The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $12.1 million in Farm to School Grants to 159 grantees in 48 states, Guam and Washington D.C. This is the largest round of awards since the grant program was first authorized and is a most welcome against the backdrop of uncertainty caused by lost markets and the possibility of a delayed school year precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administered by the USDA’ Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the Farm to School Grant Program (“F2S”) provides competitive grants to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and expand educational agriculture and gardening activities. F2S grants can be used for training and technical assistance, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.
Farm to school activities empower children and their families to make informed food choices, strengthen the local economy, and contribute to healthier communities. Implementation of farm to school grant projects differs by location, but projects always include one or more of the following elements:
- Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted, and served in the cafeteria or classroom as a snack or taste-test.
- Education: Students participate in educational activities related to agriculture, food, health, or nutrition.
- School Gardens: Students engage in hands-on learning through gardening.
This year the annual Farm to School Grant Program included a new track specifically for state agencies. More than half of all states (27) applied for and were awarded this grant.
Since the Farm to School Grant Program’s creation, the USDA has awarded over $52 million to support 719 projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico; reaching nearly 21 million students in 47,000 schools.
COVID-19 Pandemic Context
As part of social distancing strategies implemented in response to the pandemic many schools and educational institutions across the country closed suddenly. As a result, many farmers and food hubs that have relied on sales to schools and educational institutional were left with large market losses and surplus goods, almost overnight. With August just around the corner many communities are uncertain how, of even if, their schools will be able to reopen as COVID-19 cases surge throughout much of the country. While the applications for this round of funding were due long before the pandemic up-ended life as we had come to know it, this infusion of resources will help to rebuild lost markets for farmers and ranchers who have been struggling financially since the beginning of the pandemic.
NSAC is calling on members of Congress to address the serious financial impacts of the pandemic and provide farmers and farm to school programs some relief. In the next Coronavirus response package that the Senate is likely to take up this month, Congress should wave the matching funding requirements for the Farm to School grant program for at least two years as is proposed, among other things, by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) the Local Food Assistance and Resilient Markets Act. This would allow school districts, farming organizations, and local governments to continue building farm to school supply chains and implementing farm to school programming without having to make the kind of hard funding choices many would face as local and state tax revenues plummet.
Spotlight on NSAC Member Projects
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is proud to have played a central role in the development of the Farm to School grant program, and in helping to secure $5 million per year in mandatory funding for the program in the 2010 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). This fiscal year’s (FY) record breaking level of projects was made possible largely thanks to the additional funding secured by NSAC, the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), and our allies in the child nutrition and family farm communities in the FY 2020 appropriations bill.
NSAC congratulates all the FY 2020 awardees, with particular mention of the 3 NSAC member groups that received funding directly or in partnership with others this cycle. A complete list of awardees and project descriptions are available at this link.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CA)
Community Alliance with Family Farmers received an implementation grant of $99,973 to help food service directors and farmers with the procurement regulations and auditing processes for creating compliant bids. This project will support the development and piloting of an automated Bid Generator to be used by food service directors at 10 school districts in California. This automated web-based Bid Generator, coupled with direct technical assistance, will ease the procurement process for food service directors, thereby increasing the amount of locally sourced, farm fresh produce in school cafeterias.
“We are really excited to have received the USDA Farm to School Grant award. As demand for local food in schools has increased dramatically, so too have the procurement regulations and oversight for creating compliant bids. In response, we’ll be building out an interactive bid template process while simultaneously working on developing a fully automated software application. Through 21st century technology, we will streamline the bidding process to meet compliance standards while allowing more local farmers/vendors to participate. It represents the next level of Farm to School by removing critical barriers that schools typically face when trying to procure local foods.”Michelle Wyler
Kansas Rural Center (KS)
The Kansas Rural Center received a $99,863 implementation grant to work with their farm to school partners, through workshops, community gatherings, and storytelling, to provide educational programs and training. The project will strengthen: 1.) Farmers’ knowledge of how to produce food safely for schools and the market opportunities, and how to work with school food programs through training; 2.) Community involvement and understanding of farm to school programs and specific needs or opportunities through town halls and success stories; and 3.) Youth understanding of where and how food is grown through farm visits and increased access to local food in school meal programs.
“We’re excited to expand our partnerships and relationships with farms and schools across the state. Ultimately, our goals are to increase fruit and vegetable production by farmers; adoption of practices that reduce or manage risk on farms marketing to schools and local food procurement by schools, especially in rural communities.”Natalie Fullerton
Waterkeepers Chesapeake/Fair Farms (MD)
Fair Farms received a $99,704 implementation grant to support Frederick County Public Schools, Community FARE and other partners as they work towards their 2025 goal of 10% locally sourced produce in a mix of 10 rural, urban, and suburban elementary, middle, and high schools, the majority with over 50% free and reduced meals. Waterkeepers Chesapeake/Fair Farms serves as fiscal agent for this project.
“It doesn’t do any good to make fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables available in the lunch line if kids don’t choose them for their meal. And they generally won’t – unless of course they are familiar with the food and have a connection. Our F2S program does that. Harvest of the Month teaches kids about a fruit, vegetable, or herb from seed to plate. About the soil, the pollinators, the plants, how long fruit production takes, how to pick it, clean it, and prepare it for lunch. Students get to learn from farmers and a chef, and their food becomes real – they feel it was grown for them. Little by little we make the connections!”Janice Wiles, Community FARE