To start December, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced more than $5 million in grants for 82 projects covering 42 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants support USDA's efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program.
The program helps schools buy more food from local farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local food for school children and supporting local economies. The agency release a Farm to School Census earlier this year that showed school districts participating in farm to school programs bought and served more than $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of the participating school planning to increase purchases.
In a media release announcing the grants, Vilsack says: "These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers."
Vilsack made the announcement at Common Market, a Philadelphia food hub connecting wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Common Market is receiving a grant to support their "An Apple a Day" program, The facility will act as a bridge between Pennsylvania Family Farms, a small Pennsylvania value-added processor, and public charter schools to provide food safety, product development, packaging, educational, marketing, planning, ordering and delivery support to farm and school food service partners.
Together, Common Market and the other selected projects will serve more than 4,800 schools and 2.8 million students, nearly 51 percent of whom live in rural communities. A few additional examples of programs getting USDA grants include:
*Tift County School System in Georgia will build on its current efforts to provide agriculture and nutrition programs that are experiential, educational and better connect students to local and regional food. Proposed activities include retrofitting a school bus to serve as a farm bus/rolling classroom, retrofitting a canning plant to preserve local tomatoes, and irrigating the school farm to expand the growing season and increase yield.
* Colonial School District in Delaware will have students and staff directly engaged in the entire process of planning, growing and processing foods, creating new menus, and placing healthy foods directly into school nutrition programs. At the Historic Penn Farm, high school students will grow crops for both the school's breakfast and lunch programs.
* The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council in South Dakota intends to provide locally raised tribal bison meat into the school lunch programs, procure other locally produced food products, and implement school gardens.
* The National Future Farmers of America Organization (FFA) will connect local youth producers/FFA members to school food buyers and host a series of webinars focused on developing state level partnerships.
For a complete list of FY15 Farm to School grant recipients, please visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/f2s/FY_2015_Grant_Award_Summaries.pdf