October 17, 2019
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the opening of fiscal year (FY) 2020 Farm to School Grant Program request for applications (RFA), which is a welcomed start to National Farm to School Month. The Farm to School Grant Program was first established in the 2012 Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA), and provides farmers and healthy food advocates with funding to increase the availability of local foods in schools through trainings, research, equipment, operations support, and the development of partnerships.
For FY 2020, USDA will award up to $10 million in grants to eligible applicants, an increase of over $2.5 million compared to the previous funding cycle. The additional funding was made available through FY 2019 omnibus bill.
Applicants are expected to match at least 25% of total project costs. USDA will only provide funding for up to 75% of the project’s total costs.
For more information on the application process, visit USDA’s Frequently Asked Questions document for applicants. However, the document was last updated in October 2018, so applicants should continuously check the Resources for Farm to School Grant Program Applicants page for the latest information. Additional information will be available through a USDA webinar later this month on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 3:00pm EST. For more information about the webinar, click here.
In addition to ensuring a geographical diversity and equitable treatment of urban, rural, and tribal communities, among other priorities listed in the NSLA, USDA has outlined the following priorities for the FY 2020 grants:
Farm to School Grant applications are divided into three competitive tracks: Planning, Implementation, and State Agency.
Planning Grants – focus on activities that will set the ground for future farm to school projects. Planning activities might include collecting data, engaging stakeholders, and identifying obstacles that hinder farm to school programming in a particular community.
Implementation Grants – expand upon existing farm to school initiatives. Successful applications will engage large communities, and/or provide services/products that have national, regional, or statewide impact.
State Agency Grants – fund projects by State Agencies that support and grow farm to school efforts in their states.
While overall application information is the same compared with previous funding cycles, USDA routinely makes noteworthy and important changes as part of each funding cycle. For the FY 2020 RFA, substantive changes include alterations to grant tracks, the addition of project objectives for each grant track, and policy modifications for former or current grantees seeking additional funding.
Alterations to Grant Tracks
As noted above, there are three grant tracks available for FY 2020: Planning, Implementation, and State Agency. The Training grant track is no longer available, and a new State Agency grant track has been created for FY 2020. Only State Agencies are eligible for the new State Agency grant track. Planning and Implementation grants are available to all eligible entities except State Agencies.
Addition of Project Objectives to Grant Tracks
Project Objectives have been added to grant tracks to help proposed projects align with the intent of the Farm to School Grant Program. After selecting a grant track, applicants must propose activities that support the objective for their chosen grant track.
Policy Modifications for Former or Current Grantees Seeking Additional Funding
Grantees that received Implementation, Training, or Support Service grants in any of the last three funding cycles (FY 2017, FY 2018, or FY 2019) are ineligible to apply in FY 2020; however, former Planning grantees, who complete closeout activities by the time the FY 2020 RFA closes, may apply for Implementation grants.
State agencies that have received Implementation, Support Service, or Training grants in the last three funding cycles (FY 2017, FY 2018, or FY 2019) are eligible to apply for FY 2020 funding under the State Agency grant track only. State agencies with active Farm to School grants are still eligible to apply for FY 2020 funding.
Applicants are strongly encouraged to review any changes to the RFA process that have been made prior to completing and submitting an application.
Multiple outstanding projects were funded as part of the previous year’s Farm to School Grant cycle, including projects from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) members. The following are examples of FY 2019, successful Farm to School Grant project awards:
National Center for Frontier Communities (NSAC Member):
The National Center for Frontier Communities (NCFC) will use their $100,000 award to bolster their Southwest New Mexico Food Hub. The grant funds will allow the hub to scale to their current supply chain, sell to up to six regional school districts, and provide educational programming about local food to students in three school districts. NCFC will also leverage their existing partnerships to increase frontier and remote farmers’ sales to local schools.
The Center for Rural Affairs (NSAC Member):
The Center for Rural Affairs was awarded $98,450 in collaboration with the Nebraska State Future Farmers of America (FFA) Association and University of Nebraska-Extension to expand its existing Greenhouse to Cafeteria program. The group will select ten schools to receive startup funds and support, distribute a Greenhouse to Cafeteria toolkit to all Nebraska high schools, establish a peer network for technical support and training, and create an awards and recognition program.
La Semilla Food Center:
La Semilla Food Center and partners received $99,962 to improve access to local foods in schools. The program will make local food products available to school salad bar menus in the Paso del Norte region through the implementation of a comprehensive Farm to School program that will solidify farm to school activities at 20 schools in 2 school districts. The project encompasses coordinated and infrastructure-backed local aggregation and distribution that bring local or regionally produced foods into school cafeterias and classrooms, as well as hands-on experiential learning activities.
Howe Public Schools:
Howe Public Schools received $94,321 to collaborate with two local farms, boost production from existing school gardens, increase the use of fresh fruits and vegetables in the school lunch program, and educate students about health and nutrition. The school system will schedule routine produce deliveries throughout the school year, in addition to cultivating an existing 11-acre school garden site. The program will also teach students how to use garden and farming equipment. The project includes an improved kitchen processing space and outdoor learning center, as well.
For more examples of the incredible work supported by the Farm to School Grant program, check out our recent blog about three Farm to School advocates and their grant projects.
Earlier this year, NSAC and the National School Food Network (NFSN) introduced two marker bills, the Farm to School Act of 2019 and the Kids East Local Act, which include important policy changes that should be incorporated into the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). The Farm to School Act of 2019 was introduced by a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to address the disparity between interest in Farm to School Grants and available program funding. The bill would provide an additional $10 million in annual funding for the Farm to School Grant Program. Additionally, the bill would make policy changes to improve access to the program for Native American communities, and to prioritize projects that engage beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers.
NSAC’s CNR page and our most recent CNR blog include updates on Congressional action around this issue. To stay tuned to advocacy and engagement opportunities, be sure to check out our Take Action page and sign up for our e-newsletter and Action Alerts emails here.
NSAC and NFSN will continue to work with our Coalition and allies to ensure that the next CNR includes a much-needed increase in mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, as well as commonsense regulatory reforms that will make it easier for schools to connect directly with family farmers.
In honor of National Farm to School month, NSAC is publishing a series of blog posts throughout October that highlight the value of Farm to School. To learn more about the Farm to School Grant Program and Farm to School month activities, check out our posts on the history of farm to school work at the federal level and farm to school successes and advocacy in action.