The USDA Farm to School grants will support planning and implentation of the nation's farm-to-school programs.
This month, the USDA handed out its first-ever round of Farm to School Grants. The awards span 68 projects in 37 states and the District of Columbia and total $4.5 million in funding.
"By increasing purchases of local farm products, schools provide lucrative market opportunities for farmers and ranchers, expand access to fresh foods for schoolchildren, and stimulate community economic development,” explains Helen Dombalis, policy associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. "The Farm to School Grants are a crucial step, and must be combined with legislation in the Farm Bill, in order to fully realize the economic potential of farm-to-school programs."
The Farm to School Grant Program provides competitive grants to schools, nonprofits, state and local agencies, agricultural producers, and Indian tribal organizations to increase local-food procurement for school meal programs and to expand educational agriculture and gardening activities. There are two types of awards: planning grants, for doing the homework needed in advance of starting a farm-to-school program, and implementation grants, to start or advance an existing program. The NSAC worked with the National Farm to School Network and other partners to obtain a total of $40 million in mandatory funding for the new program in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
In this first round, three NSAC member organizations received implementation grants.
- The Community Alliance with Family Farmers received a two-year, $100,000 grant to launch the Sonoma County Farm to School Program. Exemplifying the community engagement that farm-to-school programs foster, the comprehensive project will be conducted in partnership with the county’s Department of Health Services and Santa Rosa City School, among others. "After nearly a decade of working on farm-to-school programs, we are thrilled to now have the resources to build a sustainable program that can benefit students and growers across the entire county as a result of institutional and systemic changes,” says Diana Abellera, CAFF Regional Food System director.
- Based in Milwaukee, Growing Power received a $99,868 grant for its project Farm Fresh to Milwaukee Public Schools. The project will not only provide children with curriculum-based education on urban sustainable food systems but will also facilitate procurement of more locally produced food for the state’s largest public-school system, of which 82.6 percent of the student population is low-income.
- The Michigan Land Use Institute received $100,000 over two years for implementing its project Scaling Up: Healthy Kids and Thriving Farms. A highly collaborative project, other partners include schools in eight districts, a group of farmers eager to meet school needs, the region’s Intermediate School District, the Michigan State University Extension, and committed community partners in the Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network. "The grant fills crucial gaps in northwestern lower Michigan,” says Diane Conners, MLUI senior policy specialist. "It will provide important lessons for rural farm-to-school programs nationwide by showing how rural districts can collaborate with each other, community partners, farmers, and other supply chain partners to scale up local food procurement.”
Farm to School by the Numbers
As of 2010, every state in the U.S. had at least one farm-to-school program; however, the exact number of programs is currently unknown. A new Farm to School Census being administered by USDA will soon reveal this data.
The Farm to School awards—32 planning and 36 implementation grants—will reach more than 3,200 schools serving 1.75 million American schoolchildren. Demonstrating the demand for farm-to-school programs and the eventual need for additional funding for the grant program, the USDA received 365 applications—230 for implementation grants and 135 for planning grants—but is only able to fund a total of 18.6 percent of proposed projects.
Farm Bill Reauthorization
Along with its farm-to-school advocacy in the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization, NSAC is calling on Congress to further farm-to-school programming through the Farm Bill. Included in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, NSAC proposes flexibility in commodity programs that would enable more local food procurement in school meal programs. While the Senate-passed bill includes a more general farm-to-school pilot program, the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill specifically authorizes schools with low annual commodity entitlement values to start making their own food purchases, provided USDA determines this would yield reduced administrative costs. Additionally, the House bill would create demonstration projects in at least 10 schools to test alternatives to USDA food distribution through farm-to-school procurement models.