Child Nutrition Letter

For Immediate Release:
May 3, 2010

Kate Fitzgerald, 202-547-5754

41 Organizations Urge Congress to Fund Farm to School to
Improve Child Nutrition and Stimulate Farm Economies

Washington, D.C. May 3, 2010 — 41 national organizations delivered a letter to House and Senate leaders today urging them to include $50 million in mandatory funding for programs linking farmers with local schools as part of the 2010 Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.  Farm to School programs have a proven track record of increasing farmers’ incomes while also improving the nutrition and food literacy of school children.

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed their version of the Child Nutrition bill on March 24, including $40 million for Farm to School.  Mark-up in the House Education and Labor Committee is expected later this spring.  The full Senate and House are expected to take action on the bill sometime this year.

“Farm to school programs are cost effective and should be part of a robust child nutrition reauthorization that we hope will move soon,” said Kate Fitzgerald, Senior Policy Associate at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Farm to school programs have been shown to improve nutrition for children that participate in the school lunch program and to lead to significant changes in their eating habits, which is particularly important at a time when the country faces an epidemic of childhood obesity.

“We know that we need to do a better job of ensuring that school food programs provide the best food possible for children.  This is the rallying call of many prominent dietitians, educators, and doctors, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama.  Food sourced from local farms is freshest and combined with teaching children about where their food comes from, provides children the knowledge they need to make good food choices for the rest of their lives,” Fitzgerald continued.

Farm to school programs also offers immediate and long-term economic benefits.  According to a study in Oregon, every dollar school districts spent on purchases of local food stimulated an additional eighty-seven cents in economic activity.

“Farm to school increases farm sales and because the money stays locally, it generates a ripple effect throughout the area’s economy.  In addition, delivering nutritious food to local schools can bring producers into neighborhoods that are now “food deserts,” creating an opportunity to expand good food choices to area stores and institutions.  Farm to school is a winning idea nutritionally, economically, and environmentally,” Fitzgerald concluded.

A farm to school program was first authorized by the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization of 2004 but funds were never appropriated for the effort.  In 2010, Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) each introduced farm to school bills that include $50 million in mandatory funding for a program to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  Representatives Farr (D-CA) and Putnam (R-FL) included $50 million for farm to school in their Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009 (H.R. 4333) as did Senator Boxer in her Growing Farm to School Protection Act (S. 3144).

Sen. Leahy’s bill (S. 3123) was included in the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 that was voted out of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee unanimously on March 24 and is waiting to go to the Senate floor.  During markup in the Senate Committee, the bill reduced the funding level for farm to school to $40 million.  In the House, Rep. Holt’s bill, the Farm to School Improvements Act (H.R. 4710), is waiting for consideration by the Education and Labor Committee.

The Child Nutrition Act reauthorization has been slowed in both Houses by concerns about how funding increases will be paid for.  The Senate bill approved by Committee increases funding for child nutrition programs by half of the Administration’s proposed $1 billion per year and pays for the increases mainly with cuts to nutrition education programs for SNAP (formerly food stamp) participants and to a popular conservation program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Some anti-hunger and nutrition groups are disappointed that the bill does not achieve the President’s funding goal and are reluctant to support cuts to nutrition education while a coalition of farm and environmental groups, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, decried the use of conservation funds that would not only cut current expenditures but reduce the baseline for programs going into the 2012 farm bill reauthorization.

The House has yet to take up consideration of child nutrition reauthorization but Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has said that he will not agree to cuts in farm bill programs, including cuts to EQIP, to pay for any funding increases.

Discussions of funding mechanisms continue, with attention increasingly focused on the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee.  Closing tax loopholes were used to pay for improved food stamp benefits during the 2008 Farm Bill negotiations, and many observers have suggested a similar maneuver could be used to pay for improved school meals.