As 2021 comes to a close, the Policy team at NFSN want to take a moment to unpack recent major announcements and funding opportunities from the US Department of Agriculture that should cheer the farm to school and farm to ECE community. 

2021 has brought a flurry of activity and announcements from USDA, as the new presidential administration worked to create new programs for local food infrastructure, to improve the Department’s commitment to racial and social equity, to award record levels of funding for Farm to School grants, and to distribute American Rescue Plan Act funds to communities – in addition to the currently open Farm to School Grant opportunity (closing January 10!). 

See this summary of just a few of the recent announcements from USDA that NFSN Partners should know about. 

In December, USDA also announced more details of $1.5 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation funding to help school nutrition programs cope with supply chain challenges. This funding will be broken down as:

  • Supply Chain Assistance Funds: $1 billion in cash payments for schools to purchase unprocessed and minimally processed foods. States and Territories have the option of using up to 10% of the Supply Chain Assistance funds to make bulk purchases of local food and then distributing these foods to schools for use in their meal programs. States also have the option of targeting the funds to areas of highest need by limiting distribution to school districts where a quarter or more of students are from low-income households.
  • Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement: $200 million awarded by the Agricultural Marketing Service in cooperative agreements to states and U.S. Territories for purchase of local foods for distribution to schools.
  • USDA Foods Purchases: $300 million in USDA Foods purchases for states to distribute to schools. 

We are very pleased that the bulk of this funding will offer flexibility in purchasing for our school nutrition partners, and that the local and regional producers will have the opportunity to serve the school food market through state purchases.

See the allocation of this funding here. Please click here to read the USDA press release.

Additionally, USDA is launching a new Local and Regional Food System Recovery and Resilience Project. Building on the findings of its Local and Regional Food Systems Response (LRFS) to COVID-19 initiative, this program will facilitate networking, data gathering, and technical assistance. Join their next webinar on January 14 (register here), and review their call for partners in a new Network of Networks, a cross-sector convening to allow local food system stakeholders to make valuable connections. If interested, please fill out this form and join their first meeting on January 26 at 1:00pm ET. 

These actions should be a source of pride for farm to school and farm to ECE partners who have worked over the last 20 months to highlight how local, equitable, and flexible food system connections can support and nourish our communities in times of emergency. Together, our advocacy for targeted, flexible funding to food systems infrastructure, and for leveraging federally-reimbursed Child Nutrition Programs to do so, has made an impact. We look forward to supporting partners as these funds are implemented.