February 25, 2015
Over the past two years, farmers, teachers, school nutrition professionals and engaged community members have made one message loud and clear: the USDA Farm to School Grant Program is crucial to the success of farm to school across the country.
The only problem? Demand for the grants far exceeds supply. In its first three years, the Farm to School Grant Program received more than 1,000 applications but only had enough funding to award 221 grants. In other words, just one in five projects was funded.
Today, Congress took an exciting step toward closing this gap with the introduction of the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Congress will consider the Farm to School Act as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30.
The two Senators are both former chairs of the Senate Agriculture Committee and long-time farm and food assistance champions. The two Representatives were both very active on the most recent farm bill and are recapitulating their leadership roles as local farm and food system supporters.
The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 proposes an increase in annual mandatory funding for the grant program from $5 million to $15 million and full inclusion of preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
This grant program is an essential tool to improve the health of our children, our food system and our local economies. Today, more than 23 million students are making healthier food choices at school and at home thanks to farm to school activities like school gardens, cooking classes and incorporating local foods in school meals.
Since its launch in 2011, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has supported projects that benefit farmers, kids and communities nationwide. For instance: