NSAC's Blog

Bipartisan Coalition Revives Farm to School Act

September 8, 2017

Maple Avenue Market Farm co-owner teaching students about local and interesting varieties of produce. Photo credit: USDA.

Farm to school programs are making a big impact on the farmers, students and the communities they serve. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2015 Farm to School Census, purchases made by schools during the 2013-2014 school year added up to nearly $800 million spent on local food – and that means that 800 million more dollars went into the pockets of American farmers and ranchers, helping to keep their families and communities prosperous while also ensuring healthy meals were served in cafeterias across America.

Not surprisingly, farm to school (F2S) programs are in high demand – both farmers and school districts know that developing this healthy food pipeline is a win-win partnership. Unfortunately, the USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program, which has played a critical role in helping to establish F2S programs nationwide, has historically not been funded anywhere near the levels required to meet an ever-increasing demand.

However, this week, F2S advocates got some welcome news. Congress took an important step toward addressing the gap between F2S demand and available funding by introducing the bipartisan/bicameral Farm to School Act of 2017 (S.1767, H.R. 3687). On September 6, 2017,  Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), along with Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), kickstarted a long-stalled process by introducing the act in both the House and the Senate.

About The Farm to School Act of 2017

First introduced in 2015 as part of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR), the Farm to School Act would expand access to the Farm to School Grant Program by increasing funding and expanding eligible grant recipients.

The Farm to School Act of 2017 aims to make our children healthier and support our nation’s family farmers and food producing communities by:

  • Expanding program access to include preschools, summer food service sites, and after school programs.
  • Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million. Demand for the Farm to School Grant program is currently over five times higher than available funding. In the first three years of the program (fiscal years 2013-15), USDA received over 1,000 applications (requesting over $78 million in grant support), but was able to make only 221 awards with its $5 million in available funding.
  • Expanding access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, particularly those from tribal producers. Native American communities face disproportionately high rates of diet-related illnesses. Encouraging F2S partnerships between tribal schools and tribal producers will increase consumption of nutritious, traditional foods, while also supporting Native farmers and ranchers.
  • Encouraging greater program participation from beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. By providing technical assistance and outreach to a broader range of potential farmer applicants, the Farm to School Grant program can bring more, much-needed economic opportunities to traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers nationwide.

The Farm to School Act was developed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in partnership with the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) – an NSAC member organization.

Now that a bill has been introduced in both chambers, it will be need to be considered by the full membership for inclusion in the 2018 Farm Bill. As this debate progresses, stay tuned to both NSAC and NSFN for updates, including opportunities for organizations and farm to school advocates to lend their support for the bill.

What is Farm to School and Why Does it Matter?

Farm to school initiatives enliven and strengthen local economies, create healthy food habits among school children and families, and improve educational and food purchasing practices. Because many F2S initiatives often involve the use of school gardens, these programs are often children’s first – and sometimes only – experience sowing, cultivating, and harvesting their own food. When coupled with in-school nutrition education and a school cafeteria full of healthy meals produced with fresh, local ingredients, F2S initiatives can have a profound impact on children’s current and future eating habits, as well as a positive impact on their ability to focus and learn in the classroom.

Children are not the only beneficiaries of these programs, however. F2S initiatives are good for farmers and food producing communities because they provide a stable source of income and an opportunity to sell products that would not be marketable to most retailers (such as smaller than average fruit, which is not always wanted by supermarkets, but is great for kids!). Teachers and even family members also benefit from F2S programs because they help to create community engagement. Teachers find F2S gives them new and exciting ways to engage with their students, and family members often learn and benefit from the lessons children learn from their F2S programs at school.

There are countless anecdotal stories about the benefits of F2S, but there is also hard data showing the impact of the program. According the National Farm to School Network’s Farm to School Network Data:

  • When schools offer school gardens, 44.2 percent of students eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • When schools serve local food, 33.1 percent of students eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • F2S programs support reduced transportation-related environmental impacts, such as emissions of air pollutants.
  • F2S programs support an increase in student meal participation from 3 percent to 16 percent (average +9 percent), generating increased revenue for schools through meal programs.
  • Farmers participating in farm to school initiatives nationwide have seen an average increase in income of 5 percent.

Program History

The Farm to School Grant program was created in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 (Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act 2004), but was not provided with funding until the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act or CNR 2010). That funding was made possible in large part thanks to the advocacy of NSAC, NFSN, and many other champions who advocated for the potential impact of the program, once implemented. Since October 1, 2012, CNR 2010 has provided $5 million per year for the Farm to School grant program. Funding for the program expires in 2020.

The program is administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), and currently provides $5 million in grants each year on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofits, state and local agencies, agricultural producers, and Indian tribal organizations to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and to expand educational activities on agriculture and food.

The most recent request for proposals included four different types of grant categories that were available for funding:

  • Planning grants are for schools or school districts just getting started on farm to school activities
  • Implementation grants enable schools or school districts to expand or further develop existing farm to school programs
  • Support service grants allow community partners such as non-profit entities, Indian tribal nations, state and local agencies, and agriculture producers to provide support to schools in their efforts to bring local products into the cafeteria and for other farm to school activities
  • Training grants are intended for eligible entities to support trainings that strengthen farm to school supply chains, or trainings that provide technical assistance in the area of local procurement, food safety, culinary education, and/or integration of agriculture‐based curriculum.

Categories: Farm Bill, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access

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