Farm-to-School grants inspire healthy, local connections

Farm-to-School grants inspire healthy, local connections

In a continuing effort to connect school cafeterias with local food producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday award of grant money benefitting 71 projects spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Ranging from just over $20,000 to a high of $100,000, winners of the Farm-to-School grants are expected to serve more than 13,000 schools and 2.8 million students – nearly 45 percent of whom live in rural communities.

“In rural and urban communities across the country, farm to school programs teach students where food comes from, while providing healthy foods that are grown locally on farms and ranches across the nation,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

“These programs also create new market opportunities for local farmers and ranchers interested in partnering with nearby school districts – and by helping to create an even more diverse and thriving agriculture sector, farm to school efforts hold potential to create new jobs in rural areas.”

The Farm to School Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized USDA to provide grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods. It is also a core element of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the department’s work on local food systems.

Among the group of diverse winners, projects include:

  • Somerville Public Schools in Massachusetts will work to develop a district-wide farm to school program with community partners that focus on creating youth jobs and promoting healthy eating and physical education.
  • Olympia School District in Washington state will partner with two local farms to help students apply biology, American history, and horticulture skills towards farm management. The farms will grow organic produce for the school district and serve as an outdoor educational space for students.
  • Bayfield Regional Food Producers Cooperative in Wisconsin will overcome the obstacles of a short growing season by helping local school districts install and manage high tunnels to supplement school gardens. In addition to providing nutrient-dense hardy greens and other vegetables to the students in their lunches and snacks, the high tunnels will allow educators to implement experiential, project‐based learning in the spring and fall seasons.
  • Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission in Iowa will work with local farmers and a newly established food hub to boost production to meet the needs of local schools. They have set a goal with four rural school districts to increase local purchases by 200 percent.
  • Grass Valley, California’s Live Healthy will expand its current farm-to-cafeteria program from 11 to 15 school sites, and establish an educational, two-acre farm that will provide quality hands-on farm and kitchen based education involving sustainable practices to grow delicious food for school meals. An organization dedicated to educating, inspiring and connecting western Nevada County families to fresh, local seasonal foods, Live Healthy’s farm-to-school program includes a local produce stand at each school, a “Harvest of the Month” program, farm field trips, school garden consultations and guest visits by farmers, nutrition specialists and chefs.

These projects highlight the critical need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill now more than ever, said Vilsack. Producers need renewed and expanded access to farm bill programs to fuel the growing demand for local food in new markets, including school meals programs, and to increase economic opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers. 

USDA recently released the results of its first-ever Farm to School Census, which showed that in school year 2011-2012, school districts purchased and served over $350 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase more local foods in the future. School districts that missed the opportunity earlier in the year to respond to the survey can submit information regarding farm to school practices through Nov. 30, 2013. 

For a complete list of 2014 Farm to School grant recipients, visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/FY_2014_Grant_Award_Summaries.pdf