June 18, 2015
Joint blog post from the National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
On Tuesday, June 16th, the House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing in preparation for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was the sole witness for this hearing entitled “Child Nutrition Assistance: Are Federal Rules and Regulations Serving the Best Interests of Schools and Families?”
Among many other important topics, farm to school, including school gardens, was mentioned several times during the hearing.
One of the Farm to School Act of 2015 champions – Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – raised the importance of giving schools the flexibility to include farm to school in preschool, summer food, and afterschool programs. Secretary Vilsack responded that these additional venues for farm to school would not only supply children with the freshest products possible, but they would also provide farmers with a significant market opportunity and would keep school meal dollars in the community.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) expressed concern that too few parents are involved in their child’s nutrition choices. In response, Secretary Vilsack noted that activities like school gardens – a core component of farm to school – get kids excited about fruits and vegetables and that kids often bring that enthusiasm home to their families.
At a previous House Education and Workforce Committee hearing in April 2015, several Committee members and witnesses also raised the issue of Farm to School, praising the benefits Farm to School has had in their schools and communities. Farm to school activities like locally procured foods for school meals, school gardens, and lessons about food, agriculture and nutrition can increase kids’ consumption of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and help reduce food waste from school meals and snacks (commonly known as “plate waste”). Additionally, the excitement kids experience through their participation in farm to school is often shared with their parents, which can result in parents purchasing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store that their children have tried at school or grown in school gardens.
The USDA Farm to School Grant Program and Farm to School Act of 2015
One program that helps schools with their farm to school programming is the highly successful USDA Farm to School grant program. The bill seeking to make the Farm to School grant program even more effective and ensure it’s long-term success is the the bipartisan, bicameral Farm to School Act of 2015, which proposes an increase in annual mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant Program from $5 million to $15 million and the full inclusion of preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. Currently, the program is only able to fund 1 out of every 5 applications. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. Since its launch in 2011, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has supported projects that benefit farmers, kids and communities nationwide.
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. 30th. The bill was introduced on February 25, 2015 by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the Senate and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in the House.
The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children, and resilient farms.