October 16, 2018
October is National Farm to School Month, the perfect time to share stories of farm to school (F2S) impact and innovation! This farm to school month, we have even more reasons to elevate F2S success stories because the next farm bill – which includes programs that have significant impact on F2S efforts, such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) – is being actively debated. Congress typically reauthorizes the farm bill every five years, however, the last one (the 2014 Farm Bill) recently expired without any extension package in place. Without programs like FMLFPP, which is now in limbo without a new farm bill or extension package, this could mean that new F2S efforts across the country will be unable to launch.
Many members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) have helped schools, families, and farmers in their communities thrive with support from FMLFPP. In honor of National Farm to School Month, we are proud to share this story of F2S success from our members at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE).
In the fall of 2017, MCE received a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP, which is part of FMLFPP) grant to identify and coordinate the resources and connections needed to build a local food system in St. Louis, MO. MCE’s goal has been to help cultivate a system wherein area institutions source their food from local farms and create a ripple effect of benefits throughout the community.
The work began last year, after MCE’s grant was awarded, with outreach to farmers, food distributors, and institutional buyers, such as hospitals and schools, in the St. Louis region. This early scoping work was done in order to establish the current status of the food system in the area, and to identify potential partners and key stakeholders.
Thanks to support from LFPP, MCE was able to hire a Local Food Coordinator, Rae Miller, to devote the time needed to speak with the St. Louis region’s farmers, distributors, and local food buyers. In speaking with key stakeholders at local institutions (e.g., universities, hospitals, schools), for example, MCE found that there was high interest in – but little knowledge of how to implement – local food purchasing. From their interviews with area farmers, MCE learned that cost-prohibitive requirements, such as particular food safety certifications and high levels of insurance, often prevented family farmers from seeking out institutional contracts.
This year, MCE is leveraging the information learned through their 2017 LFPP planning grant, to help St. Louis-area stakeholders to take the next steps in local food system development by: creating a supply chain that helps farmers maximize production; creating markets for new farmers; and increasing resident access to local food.
Planning and scoping mostly completed, MCE is now launching a pilot farm to school project with local school district, Maplewood Richmond Heights (MRH) and the new North City Food Hub. MRH has sourced local ingredients for their cafeteria for a few years, but has faced issues with processing facilities closing or offering inconsistent product. MCE’s hope is to forge connections between MRH and North City Food Hub that will help address some of MRH’s sourcing issues and allow them to continue buying local product. North City Food Hub, a shared-use kitchen with a job training programing, is ground zero for the establishment of an affordable and sustainable farm-to-school supply chain. As the supply chain is built out, North City Food Hub will help MRH to increase their local food their sourcing and begin servicing other St. Louis-area schools’ local food needs.
Thanks to the work of their LMFPP-supported Local Food Coordinator, MCE was able to identify the MRH school district as a potential partner for this project. Because MRH not only has an interest in supporting local farmers, but also has self-operated cafeterias, they were an ideal candidate. Having self-operated cafeterias means that MRH doesn’t have a contract with a large food distribution company that controls food purchasing. In many cases, large food distribution companies require farmers to hold expensive insurance and food safety certifications, which MCE had previously identified as a key barrier to institutional partnership for farmers in the St. Louis area.
MCE, and many other ag-vocates and farm to school organizations, found success in connecting family farmers to local schools thanks to support from FMLFPP. Future projects, however, are currently on hold because FMLFPP is a “tiny but mighty” farm bill program that requires new funding and extended authority. With the 2014 Farm Bill expired and no extension in place (let alone an extension with new funding for the program), FMLFPP is now in limbo, along with several other tiny but mighty programs that serve the sustainable agriculture community.
NSAC, as well as many farmers and farm-advocacy organizations across the country, are now focused on helping Congress to deliver a farm bill that reflects the sustainable agriculture priorities of the Senate draft bill as soon as possible. If farm to school is a priority for you and/or your community, make sure your Congress Members know that you care about tiny but mighty farm bill programs like FMLFPP. For more information on how to stay updated and involved in the farm bill process, check out NSAC’s Take Action! page and sign up for our Weekly Roundup e-newsletter.