USDA pushes link between schools, and local farmers, ranchers

USDA pushes link between schools, and local farmers, ranchers

Agency issues nearly $5 million in grants aimed at creating healthier school meals supporting local farmers in 39 states.

USDA is working to help schools buy more local fresh foods from farmers and ranchers with the release of nearly $5 million in grants for 74 projects in 39 states. In the release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, notes: “Farm to school programs work – for schools, for producers and for communities. By serving nutritious and locally grown foods, engaging students in hands-on lessons and involving parents and community members, these programs provide children with a holistic experience that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.”

USDA invests nearly $5 million in farm to school program. Aim is to get more local foods onto school lunch menus. (Photo: Thinkstock/BaderElbert)

He points out that early results of the Farm to School Census show that schools across the country have invested nearly $600 million in local products, offering farmers a reliable market.

USDA Farm to School Grants fund school districts, state and local agencies, tribal nations, agricultural producers and non-profit organizations in their efforts to increase use of local foods served through child nutrition programs. These groups also teach children about food and agriculture through garden and classroom education, and develop schools’ and farmer’s capacities o participate in farm to school.

Awards ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 are distributed in our different grant categories: Planning, Implementation, Support Service and Training.

Project examples under new program - >>>

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For 2016 grants will serve more than 5,211 schools and 2.9 million students, nearly 40% of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Here’s a look at a few of the funded projects:

Conway School District in Arkansas received a planning grant to design a local food processing kitchen program in a centralized school kitchen facility that will allow the district's schools to serve nutritious local produce throughout the school year.

The Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri received an implementation grant to partner with St. Louis University and local farms to expand and integrate its farm to school program through the HELP (Healthy Eating with Local Produce) project. Through HELP, student employees will use preservation techniques to make local produce available to all 24 schools in the district year round, even outside of regular harvest seasons. HELP will offer high school students culinary training, hands-on experience with local produce, and food production skills while providing employment in the local community.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets received a support service grant to build on a successful pilot program that provides local procurement, food safety, culinary skills, and capacity-building trainings for districts. The department will also identify and work with interested local growers to facilitate market-readiness trainings.

The Oxford School District in Mississippi, which previously received a FY 2013 planning grant, will expand their program through an implementation grant. The district will take part in a city-wide food hub collaboration with the Oxford City Market and turn garden projects into self-sustaining educational programs. Since receiving their initial grant in 2013, the project has served as an example to schools around the state and will continue to lead the way for farm to school projects in the coming years.

The First Nations Development Institute in New Mexico received a training grant to convene Native American food producers and leaders from schools with primarily Native American student bodies for a two-day training. The event will facilitate connections between schools and producers, showcase best practices, present resources available to initiate and further develop farm to school programs, and provide an open forum to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities for farm to school programs in Native communities.

For a complete list of 2016 Farm to School Grant recipients, please see the 2016 Farm to School Grants summary page.

The latest round of USDA Farm to School Grants brings investment since the program's inception in fiscal year 2013 to $19.9 million. Projects have been funded in all 50 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A report released earlier this year found that a vast majority of grantees use the USDA Farm to School Grant funds to strengthen or develop new partnerships, suggesting the potential for widespread collaboration between eligible schools, nongovernmental and community-based organizations, agricultural producer groups, and other community partners.

Group says more funding needed - >>>

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Group reacts to USDA news

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued a statement on the heels of USDA’s announcement noting that these awards demonstrate “a pressing need for more support for farm to school, as demand for programs that benefit healthy kids, local farmers and the nation’s schools continues to far surpass available funding.”

The group is calling for Congress to produce a revised Child Nutrition Act and that the reauthorization must include increased support for farm to school programing as proposed by Sens. Pat Leahy, D-Vt; and Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; and Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio.

NSAC says to “delay the child nutrition bill any longer – especially into a presidential election year when action on the delayed bill would be less likely – would be reckless and extremely challenging for the schools and farmers counting on the expansion or the introduction of farm to school in their communities.”

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