Your Voice Needed: Put Farm to School in the Farm Bill
By Maximilian Merrill, Policy Director
When it comes to policies that shape agriculture, food, nutrition and hunger in the United States, none are more paramount than the farm bill. This important piece of federal legislation is currently up for reauthorization, which presents ample opportunity for farm to school advocates to ensure policies that support healthy kids, thriving family farms and vibrant communities are prioritized in national food policy. How does that happen? Your voice!
The process of developing a new farm bill has many phases - starting with both the House and Senate drafting and voting on their own versions of a farm bill. (Read more about the process from our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.) The House version of the bill was passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on April 18 and is expected to be voted on by the full House of Representatives soon. This House bill does not include any of the National Farm to School Network’s top three priorities. Our priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill are:
- Adopt the Farm to School Act of 2017 to increase mandatory funding and expand access for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
- Amend the Geographic Preference provision in the existing farm bill to allow the use of “location” as a product specification when procuring school food. Current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request.
- Continue and expand to more states the Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables and allow participating states more flexibility in procuring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The Senate has yet to release its version of the bill, which means there’s still time to ensure these three important farm to school priorities are included. However, it’s important that we take action quickly and demonstrate the breadth and strength of farm to school voices from across the country. The Senate bill, which may be introduced as early as next week, is one of the last opportunities for farm to school to make its way into this important legislation - so NOW is the time to make your voice heard!
TAKE ACTION: Take five minutes to pick up the phone or write an email to both of your Senators about why farm to school is important in your community. Tell your story, share your success, and offer pictures and anecdotes about how farm to school is a triple win for kids, farmers and communities. It’s easy - here’s how:
- Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or look up contact information for your two Senators here
- Once you’re connected, leave a message like this:
- Hello, my name is [______] and I’m a constituent of Sen. [______]. I’m calling to ask that farm to school be prioritized in the Senate’s version of the farm bill. Farm to school enriches the connections communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites. Farm to school is strong agricultural policy that should be included in this important legislation! However, it’s been left out of the House version. That’s why I’m asking the Senator to support a Farm Bill that includes three things: (1) Adopts the Farm to School Act of 2017, (2) Updates “Geographic Preference” language so that schools can more easily purchase fresh food from local farmers, and (3) Continues and expands the successful Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program. [Share any personal stories about why these are important asks for your community.] Thank you for passing along this message to the Senator, and for your time.
If you work for a government agency or university and cannot lobby, you can still make a difference! Follow the same actions above, but instead of mentioning the specific policy asks, share general information about farm to school in your state and how the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has been successful. Sharing information is not lobbying - it’s education, which all of us can do!
Local food procurement in our nation’s schools is more than a win for kids and farmers - it’s strong agricultural policy. Make your voice heard and help us ensure that farm to school is included the farm bill. Continue to follow the National Farm to School Network here on our blog, in our e-newsletter and on social media for updates as the farm bill progresses and for more opportunities to be an advocate for farm to school.
$5 Million for Farm to School in Funding Bill
Last week, Senate and House leaders worked on an appropriations bill to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, and through this process, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) championed a huge win for farm to school! The final bill, which was signed by the President on Friday, includes $5 million in discretionary funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which doubles the current available funding for this highly impactful and important program for one year. This is great news and a big victory for the farm to school movement!
Please join us in thanking Sen. Leahy and Sen. Cochran for this win, their continued efforts in championing farm to school, and for helping make healthy, local food in schools a reality for millions of children across the country. Give them a shoutout on social media (@SenatorLeahy, @SenThadCochran), write them a quick thank you note, or give their offices a call (Sen. Leahy at (202) 224-4242, Sen. Cochran at (202) 224-5054) to let them know that you appreciate their ongoing efforts to strengthen farm to school, and how farm to school has been a win for kids and farmers in your community.
The National Farm to School Network has been advocating for an increase in funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program for several years. This important program increases the use of and improves access to local foods in schools – thus boosting farm income and economic opportunities – while also fostering experiential food education for our nation’s children. However, demand for the program is more than five times higher than available funding. Since 2013, USDA has received over 1,600 applicants requesting more than $120 million, though has only been able to make 221 awards from the $20 million available.
The Farm to School Act of 2017 - co-sponsored by Sen. Leahy and Sen. Cochran in the Senate, and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in the House - addresses this funding issue and other important policy changes needed to strengthen and grow the USDA Farm to School Program. While last week’s surprise $5 million in discretionary funding is an incredible boost for the program, the funding is temporary. It’s important that we continue to advocate for a more permanent solution for sustaining this program and its impact for high-need communities across the country.
As the National Farm to School Network continues to advocate for this marker bill to find a legislative vehicle that it can pass with, we need your help advocating to your member of Congress. Help us get your Senators and Representatives signed on as co-sponsors of the Farm to School Act of 2017. (See who’s already signed on here and here.) Reach out to them to share how farm to school is a win for your community, and to ask for their support on this important piece of legislation. If you haven’t yet, you can also add your name to our citizen and organizational sign-on letters, which helps us demonstrate strong grassroots support for this marker bill.
Today we celebrate, but also continue our work to make farm to school opportunities accessible to every student, farmer and community across the country. Stay tuned to our blog for more policy news, updates and opportunities to make your voice heard.