June 14, 2017
Farm to school projects started in a small number of communities as a way to support healthy eating, connect children to farming, and expand market opportunities for farmers. Today, as interest in “farm to fork” eating has grown, so too has interest in farm to school programs, which can now be found in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country. Many of these projects are supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School grant program, which this week announced $5 million in grant awards to support 65 projects across 42 states and Puerto Rico.
The awarded projects are estimated to reach 5,500 schools and 2 million students across the country. Schools with strong farm to school programs have reported benefits including decreased food waste and increased open-mindedness of students to trying fruits and vegetables, according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census – but the benefits don’t stop at the schools. Farm to school programs empower and educate children and their families by informing them about their food system and giving them the tools and confidence to make healthy choices, and they also support local farmers by connecting them to new market opportunities. According to the 2015 Farm to School Census, for example, local food purchasing from school districts translated into nearly $800 million spent on local food during the 2013-2014 school year. Those kinds of connections create win-win partnerships between schools, families, and family farmers.
The Farm to School grant program supports the implementation and development of planning, support services, and training projects that increase local-food sourcing in schools, improve child nutrition, foster agricultural literacy, and create marketing opportunities for local food producers. Schools, state agencies, tribal organizations, non-profits, farmers, and farm organizations are all eligible for these grants.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is proud to have played a critical role in the development of the Farm to School grant program. To date, this important program has awarded over $20 million in grants to over 300 projects across the country. We congratulate all the awardees, whose project descriptions are available at this link. We would like to extend a special congratulations to the two NSAC member groups that received funding for fiscal year (FY) 2017:
Georgia Organics will receive $25,000 through a training grant, which will allow them to administer both the 2017 Farm to School Summit and the Farm to School Track at the 2018 Georgia Organics Conference. Georgia announced the 2020 Vision for School Nutrition in December of 2015, which has a stated goal of heavily increasing local food procurement in schools. These comprehensive farm to school trainings are particularly timely and vital given Georgia’s need to address this 2020 Vision goal.
This project was awarded $100,000 in funding through a support service grant. The Republic Farm to School Program (RFSP) will create partnerships between local school districts and nearby farmers in order to integrate locally grown fruits and vegetables into school lunch menus. RFSP will also incorporate nutritional, agricultural, and environmental information into schools’ curricula.
Farm to School and the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization
One of NSAC’s top priorities through 2015 and 2016 was seeing our priorities from the Farm to School Act of 2015 included in the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). Throughout 2015, NSAC worked hand in hand with our member organization the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) to build bipartisan support for CNR and the Farm to School Act in Congress, as well as among grassroots stakeholders.
NSAC was successful in securing our priorities in both the Senate Agriculture Committee and House Education and Workforce Committee bills – including increased funding from $5 million to $10 million for the Farm to School Grant program – however, the process quickly disintegrated after committee passage. Negotiations started and stopped several times, but eventually, on December 6, 2016, the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Pat Roberts released a statement declaring that CNR negotiations were officially concluded and the bill’s prospects for 2016 were dead.
Despite the strong public interest in farm to school programs as a way to connect farmers to new markets and increase healthy food access, there remains today no appetite on Capitol Hill to move forward with CNR in 2017. Most of the policies, programs, and funding that are traditionally reauthorized in the Child Nutrition Act (including the Farm to School grant program) are permanent, therefore they will fortunately be able to continue on in some capacity regardless of whether or not Congress acts.
We are glad to retain at least the current version of the Farm to School grant program for the time being; however, we believe strongly that increased funding and policy changes to the program are both necessary. These changes can only be accomplished through congressional action, and to that end both NSAC and NFSN are actively examining new avenues – including the 2018 Farm Bill and the annual appropriations process – to provide the farm to school grant program with the resources and improvements it needs.