmers market managers, we are able to see the direct benefits these markets provide to businesses and communities across the country.

For farmers and food businesses, the survey conducted by my agency—USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—shows that 56 percent of markets were able to increase their product variety because of vendor recruitment and market growth.  Another 37 percent were able to contract directly with local restaurants to have their vendors supply fresh ingredients.

The survey results also illustrate the critical role that farmers markets serve for rural communities, with 17 percent of markets reporting that their farmers were able to increase their farm acreage due to participation in local markets, and 41 percent of markets reporting that the market enabled their local farmers to continue farming.

We also saw evidence that communities are benefiting directly from markets that combine vendors with hosted events.  In fact, 64 percent of markets hosting community events reported customer growth, with another 57 percent reporting increased customer retention.  Hosted events included a wide variety of educational and recreational activities—such as cooking classes, live music, gardening classes and children’s activities.

Markets that mature into a multi-faceted community resource perform better than markets that don’t—showing that a path to continued success is a blending of rural products and responding to community needs.

Local food is not a trend.  It’s not a fad hooked to a priority that will fade away.  Local food is bigger than any one individual, bigger than policy documents or informational campaigns.  It’s a vital part of our nation’s diverse food system, born out of consumer demand and driven by the universal connection we have to our community and the farmers and businesses owners who produce the food we eat.

Long-lasting connections are being forged between farms and consumers, and USDA and AMS are helping. In the last two years alone, USDA has made over 900 investments in local food infrastructure that connects farmers with local markets, including food hubs, warehouses, local processing facilities and distribution networks. Over the course of the Obama Administration, we’ve invested close to $1 billion in 40,000 local projects—from small loans of a few thousand dollars to local farmers, to multi-million dollar grants for infrastructure development.

We know that these investments will help farmers markets and local food systems continue to serve their communities. And this week, we get to celebrate everything that this support—coupled with community passion and private sector innovation—makes possible across the country. Happy National Farmers Market Week!

***Cross-post from USDA Blog***