Congress Prioritizes Farm-to-School Connection

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will provide $40 million to expand farm-to-school programs.

by Dani Yokhna
Farm to school
Courtesy Jupiterimages/BananaStock/
The passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will help to expand U.S. farm-to-school programs.

If there’s one issue that unites all Americans, it’s improving the health of our children. Thanks to the collaborative organizing efforts of many grassroots groupsadvocating for improved children’s health, the House joined the Senate in passing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S.B. 3307) on Dec. 2, 2010. The bill now awaits the President’s signature.

This bipartisan legislation will make historic strides in improving children’s health by authorizing $4.5 billion over 10 years to raise the nutritional standards of food in schools. 

In a part of the bill that provides particular interest to small-scale farmers, Congress also made a first-time investment in farm-to-school programs, which connect K-12 schools with farmers’ fresh, locally grown food. While grassroots organizations have made laudable efforts over the years to increase fresh, local food in schools, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will provide $40 million of funding to significantly expand farm-to-school efforts.

“Farmers will benefit from S.B. 3307 through establishing new markets serving schools, leading to increased revenues and an expanded customer base,” explains Debra Eschmeyer, outreach and communications director for the National Farm to School Network and a leader of the farm-to-school movement. “Schools will now have funding available to purchase directly from local farmers as well as develop healthy meal planning around what’s in season.”

Small-scale farmers, like Joel and Jai Kellum, who run King’s Hill Farm in southwestern Wisconsin, look forward to the new opportunities to expand their customer base.

“Having a contract to grow certain amounts of produce will definitely help my business’ bottom line, but farm to school goes beyond profit,” says Jai Kellum. “There’s a tremendous satisfaction and pride in knowing that the produce I raise will provide healthy meals for children in my area and hopefully even help rekindle their connection to our agricultural roots.”

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As Kellum points out, the benefits of the farm-to-school expansion are two-fold. While farmers’ businesses may profit from the bill, children will reap the nutritional benefits.

Children consume up to half of their daily calories through what they what they eat in school cafeterias, according to the Child Nutrition Initiative, a child nutrition public education and advocacy campaign. As NFSN sees it, with one in three American children obese or overweight, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will significantly ramp up improvements to various aspects of school nutrition, such as removing unhealthy food from vending machines and a la carte cafeteria lines and increasing the number of free school meals for children from low-income families. The benefits of the bill may also go beyond the cafeteria tray.

“Aside from great-tasting local food, farm-to-school programs help improve kids’ food literacy by teaching them what food is grown nearby, how their food is grown and what a healthy diet looks like,” says JoAnne Berkenkamp, local foods program director with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “Schools can make farm to school part of their classroom curriculum through starting school gardens, taking field trips to local farms or teaching children to cook what’s sourced locally.”

If you’re a farmer interested in selling to local schools, contact the National Farm to School Network for resources, including contacts and information on what’s happening in your state. 

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