Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Department Of Agriculture Awards Millions In First-Ever Farm To School Grants

Let's Eat Healthy: More than $4.5 million awarded to 68 projects across the nation, impacting 3,200 schools...
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan on Wednesday announced more than $4.5 million in grant funding for the US Department of Agriculture's first-ever Farm to School grants, designed to connect school cafeterias across the US with local agricultural producers.  The grants were awarded to 68 projects in 37 states and the District of Columbia under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, and are part of the department's continued support for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, which coordinates the Administration-wide effort to combat child obesity.  (Above:  Mrs. Obama visiting with child chefs)

The projects are diverse, and will serve more than 3,200 schools and 1.75 million students, nearly half in rural communities.  They are designed to "help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, distributors," USDA said.  They will also be used to "support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes."  The full list of awards [PDF].

Merrigan (l) hailed the funding as an economic win for agricultural producers, in addition to helping children eat healthier food. "When schools buy food from nearby producers, their purchasing power helps create local jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural agricultural communities," Merrigan said in a statement.

"Evidence also suggests that when kids understand more about where food comes from and how it is produced, they are more likely to make healthy eating choices."

The grants are administered under the department's Food and Nutrition Service.  The Farm to School initiative is one component of USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, launched by Merrigan in 2009 to spearhead the department's work on local and regional food systems and create new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural communities.

"Some award recipients, such as the Lawrence County District in Walnut Ridge, Ark., are using grant funds to coordinate efforts with other school districts to aggregate buying power and attract new producers to the school food service market," USDA said.

"Other funded projects, such as Weld County School District 6 in Greeley, Colo., will expand kitchen facilities to serve local products year-round through processing and freezing techniques. Also, Des Moines Municipal Schools in New Mexico will receive grant funding to increase the types of products it buys from local vendors. Local cattle farmers already supply the school district with 100 percent locally produced beef; USDA grant funds will be used to develop relationships with local fruit and vegetable producers to serve a full meal using locally sourced products."

Per USDA, details on some of the funded projects:

*Twenty-five programs that create jobs by hiring new farm to school coordinators, with 43 projects supporting and maintaining existing staff. In New Haven, Conn., CitySeed, Inc. will hire a procurement specialist to help New Haven School Food Programs increase the amount of regionally grown produce in the meals of more than 20,900 urban public school students. (Nearly 80 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch).

*Thirty-one programs that use food hubs, or partner with mainline distributors. In California, the Community Alliance of Family Farmers will work with a local distributor to create a new line of local produce, making it easier for schools to source products through current distribution channels.

*Forty-four projects that will result in development of new products and menu items. For example, the Lake County Community Development Corporation, in Ronan, Mont., will coordinate with regional lentil farmers to procure protein and fiber rich lentil patties.

*An estimated 47 projects will develop new partnerships by working with and educating farmers and ranchers new to the school food market. For example, the Washington State Department of Agriculture will conduct regional "mobile tours" in which agricultural producers and school food service directors tour the state together, learning about agricultural specialties, identifying opportunities for partnership, and solidifying regional networks.

*Three projects support American Indian communities, including the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Cloquet, Minn. The reservation will implement a program to improve access to local and traditional foods to increase local economic benefits for producers as well as promote a healthy diet among their youth.

*More than 50 projects support hands-on learning activities, such as field trips to farms and creation of school gardens. The Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc. will coordinate tours of nearby farms for its 35 school partners, serving nearly 21,000 students.


*Top photo by Sonya N. Hebert/White House; second courtesy of USDA