October 29, 2020
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the opening of the fiscal year (FY) 2021 Farm to School (F2S) Grant Program request for applications (RFA). Administered by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Office of Community Food Systems, the program provides farmers, schools, local government, 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.
Since 2012, the program has provided approximately $5 million in grants each year, on a competitive basis, to schools, nonprofits, state and local agencies, agricultural producers, and American Indian tribal organizations to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and to expand educational activities related to agriculture and food. Since the program’s inception, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, ultimately reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools.
Thanks to the work of Congressional appropriators for the past several years, led by long time farm to school champion Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the program has had an additional $5 million in discretionary funding available for grants on top of the $5 million in mandatory funding per year provided for the program through the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act or CNR 2010). As a result approximately $10 million is available in FY 2021 for F2S grants.
In the FY 2020, FNS received 204 eligible applications and funded 159 of the applications for a success rate of 78 percent. A 78 percent success rate is fairly high for a competitive grants program and is undoubtedly a result of the additional funding provided by Congressional appropriators to address the consistent demand for the farm to school resources. The high success rate also suggests that additional work is likely needed to improve outreach about the program especially in light of the fact that appropriators appear poised to provide the program with another, larger tranche of discretionary funding.
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 Resources for Farm to School Grant Program Applicants page.
In order to support interested parties and prospective applicants, the Office of Community Food Systems is hosting two webinars. The first webinar will focus on the FY 2021 RFA and will highlight changes to the program and important requirements for submitting a successful application. The second webinar will dig deeper into the application process, what makes an application competitive and provide technical assistance on completing and submitting an application. You can register for the webinars at the following links:
If you are unable to attend, both webinars will be recorded and made available on the resources for grant applicants page.
For the FY 2021 the Office of Community Food Systems has made a number of changes to the program, most significantly the creation of a new track or category of grant – Turnkey grants. Turnkey grants include a specific, limited set of key activities with pre-defined requirements. Consequently, the Turnkey application is a streamlined and simplified application compared to other grants available through the program. In addition, there are no minimum request amounts in the Turnkey track.
Prospective turnkey grant applicants have the choice of four predefined “turnkey” projects:
The creation of the Turnkey application option is an exciting and innovative approach. Creating a streamlined and simplified application for a set of predefined projects without a minimum for grant sizes could become a model for other USDA grants programs such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program.
In adding the Turnkey option, FNS has eliminated the “Planning Grant” category. Instead planning activities may be incorporated in any of the three possible grant categories that are now available to applicants:
In addition to these changes to the program, institutions participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and/or Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) are now eligible for funding regardless of whether the program is located at a school-based site.
For FY 2021, in reviewing and scoring applications priority considerations will be given to the following categories including the new priority for applications from agricultural producers and producer groups:
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 successful Farm to School Grant project awards for FY 2020, and a list of prior grantees’ project descriptions for inspiration purposes can be found here.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CA)
Community Alliance with Family Farmers received an implementation grant of $99,973 to help food service directors and farmers with the procurement regulations and auditing processes for creating compliant bids. This project will support the development and piloting of an automated Bid Generator to be used by food service directors at 10 school districts in California. This automated web-based Bid Generator, coupled with direct technical assistance, will ease the procurement process for food service directors, thereby increasing the amount of locally sourced, farm fresh produce in school cafeterias.
Kansas Rural Center (KS)
The Kansas Rural Center received a $99,863 implementation grant to work with their farm to school partners, through workshops, community gatherings, and storytelling, to provide educational programs and training. The project will strengthen: 1.) Farmers’ knowledge of how to produce food safely for schools and the market opportunities, and how to work with school food programs through training; 2.) Community involvement and understanding of farm to school programs and specific needs or opportunities through town halls and success stories; and 3.) Youth understanding of where and how food is grown through farm visits and increased access to local food in school meal programs.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake/Fair Farms (MD)
Fair Farms received a $99,704 implementation grant to support Frederick County Public Schools, Community FARE and other partners as they work towards their 2025 goal of 10% locally sourced produce in a mix of 10 rural, urban, and suburban elementary, middle, and high schools, the majority with over 50% free and reduced meals. Waterkeepers Chesapeake/Fair Farms serves as fiscal agent for this project.