Farm to School program could be expanded

Staff Writer

A bill that will expand the federal Farm to School program was introduced last month in the Senate.
Senators Patrick Leahy (D – Vermont), David Purdue (R – Georgia), Sherrod Brown ( D – Ohio) and Susan Collins (R – Maine) are co-sponsors along with representatives Marcia Fudge ( D – Ohio) and Jeff Fortenberry (R – Nebraska), who introduced a companion resolution in the House of Representatives.
The program provides funding to schools, farmers, non-profit organizations and local and state governments to help schools secure local produce and other food items for school meals. The program also funds activities such as farm field trips, science classes and food taste testing.
The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hungry-free Kids Act of 2010. That year, congress provided $5 million in funding for the farm to school competitive grant and technical assistance program.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program has helped 33,600-plus schools improve meal options made with local food for 15.3 million students, while expanding market opportunities for farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food producers.
Schools purchased nearly $790 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors in school year 2013-2014.
"Food is fundamental to our very existence, and learning about food – where it comes from, who grows it, and how it feeds our bodies and minds – should be a fundamental part of all students' educational experience. Farm to school programs in the U.S. have helped thousands of schools to connect their students with real, healthy foods. These programs have also served as powerful economic drivers, generating hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for family farmers each year, according to the most recent USDA Farm to School Census,” said Wes King, senior policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Since making its first awards in 2013, the program has received more than 1,900 applications requesting over $141 million in support. With only $5 million in funding available annually, the grant Program has been forced to turn away roughly 80 percent of the qualified applications.
The Farm to School Act of 2019 would allow for more projects by increasing annual funding to $15 million.
The proposed legislation will also: increase the maximum grant award to $250,000; prioritize grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools; include early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs.


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