USDA Farm to School Initiative

For Immediate Release:
September 15, 2009

Kate Fitzgerald, 202-547-5754

USDA Announces Initiative to Bring Farm Fresh Food to Nation’s Schoolchildren

Washington, D.C. September 15, 2009 — The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition today applauded USDA on its new local food initiative for schools.  USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Julie Paradis, announced today a creative program to link local farmers with school meals programs.

USDA’s school initiative provides an additional $50 million a year to help schools purchase local food, clears up food procurement rules to allow for a wide range of local, minimally processed foods to be purchased by schools, and creates USDA “tactical teams” to help schools and farmers design programs that will facilitate local purchasing.

“We applaud USDA for this creative initiative to invest in healthy students, healthy rural communities, and a healthy environment,” said Aimee Witteman, Executive Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “This reflects a new attitude within USDA to recognize and serve the broad spectrum on American agriculture.  With USDA getting its ducks in order, we now need Congress to do its part and fund Farm to School projects as it reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act early next year.”

Today’s announcement by USDA is one in a series of new USDA initiatives known collectively as ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ designed to build vibrant local and regional food systems that provide healthful food and build the economic base of rural communities.

The $50 million in annual funding for additional local and regional food purchases comes from the Department of Defense Fresh (“DOD Fresh”) program administered by USDA.

“The beauty of USDA’s school nutrition initiative is that it ensures that every Federal dollar invested will provide multiple benefits”, said Kate Fitzgerald, NSAC’s Senior Policy Associate.

“We know that when institutions purchase local food these dollars circulate many times in the local economy.  These economic multipliers are important in rural areas where poverty is on the rise and more than one in five children are growing up in poverty,” Fitzgerald continued.  “Recent studies in Michigan, Illinois and Iowa found that increasing production and purchasing of in-state fruit and vegetables would increase economic activity and create jobs.”

Child nutrition and sustainable agriculture advocates are asking the White House and Congress to back funding for the Farm to School grant program when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized.  Originally scheduled for this year, the child nutrition bill is now more likely to be acted on next year.  The Farm to School program awards grants to schools and communities to build local food supply networks and school capacity to work with fresh products as well as school gardens and hands-on, experiential nutrition education.

“Farm to school initiatives are good economic policy, good rural development policy, and good health and education policy because we know that well-nourished children learn best.  It is also good environmental policy because as we source more food closer to home it reduces the carbon footprint of our food system,” Fitzgerald concluded.