Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Grantee Name

American Farmland Trust

Funding Area

Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Publication Date

March 2022

Grant Amount

$100,000

Grant Date:

October 2018- September 2020

Farm-to-school programs in New York State and across the country have strengthened connections between local farmers and schools—bringing more healthy foods grown on local farms into school cafeterias.

Farmers gain access to new revenue streams through school sales while students consume more fresh food. In 2018, New York State proposed a “No Student Goes Hungry” program, which included two farm-to-school initiatives: doubling its funding for farm-to-school grants to $1.5 million annually and raising reimbursement for schools to purchase locally produced foods from farms. Under the new reimbursement policy, K–12 public schools that spend at least 30% of their school lunch budget on food from New York State farmers, growers, and processors would be reimbursed 25 cents per meal, up from 6 cents previously. American Farmland Trust (AFT) brought together the New York Grown Food for New York Kids coalition—a collaboration among public health, anti-hunger, school, farm, food, and environmental organizations—to expand State support for farm-to-school programs in New York. NYHealth awarded AFT a grant to grow the constituency of its coalition and build on the momentum of its campaign.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

  • Monitored and documented the campaign’s first-year implementation, which included work to increase State reimbursement to schools that use funds to purchase fresh food grown in New York State and connect more schools with local farms and food producers.
  • Met with stakeholders to review findings and recommendations from farm-to-school research conducted during summer 2019.
  • Produced a report on New York’s farm-to-school movement that addressed school participation, procurement, initial impact, and impact on rural economies and farmers, “Growing Opportunity for Farm to School: How to Revolutionize School Food, Support Local Farms, and Improve the Health of Students in New York.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • After the first year of the new reimbursement policy, AFT surveyed more than 300 school food authorities (SFAs). Of those, 49 SFAs were qualified to apply to the New York State Education Department for State reimbursement.
  • 75% of SFAs reported they are on track for reaching the 30% spending threshold on New York-grown foods for lunch by 2025.
  • 87% of SFAs surveyed increased fruit purchasing and 54% increased vegetable purchasing from New York farms over the previous year, improving access to high-quality and nutritious local produce for students.
  • Schools with disproportionately higher percentages of white students were more likely to report buying New York-grown food than their urban and downstate counterparts. Downstate and urban schools may find it more challenging to connect with rural producers or efficiently aggregate and transport local products compared with upstate and nonurban schools, which are better situated geographically to develop relationships with farmers. Further research and technical assistance to illuminate what urban school districts need are critical to ensuring that access to healthy, local food is equitable for all students across the State.

The COVID-19 pandemic halted most of AFT’s advocacy work; however, in the two most recent years of New York State-enacted budgets, funding for the incentive and grant programs has remained consistent, despite a challenging financial climate. In 2021, the State supported funding to build a network of regional farm-to-school coordinators, as recommended by AFT’s research.

Moving forward, AFT and its coalition will work to codify the State’s farm-to-school programs, providing schools with the security they need to grow local procurement and realize the cumulative potential of feeding 900,000 students with healthier food by 2025. In 2021, NYHealth awarded AFT a second grant to advance a New York State farm-to-school program that increases local food spending in schools.

Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: N/A