April 16, 2015
Guest blog post by the National Farm to School Network.
The House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing on Wednesday April 15 to discuss the importance of federal child nutrition programs as the Committee begins an effort to reauthorize these programs within the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). The current bill expires at the end of September 2015 and the “Serving Students and Families through Child Nutrition Programs” hearing was the first the Committee has taken on CNR this year.
The witnesses were:
Despite the diverse panelists, several distinct themes were reiterated throughout the hearing. Committee members were particularly interested in flexibility for child nutrition programs, public-private partnerships, hunger as a barrier to academic achievement, and addressing the barriers to meal delivery in the summer food service program.
A number of Republican and Democratic committee members also mentioned farm to school programs in their comments and questions. Representative Rick Allen (R-GA) noted that bringing in fresh, local products including collard greens and sweet potatoes increased consumption of fruits and vegetables among children at schools in his district. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) saw a similar change in his district, with a 10 percent increase in school lunch participation stemming from the introduction of local products and a salad bar. The increased participation has created additional revenue for the school and improved their economic viability.
Ms. Bauscher agreed that kids eat what they know, and that they become more familiar with fruits and vegetables through farm to school taste-tests, agriculture education, and the presence of school gardens. Responding to a question from Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – one of the champions of the bicameral bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 introduced in late February with Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) – Mrs. McAuliffe added that many students do not know where their food, such as carrots and peaches, come from but in meeting the farmer and making the mental connection between farm and fork, students build healthy eating habits. She also noted that farm to school is an important tool for supporting farmer incomes and local economies.
Several other committee members commented on the successful farm to school programs they have seen in their districts during school and farm tours. As Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) stated, “this is really a bipartisan issue” and a win-win-win for kids, farmers, and communities.
The Farm to School Act of 2015
The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 proposes an increase in annual mandatory funding for the successful USDA Farm to School grant program from $5 million to $15 million and 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.
The bicameral bill was introduced on February 25, 2015 by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). 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 National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms.