A bipartisan group of Senate leaders introduced the Farm to School Act of 2021, which will support our nation’s schools, farmers, and communities in building back equitably from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Susan Collins (R-ME), will expand funding for and programmatic scope of the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, while also ensuring that more communities — specifically those serving racially diverse and high-need student populations, as well as engaging with beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers — have a competitive opportunity to benefit from this valuable program.
Farm to school activities — including procurement of local food for school meals, school gardens, and food and agriculture education — are proven to help students develop healthy eating habits and support family farmers by expanding market opportunities. According to the latest USDA Farm to School Census, more than 42 percent of schools across the country have engaged in one or more farm to school activity, collectively investing nearly $800 million annually in local communities.
“The Farm to School Act of 2021 couldn’t come at a more necessary time. When the pandemic began, school nutrition professionals, educators, and local food producers — the people who make farm to school work — were some of the very first community members to step up and ensure the ongoing care and support of children and families. The measures included in the Farm to School Act will give them much-needed resources to continue their work as we emerge from the pandemic, while helping our country build a more resilient and equitable food system,” said Karen Spangler, Policy Director with National Farm to School Network.
The USDA Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, farmers, nonprofits, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods for school meals and to support activities like school gardens, hands-on science lessons, and new food taste tests. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and includes $5 million in annual mandatory funding.
“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. Over the last 15 years, 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 the program’s inception in 2013, USDA has awarded over $52 million through Farm to School Grants, funding a total of 719 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, reaching almost 21 million students in 47,000 schools. In recent years, the program has benefited from temporary funding boosts through annual appropriations. The Farm to School Act of 2021 would increase annual mandatory funding to $15 million to permanently allow more of these impactful projects to be realized.
The proposed legislation will also:
- increase the maximum grant award to $500,000;
- prioritize grant proposals that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve high-need schools; fully include early care and education sites, summer food service sites and after school programs;
- increase access among Native and tribal schools to traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.
A similar bill (H.R. 1768) was introduced in the House by Reps. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Alma Adams (D-NC) in March.