“Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them.” –Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Photo credit: USDA Farm to School Program
Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new report that provides an in-depth look at the first three years of the USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program. The report shows the program has helped 12,300 schools improve healthful meal options with local ingredients, and that this increase in local food procurement has expanded market opportunities for food producers around the country.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 tasked USDA with supporting farm to school efforts through grants, training, technical assistance and research. To date, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has funded 221 farm to school projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here are a few exciting highlights about these awards:
- Millions of students benefit: 12,3000 schools and 6.9 million students are estimated to have been reached through activities funded by USDA Farm to School grants.
- Healthier food in cafeterias: 50 percent of funded projects included expanding healthy meal options offered in the cafeteria.
- More agriculture and nutrition-based education: A majority of grantee proposals (65 percent) included activities related to teaching kids about nutrition, agriculture and where their food comes from.
- Rural and urban impact: 40 percent of schools or districts impacted by a USDA Farm to School Grant were considered rural, and 56 percent were considered urban. 38 percent of grants were distributed in StrikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty.
- Focus on children eligible for free or reduced-price meals: 78 percent of awards went to support schools or districts with free or reduced-price meal eligibility rated great than 50 percent.
- Demand is 5x higher than available funding: To date, a total of 1,067 applicants have requested $78.4 million in grant funds. 221 applicants have received $15.1 million – an overall award rate of 21 percent.
“These numbers underscore why it is important that Congress increase access to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization this fall,” says Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network’s Executive Director and Co-Founder. “As demonstrated by this report, farm to school strategies enable school districts to comply with the new nutrition standards and help engage students in learning healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.”
Together with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and our network of supporters across the country, we are calling on Congress to continue its support for the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package. The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 would strengthen the grant program by fully including preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Join us in asking Congress to continue and expand upon the success of farm to school by adding your name to our citizen and organizational sign-on letters. Already signed on? Consider writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper, inviting your representative to lunch at your child’s school, or calling your federal legislators to let them know how farm to school is positively impacting your community.
Communities know that farm to school is growing healthier kids, supporting farmers and building vibrant communities. Now is the time to make sure our legislators know that farm to school works, too.