NSAC's Blog

New Awards Will Strengthen Farm to School Programs

December 2, 2014

Local farmers, food businesses, and schools from 82 farm to school projects across the country received a boost today with the announcement of over $5 million in funding from the Farm to School Grant Program by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack. These grant awards will serve more than 13,000 schools and 2.8 million students located in 42 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands, helping meet the growing demand by schools for locally-sourced foods, improving child nutrition, increasing food and agricultural literacy, and growing marketing opportunities for local farmers and food businesses.

USDA’s Farm to School Grants are competitively awarded to schools, nonprofits, state and local agencies, farmers, farm organizations, and Indian tribal organizations to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and to expand educational activities in agriculture, nutrition, and food. Grants can be used for training, planning, operations, equipment, school gardens, and local partnership development.

New for the current FY 2015 round of grants was an additional grant category for funding conferences, trainings, and events to support the development of supply chain relationships connecting local producers to school food buyers, as well as for providing technical assistance for local procurement, food safety, culinary education, and integration of agriculture-based curriculum.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) played a critical role in the development and congressional passage of the Farm to School Grant Program. We applaud USDA’s excellent work in implementing a program that, to date, has awarded $15.1 million in grants to 221 farm to school projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We also congratulates all the awardees, whose projects are described at this link. We especially congratulate the six NSAC member group that received funding:

  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which works with the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute to coordinate the California Farm to School Network (CFSN), will use its funding for CFSN’s first annual conference, to bring together 300 farm to school stakeholders to bridge connections across sectors and geographies.
  • Farm to Table New Mexico will create the New Mexico and Southwest Region Farm to Cafeteria Procurement Training Program to increase local school food purchasing through nine procurement trainings focusing on procurement basics, local procurement best practices, improving solicitations for local vendors, geographic preference, and creating bid specifications.
  • Georgia Organics will use its funding to provide FoodCorps service members to create model farm to school programs that will increase local food procurement, integrate food education, and establish school garden programs in three target communities.
  • National Farm to School Network (NFSN) will host a national conference, “Strengthening the Farm to School Supply Chain across the Nation,” to bring together farm to school leaders at the state, regional, and national levels, along with invited content experts, for targeted training, resource sharing and networking covering a variety of farm to school topics, including procurement, food safety, program and impact evaluation, farm to school in Native American communities, partnerships for success, and farm to school in summer.
  • Rural Action, one of eight organizations that comprise the NSAC member group Central Appalachian Network will help a network of six rural school districts overcome barriers to fresh, local product preparation by collaborating with Hocking College Culinary Students to provide them with real world farm to table experiences, utilizing fresh produce purchased from the Chesterhill Produce Auction, and providing technical assistance to school administration in local production.
  • Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network will provide educational tools, professional development, networking opportunities, field trips, and technical training to enhance existing farm to school programs, while also establishing regional farm to school networks to support new partnerships with local farms and food hubs and increase the procurement of local food in schools.

FY 2015 grantees still represent only 24 percent of the 348 applications submitted, serving as a reminder of the popularity of farm to school activities and of the Farm to School Grant Program nationwide. On average, the program has been able to fund only one in five applications during its three year history.

Results from the first-ever USDA Farm to School Census, which we described in blog posts shortly after its release and updating earlier in the year, show that school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future.

Farm to School and the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization

With such high demand for the Farm to School Grant Program, and the expectation of growth in farm to school activities in the coming years, more funding is needed for the program. The upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR) provides an opportunity to strengthen and increase funding for the program.

In 2009, NSAC, in partnership with the NFSN and other organizations, helped win a total of $40 million in mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant Program in the 2010 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, also known as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. With the funding levels for the Farm to School Grant Program being oversubscribed five to one, it is clear that the next CNR must address this need for increased funding.

For CNR 2015, NSAC plans to again partner with NFSN to campaign for the Farm to School Grant Program – this time to provide increased funding levels and to improve and expand the program. Details of the NSAC-NFSN partnership to strengthen the Farm to School Grant Program in the next CNR will be available in the coming weeks.  To learn more, please sign up to receive alerts about our CNR Campaign for 2015 on the Stay Connected section of our home page.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access

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