The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has made the promise of healthier school lunches more of a reality, as will new initiatives that support locally-sourced, minimally-processed foods to be delivered directly to school cafeterias. The first-ever Farm to School grants by the USDA are set to be distributed in 2013, totaling $4.5 million in 37 states and affecting nearly 2 million students.
Two types of grants were awarded to school districts – either a planning grant to put together a farm to school program, or an implementation grant to begin or advance an existing program plan. The awards will reach more than 3,200 schools in the United States. The programs help to establish or strengthen the cafeteria programs as well as fund educational programs, such as nutrition or agriculture curriculum and hands-on activities like planting a school garden or hosting cooking classes.
“When schools buy food from nearby producers, their purchasing power helps create local jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural agricultural communities. 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,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, from a press release.
The awards reflect a diverse number of communities, many of them rural, and include many types of producers, such as farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, as well as different types of businesses, such as food processors and distributors. Here’s an example of some of the grants:
- The Chickasaw Nation Farm to School Project in Ada, Oklahoma received a two-year, $99,100 grant to expand the number of growers and variety of foods available for schools, as well as train food service staff in how to prepare tasty and nutritious food. American Indian children have the highest rates of obesity among kids in the U.S. at 20.7 percent, yet also face food insecurity and hunger at twice the rate of the general population.
- The Michigan Land Use Institute will work with Traverse City, Michigan’s school district to invest in cold storage and minimal processing equipment for the kitchens and invest in a group of growers to help them scale up their efforts to meet the produce needs of the schools.
- Hawaii’s Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School received $44,800 to plan a sustainable method for organic produce in the cafeteria, including a trial organic garden as well as nutrition and cooking subjects in the core curriculum. They hope to eventually grow a commercial product for the open market from their garden.
- The Community Alliance with Family Farmers in Davis, California received a grant to ramp up efforts for the largest district in Sonoma county, Santa Rosa City Schools. The project proposes a Harvest of the Month Tasting Kit program, packages of fresh, locally-sourced fruits and veggies, farmer profiles, and agriculture curriculum for more than 9,000 students to experience, for the district to pilot and then expand for use in 40 school districts.
The Farm to School grants are one component of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Every state currently has at least one farm to school program, but the USDA hopes to increase these numbers. The demand for these programs is great, as demonstrated by the USDA only being able to fund 19 percent of requests for the grants this year.