Sixty-five projects nationwide have been selected to receive the USDA’s annual farm to school grants, a program aimed to increase the amount of local foods served in schools.
“Increasing the amount of local foods in America’s schools is a win-win for everyone,” said Cindy Long, Deputy Administrator for Child Nutrition Programs at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the Department’s school meals programs. “Farm to school projects foster healthy eating habits among America’s school-age children, and local economies are nourished, as well, when schools buy the food they provide from local producers.”
According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools with strong farm to school programs report higher school meal participation, reduced food waste, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, in school year 2013-2014 alone, schools purchased more than $789 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. Nearly half (47 percent) of these districts plan to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
Grants range from $14,500 to $100,000, awarding a total of $5 million to schools, state agencies, tribal groups, and nonprofit organizations for farm to school planning, implementation, or training. Projects selected are located in urban, suburban, and rural areas in 42 states and Puerto Rico, and they are estimated to serve more than 5,500 schools and 2 million students.
This money will support a wide range of activities from training, planning, and developing partnerships to creating new menu items, establishing supply chains for local foods, offering taste tests to children, buying equipment, planting school gardens, and organizing field trips to agricultural operations, Long said. State and local agency interest and engagement in community food systems is growing. Having received 44 applications from state or local agencies, 17 state agencies will receive funding.
Grantees include the Nebraska Department of Education, which will refine and expand the “Nebraska Thursdays” program, which will focus on increasing locally sourced meals throughout Nebraska schools, and the Virginia Department of Education, which will focus on network building to ensure stakeholders from all different sectors are leveraged. Both the South Dakota Department of Education and the Arkansas Agriculture Department will use training grants to build capacity and knowledge about the relationship between Community Food Systems and Child Nutrition Programs. More information on individual projects can be found on the USDA Office of Community Food Systems’ website.