November 17, 2015
On Tuesday, November 17, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $4.8 million in grants for 74 projects in 39 states through the USDA Farm to School Grant Program for fiscal year (FY) 2016. The Farm to School Grant Program promotes healthy kids through nutritious school meals and snacks from local and regional producers and food and agricultural literacy among K-12 students. In addition to improving child nutrition, these projects increase economic opportunities for local and regional farmers and spur economic and community development.
Secretary Vilsack pointed to the “triple win” of farm to school in his announcement today.
“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. With early results from our Farm to School Census indicating schools across the nation invested nearly $600 million in local products, farm to school also provides a significant and reliable market for local farmers and ranchers.”
Four Years of Support for Farm to School
Since 2012, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has successfully helped expand marketing opportunities for local and regional producers and increase access to nutritious, local food in the schools through the awarding of nearly $20 million in grants to 295 farm to school projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to USDA, this latest round of funding will impact over 5,200 schools and 2.9 million students across the country.
Mandatory funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program was first secured in the 2010 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), also known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, through a campaign of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the National Farm to School Network (NSFN), and other partners. The campaign resulted in $40 million in mandatory funding to get the Farm to School Grant Program up and running.
2016 Awards Support Four NSAC Members
NSAC played a critical role in the development and congressional passage of the Farm to School Grant Program, and we applaud USDA’s excellent work in implementing the program. We congratulate all the awardees, whose project descriptions are available at this link, and we especially congratulate the four NSAC member groups that received funding for FY2016:
2016 Awards Build on Previous Planning Efforts
The 2016 awards, which range from $20,000 to $100,000 are distributed in four different grant categories: Planning, Implementation, Support Service, and Training. These grants support school districts, state and local agencies, tribal nations, farmers and ranchers, and non-profit organizations in their efforts to increase local foods served through child nutrition programs, provide food and agriculture education, and develop schools’ and farmers’ capacities to participate in farm to school.
Of particular significance is the fact that more than half of this year’s implementation awards went to grantees who had previously received a planning grant. This points to the enormous opportunity that the grants provide to build upon the planning and development stages of farm to school program and develop true farm to school leaders across the country.
Farm to School and the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization
The program has continued to help support the development and implementation of farm to school programs across the country, but unfortunately demand continues to exceed available funding. As in years past, this latest round of awards demonstrates a pressing need for more support for farm to school, as the demand for programs that benefit healthy kids, local farmers, and the nation’s schools continues to far surpass available funding.
Although Congress already missed an opportunity to expand this program when they allowed the Healthy, Hunger Free Act of 2010 to expire at the end of September, there is still a small window of time for Congress to produce a revised Child Nutrition Act. The reauthorization must include increased support for farm to school programming across the country, as proposed by Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH).
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. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) hopes Congress will seize this opportunity to expand children’s access to nutritious food from local and regional producers, increase educational opportunity to learn about nutrition, food, and agriculture, and improve opportunities for local producers and their communities.