Over the past two years, farmers, teachers, school nutrition professionals and engaged community members have made one message loud and clear: the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is crucial to the success of farm to school across the country.
The only problem? Demand for the grants far exceeds supply. In its first three years, the Farm to School Grant Program received more than 1,000 applications but only had enough funding to award 221 grants. In other words, just one in five projects was funded.
Wednesday, Congress took an exciting step toward closing this gap with the introduction of the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Congress will consider the Farm to School Act as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30.
The two Senators are both former chairs of the Senate Agriculture Committee and long-time farm and food assistance champions. The two Representatives were both very active on the most recent farm bill and are recapitulating their leadership roles as local farm and food system supporters.
The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 proposes an increase in annual mandatory funding for the grant program from $5 million to $15 million and full inclusion of preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
This grant program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Today, more than 23 million students are making healthier food choices at school and at home thanks to farm to school activities like school gardens, cooking classes and incorporating local foods in school meals.
Since its launch in 2011, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has supported projects that benefit farmers, kids and communities nationwide. For instance:
- In Ohio, farmer Floyd Davis benefited when schools in his region bought more of his apples, lettuce and spinach thanks to Farm to School Grant funding. Davis has expanded his farming acreage and installed seven high tunnels for year-round produce production to serve local schools. And Davis isn’t alone: Farmers participating in farm to school initiatives nationwide have seen an average 5 percent increase in income.
- Kale and collard greens are on the menu in South Carolina thanks to farm to school funding. School nutrition professionals at School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties attended a culinary training where they learned how to incorporate these vegetables into school meals so that students could enjoy a local source of dark, leafy greens.
- In Nebraska, a state where one in three children are overweight, grant-funded school gardens and farm field trips have introduced healthy eating habits and hands-on agricultural experiences to kids in more than a dozen schools across the state. Participation in farm to school activities has been proven to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Nebraska currently spends more than $3 million of its school food budget locally.
- Sign our individual cosponsor letter – join us and our bipartisan champions in telling Congress: farm to school is a powerful tool for supporting our kids, our farmers and our communities!
- Add your organization to our growing list of supporters.
- Sign up for action alerts (using the sidebar on left) to stay up-to-date on the latest in the march toward CNR 2015, including how to support the Farm to School Act of 2015 – there will be many opportunities to get involved this spring!
- Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2015.
- See our press release on the introduction of the Farm to School Act of 2015.