By Cassandra Bull, Policy Intern
For the fourth and final week of Farm to School Month, National Farm to School Network is uplifting policymakers as critical players who are "At the Table" championing this movement. We want to thank and highlight Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as a national leader in farm to school as he approaches the end of his final term in office. First elected in 1974, Sen. Leahy has served the state of Vermont for eight consecutive terms. He serves as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and as part of the Senate Rural Health Caucus. At nearly 48 years in congress, he is the current longest-serving senator and the third longest-serving senator in U.S. history.
“Farm to School started in my home state of Vermont and has now spread across the country. I’m proud of that, proud of the work done by Vermont schools, farmers and organizations like Vermont FEED,” said Leahy. “What makes Farm to School such a success is that it does multiple things at once. It gets healthy, local, nutritious foods onto school lunch plates while also supporting local agriculture and local food systems. It’s a win-win for everyone concerned, but most especially the kids.”
“What makes Farm to School such a success is that it does multiple things at once. It gets healthy, local, nutritious foods onto school lunch plates while also supporting local agriculture and local food systems. It’s a win-win for everyone concerned, but most especially the kids.”
Policy Highlights Throughout the Years
- Sen. Leahy was the original author of the federal Farm to School program in the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. That program was modeled on Vermont’s first-in-the-nation farm to school legislation passed in 2006, which continues to award small grants to schools and communities to support farm to school initiatives.
- Nationally, the Farm to School Grant Program has awarded nearly $75 million in farm to school grants since 2013, funding more than 1,000 projects that have reached over 25 million students in nearly 60,000 schools. This program has grown over time, with more than $10 million to support 123 projects in 2022 alone.
- Sen. Leahy has sponsored multiple bills that promote farm to school, including the Farm to School Act to expand and improve the Farm to School Grant Program. In 2019, Sen. Leahy introduced a bill that designated October 2019 as National Farm to School Month.
- In 2021, Sen. Leahy secured $5 million in congressionally directed spending to support the expansion of the Farm to School Institute model and to establish a national farm to school leadership center.
Lessons from Senator Leahy’s Legacy:
- Work across the aisle: Sen. Leahy proved that farm to school is truly a bipartisan issue by co-sponsoring legislation with congressional representatives such as Susan Collins (R-ME), David Perdue (R-GA), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).
- Uplift local successes: Earlier this month at an event at Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury, VT, Sen. Leahy stated in reference to his home state: “We may be the second-smallest state, but we’re number one in good ideas.” Leahy has expanded support for these programs in diverse contexts nationwide. For example, the Farm to Institute model has been successfully replicated in states such as Nebraska and Mississippi.
- Build capacity at the grassroots: Leahy used his position and political power to support grassroots initiatives through funding and educational experiences. Both farm to school institute and grant programs help connect producers, cafeteria staff, students, parents, and teachers with each other. They give local-level individuals the time and resources to identify their own shared goals and take action to achieve them.
“Senator Leahy is a national Farm to School champion, having authored the Farm to School Act in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act and repeatedly increased funding to serve more schools nationwide, expanding the benefits of farm to school more equitably to students and communities from coast to coast,” explains Alec Webb, President of Shelburne Farms. “We are so grateful to Senator Leahy for having the vision to see the win-win of farm to school and to helping to secure this funding. Our children, our food systems, and the agricultural economy will be healthier as a result.”
It is evident that Sen. Leahy's long-term and deep commitment to farm to school has paved the way for the growth of this movement throughout the U.S. over the last several decades. Policymakers from a local to a federal level have the power to reduce barriers to implementing farm to school programs and appropriate funds to support this impactful work. Now is a critical time for our partners to share the story of Sen. Leahy and urge their own representatives to continue supporting his political legacy. Sen. Leahy has immense shoes to fill and this dynamic movement can never have enough champions at the table.
Do you need resources to start a conversation with policymakers about this subject?
- The Farm to School Benefits Fact Sheet features a compilation of research on the multifaceted and intersectional ways this movement can positively impact communities, farmers, and kids.
- The State Farm to School Policy Handbook summarizes and analyzes bills and resolutions that were introduced between 2002-2020.
Photos courtesy of Office of Sen. Patrick Leahy