In 2013, Alaska Gateway School District received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to assess the area’s existing food supply chain, and used the funds to develop a business plan for sustainable farm to school activities – like growing their own produce, and eventually sourcing 40 percent of the school’s food from within Alaska. With 92 percent of Alaska Gateway students on the free and reduced meal plan, school meals are a particularly important source of overall nutrition for these kids.
Two weeks ago, the Alaska Gateway School District found out that they received a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant to carry out their procurement plan and scale up their farm to school work. The grant will allow them to continue educating students in agriculture and nutrition, as well as grow fresh fruits and vegetables in a year-round greenhouse that can withstand harsh winter temperatures that sometimes dip to -70 degrees Fahrenheit.
A total of 74 communities in 39 states received USDA Farm to School grants in November, and now have a similar opportunity to explore, expand, or scale up their farm to school activities. The 2016 awards total $4.8 million, ranging in size from $15,000 to $100,000, and will impact 2.9 million students. The USDA Farm to School Grant program has always been highly competitive, and the 2016 grants were no exception; 271 applications were submitted from school districts and communities around the country.
While this year’s funding will reach 5,211 schools, there are thousands more eager to have access to these crucial funds. These schools use the grants to invest in their local communities by creating relationships with farmers and ranchers and buying their products. That is why the National Farm to School Network is working with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Congressional champions to incorporate the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the reauthorization package for the Child Nutrition Act.
This bill will increase access to the farm to school grant program and small business opportunities for veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers, as well as expand the grant program’s flexibility to support preschool, summer and after school sites so that all students have access to a healthy future and strong communities like this new group of grantees we are celebrating.
The National Farm to School Network has connected with supporters on both sides of the aisle to demonstrate the importance of the Farm to School Act and farm to school in general. Watch some of the movement’s champions discuss the benefits of farm to school here: Rep Westerman (R-AR), Rep. Delbene (D-WA), Rep. Davis (R-IL), Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Garamendi (D-CA). The Farm to School Act also has strong grassroots backing with hundreds of local and national non-profits signing our petition to Congress in support of this bill.
Help us continue to support federal policies that strengthen farm to school by donating to the National Farm to School Network this season of giving. Your donation supports healthy kids and vibrant local food systems. Together, we can help grow healthy kids, farmers and communities.