Just as seed catalogs are arriving in the mail at home, and family gardeners get motivated about the upcoming growing season, school divisions in 42 states will be excitedly preparing to use their generous USDA Farm to School (F2S) grant dollars. Connecting school cafeterias to local agriculture, USDA has awarded up to $5 million to 71 projects in this, the second year of the program. Both planning and implementation grants were offered to schools, state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers, and non-profits working with schools.
By growing the demand for locally sourced foods, the F2S grants will reach broader goals of creating new market opportunities for local farmers, ranchers, producers and food businesses, building a more thriving agriculture sector and generating new jobs in rural areas.
USDA's Farm to School Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which funded grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods. Local food systems are also supported by USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2). These government-funded programs, along with My Plate and training grants for school nutrition professionals, have the potential to increase the health and nutrition of America’s school children.
A key part of F2S grant applications was defining specific nutrition education plans. For many grant recipients, these included food tastings, field trips to farms, cooking classes, and using school gardens as not only a source of produce for school cafeterias but also for nutrition and agriculture education. Many grantees addressed the agriculture literacy gap that exists in today’s school-aged children.
Some examples of innovative F2S-funded programs include:
In Connecticut, grant funds will be used to develop an electronic purchasing portal to facilitate farm-to-school purchases in the county.
In Georgia, the grant will help implement a “Feed My School for a Week” program, serving 75-100 percent Georgia-grown lunches for five consecutive days, and will include education about where the food comes from and its nutritional value, farm field trips and agriculture field days, fresh produce taste testing and agriculture art and essay contests.
In Montana, the funds will help start an animal husbandry project that will involve students in raising animals that will be processed and used in the school cafeterias. Grants will also go toward remodeling a greenhouse as space for an aquaponics program that will be used to grow produce. Finally, F2S funds will help hire a Farmer Educator to oversee the programs.
Successful grant applicants had vibrant partnerships with local businesses, foundations, universities, extension agencies and others, especially nutrition educators. Take a look at the list of USDA Farm to School FY 2014 Grant Awards and see how you can get involved in supporting farm to school efforts for our children.