Farm Credit and the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) are united in their missions to support farmers and rural America. Farm to school programs educate children and their families about how their food is grown; increase access to and consumption of fresh, locally raised food in our schools; and support local farmers by encouraging the development of local markets, which strengthens local communities.
As fewer and fewer people have ties to the farm, more Americans lack knowledge about the food that they eat, how it was produced and who produced it. Farm to school programs teach students from a young age that food does not originate in grocery stores and restaurants, but instead grows from the earth by the hand of farmers. Through farm to school programming, students are exposed to topics including agriculture, food, health and nutrition through educational gardens, farm field trips and cooking lessons.
Farm Credit deeply understands the value of educating young people about agriculture and supports farm to school programs in a variety of ways. Farm Credit associations and banks have helped build school gardens, construct chicken coops, buy cold storage and dehydration equipment to preserve food for use in school meals year-round, and facilitate a cost-share program for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification -- often a prerequisite for farmers looking to sell into institutional markets like schools and hospitals.
The benefits of farm to school do not stop with school-aged youth, but instead expand to farmers. Farm to school programs commit institutions to purchasing food locally, which creates important new markets through which farmers are able to sell their products. As such, many of the farmers that sell to school cafeteria programs through Farm to School are young, beginning and small farmers whose farm business structures are ideal for selling to local markets on a relatively small scale.
While NFSN and its members are busy creating additional market opportunities for farmers, Farm Credit associations across the country are helping those producers create successful, innovative farm businesses able to take advantage of these new opportunities. Each Farm Credit association has a program dedicated to helping young, beginning and small farmers succeed, whether through more flexible lending terms, reduced rates or fees or educational programming focusing on financial skills and business planning.
These investments in farm to school programs, and in farmers’ success, continue to pay dividends. New local institutional markets mean money remains in local economies, which results in vibrant rural communities nationwide.
NFSN members, farmers and farm to school supporters will gather next week for the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference April 25-27, in Cincinnati, Ohio. This conference attracts diverse stakeholders who are working to source local food for institutional cafeterias and foster a culture of food and agricultural literacy across America. Farm Credit is excited to partner once again with NFSN on this biennial event and looks forward to continued partnership in support of rural communities and agriculture.