March 19, 2015
Farm to School programs not only help instill healthy eating habits and agricultural literacy in the next generation, but also support the local farming economy. Whether incorporating food products from local and regional farmers into school meals, providing lessons about agriculture and nutrition, or building school gardens full of vegetables, farm to school programs exist in every state in the country and the District of Columbia and in rural and urban school districts of all sizes.
This week, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Program announced several new resources, along with a call to schools to complete a new Farm to School Census questionnaire.
Farm to School Census
According to USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census — released in 2013 with results finalized in 2014 — in school year 2011-2012, approximately forty-four percent of the over 9,000 public school districts across the country who submitted survey results reported having an existing farm to school program in place, with another 13 percent of school districts surveyed committed to launching a farm to school program in the near future. Schools participating in farm to school activities purchased and served over $385 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
The Farm to School Census explores the range of farm to school activities school districts are participating in and the investments in local agriculture that school districts are making by procuring locally.
On March 18, USDA’s Farm to School Program announced the second bi-annual Farm to School Census. The Census questionnaire is being distributed to school districts through state agencies this week.
The deadline for school districts to submit their census surveys is May 29, 2015. Questions about the Census can be directed to: Matt Benson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farm to School Grant Program
The USDA Farm to School Team not only manages the Farm to School Census, but also the Farm to School Grant Program. The latest round of funding available through the Farm to School Grant program was announced on Monday, March 16.
New Webpages: Farm to Summer and Farm to Preschool
In addition to announcing the collection of Farm to School Census data, the USDA Farm to School Team also announced the launch of two new webpages: Farm to Summer and Farm to Preschool. The Farm to Preschool page highlights resources to help serve locally-grown, healthy foods and improve nutrition for children in early child care and education settings, especially those participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
The Farm to Summer page highlights resources to bring the same Farm to School activities – local procurement and lessons in food, agriculture, and nutrition – to summer feeding sites participating in the USDA Summer Food Service Program. Each page provides links to resources from USDA and from USDA-partner organizations.
Two New Policy Memos on Farm to School, CACFP, and State Administrative Expense Funds
USDA FNS also released two policy memos in a question and answer format that help provide guidance on and encourage farm to school programming.
The first memo highlights that State Administrative Expense (SAE) funds and State Administrative Funds (SAF) — both provided to states through USDA’s Child Nutrition programs — may be used in part for state-level coordination of farm to school activities.
Child Nutrition Programs include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and Food Distribution Programs. SAE funds are for costs incurred in the State-level administration of these programs. SAF funds State-level administration of the Summer Food Service Program.
The second memo provides guidance on the incorporation of local food and agriculture-based curriculum in Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) operations. CACFP subsidizes meals and snacks served in early childhood, day care, and after-school settings. CACFP reimburses centers at free, reduced-price, or paid rates for eligible meals and snacks served to enrolled children, targeting benefits to the neediest children.
The memo describes what Farm to Preschool is and provides links to resources for procuring local foods and creating edible gardens. The memo also addresses the donation of food from local gardens or farms for CACFP, allowable uses of funds to create edible CACFP gardens, and allowable uses of food from these gardens. The memo also answers several food safety questions related to the safe handling of produce in kitchens and the sales of produce and local food products by farmers and other sources.
Farm to School Reauthorization before Congress this Year
In 2009, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and several partner organizations, including the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), campaigned for and helped secure $40 million in mandatory funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant program in the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR), also known as the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.
With the expiration of CNR 2010 on September 30, 2015, NSAC and NFSN have been working with Congressional leaders to strengthen the Farm to School Grant Program through the recent introduction of the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015. For more information on how to support farm to school programming around the country through the Farm to School Act of 2015, see NSAC’s Take Action page.