July 25, 2019
School is out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean efforts to connect schools with their local growers have stopped. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced a record level of funding – over $9 million – for projects funded through the Farm to School Grant Program. This round, 126 diverse projects were funded that will support farm to school efforts in 5,400 schools and impact approximately 3.2 million students in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
To date, the Farm to School Grant Program has helped nearly 40,000 schools improve their meal options, connecting over 15.3 million students with healthier food, while also supporting expanded market opportunities for producers across the country. According to the USDA’s 2015 Farm to School Census, schools purchased nearly $790 million of local foods in school year (SY) 2013-2014. Additionally, the report showed that every dollar spent on local food generated up to an additional $2.16 in economic activity based on annual purchasing patterns. This means that school purchasing power could generate over $1 billion in local economic activity.
Farm to school activities empower children and their families to make informed food choices, strengthen the local economy, and contribute to healthier communities. Implementation of farm to school grant projects differs by location, but projects always include one or more of the following elements:
The Farm to School grant program supports the implementation and development of planning, support services, and training projects that increase local-food sourcing in schools, improve child nutrition, foster agricultural literacy, and create marketing opportunities for local food producers. Schools, state agencies, tribal organizations, non-profits, farmers, and farm organizations are all eligible for these grants.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is proud to have played a central role in the development of the Farm to School grant program, and in helping to secure $5 million per year in mandatory funding for the program in the 2010 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). This fiscal year’s (FY) record breaking level of projects was made possible largely thanks to the additional funding secured by NSAC, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), and our allies in the child nutrition and family farm communities in the FY 2018 and FY 2019 appropriations bills.
NSAC congratulates all the FY 2019 awardees, in particular, the following six NSAC member groups that received funding directly or in partnership with others this cycle. A complete list of awardees and project descriptions are available at this link.
Angelic Organics Learning Center is partnering with Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), the National Farm to School Network’s Illinois partner, on a $92,998 implementation grant. Their joint project will support education and outreach efforts to expand participation in SGA’s Illinois Harvest of the month and Great Illinois Apple Crunch programs. Funds will also be used to increase school and early childhood education centers’ participation and engagement in the programs through consulting, resources and technical assistance, and implement learning opportunities – including a podcast service and a school food service personnel Institute.
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 start up 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.
LiveWell Colorado was awarded $26,693 to support their Local Procurement Colorado (LoProCO) program. LoProCO is a collaboration between school food service directors, farmers, state agencies, extension agents, regional health departments, and nonprofits.
LiveWell Colorado’s Chef Consultant, Jessica Wright commented on the impact of the Farm to School Grant program in an interview with NSAC:
“Creating a robust and sustainable Farm to School program is possible, however, we cannot expect our Food Service Directors or farmers to do it alone. Our model brings targeted technical assistance, capacity-building and connections to the table, allowing those decision makers the opportunity to identify their best path forward while feeling confident and supported along the way.”
Through regional workshops, LoProCO will address local food procurement, and how farmers and schools can best work together to offer healthy, local meals to students.
The Montana Office of Public Instruction was awarded $100,000 to partner with NSAC members, the National Center for Appropriate Technology and FoodCorps, along with the Montana Team Nutrition Program at Montana State University. This partnership project will expand farm to school support into more rural and remote communities, including Native American communities. The project will help increase schools’ capacity to participate by providing technical assistance and training using a regional farm to school coaching model. The project will also support the hosting of four regional Montana farm to school showcase events, and putting on a statewide Montana farm to school summit.
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 local food education to students in three school districts. NCFC will also leverage their existing partnerships to increase sales to local schools from frontier and remote farmers.
The National Farm to School Network was awarded $47,000 to organize 10 field trips as part of their 2020 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference. Offering pre-conference field trips will allow attendees the chance to see farm to school efforts in action, network with farm to school stakeholders, and envision ideas for their own work based on real-world examples.
After long delays and a lot of hard work by advocates like NSAC and NFSN, FY 2019-2020 is shaping up to be the year that Congress may just finally rewrite the nation’s outdated child nutrition laws. Congress typically revisits child nutrition programs and policies every five years in a single omnibus bill known as the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, or “CNR”. This bill authorizes a litany of programs, including school feeding and farm to school programs.
NSAC and NFSN are working 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.