Last week, members of Congress took the first step toward a major win for local economies, farm families and the health of our nation’s children. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 to expand the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The two identical bills will improve access to healthy local foods in schools and experiential food and agriculture education for students while boosting economic opportunities for family farmers. The bills are aimed for inclusion in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

“Research shows that kids eat what they know, and today more than 23 million students are learning about healthy food and local farms in the classroom and cafeteria,” said Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director with the National Farm to School Network. “With the introduction of this bill, we are building on the positive momentum of farm fresh food in school meals, school gardens and farm to school education across the curriculum, such as cooking classes, taste tests, hands-on science classes and farm field trips.”

“Along with supporting healthy kids, farm to school initiatives open new market opportunities for farmers, fishers, ranchers and food entrepreneurs, supporting a stronger local and regional food system,” said Eugene Kim, Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “In 2011-12, U.S. schools spent $385 million on local food. Expanding farm to school activities through this bill will multiply the economic impact for producers and new, emerging local food businesses.”

Administered by USDA, the Farm to School Grant Program provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofits, farmers, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods and to support farm to school activities in cafeterias, classrooms and communities. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

In its first three years, the program received more than 1,000 applications totaling more than $78 million but was only able to fund less than 20 percent of requests from the $15 million allocated. The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 proposes an increase in annual mandatory program funding from $5 million to $15 million and greater support for preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers. The proposed legislation also aims to improve program participation from beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, together with the forward-thinking, bipartisan and bicameral sponsors and champions of this new measure, call on Congress to fully include these proposals in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2015.

Learn more about the Farm to School Act of 2015 and CNR 2015 at farmtoschool.org and sustainableagriculture.net.

Statements from Farm to School Act of 2015 Champions

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
“Farm to school is a two-fold solution to helping address hunger in America. It both encourages healthier eating habits among children, and supports local farmers. Children, communities, farmers and schools all win under this formula. The Farm to School Act of 2015 will build on and extend these successes. Hungry children cannot learn. Providing security to our children goes beyond having roofs over their heads. It means putting food on their plates. It also means offering healthy choices to help form healthy lifestyles. Vermont has been a leader in forging farm-to-school partnerships, and many of the improvements in this bill are drawn from those successes.”

Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS)
“Farm to School is a simple, but great concept to provide more economic opportunities to farmers and more home-state food options for our schools. The Farm to School Act of 2015 improves this important initiative to eliminate unnecessary barriers and provide opportunities for local communities to educate youth about agriculture while building more viable economies. The increased flexibility and reduced regulatory burdens in this bill can bring far-reaching economic benefits, especially in rural areas.”

Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE)
“An exciting trend in the marketplace is the growing demand for local foods. The Farm to School Grant Program provides an excellent opportunity to move this trend to our schools, benefiting both local schools and agriculture producers. The Farm to School Act provides increased nutritional options for students and increased opportunity for farmers, helping reconnect farmers to families and rural communities to urban communities.”

Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
“Farm to school is a proven way to give children access to nutritious, locally grown foods. It helps build good eating habits that can last a lifetime, and in the process, boosts the income of America’s farmers. More schools and early child care settings would love to participate in this excellent program, but they are limited by inadequate funds. Expanding the Farm to School Grant Program into preschool and early child care settings is a great way to reach more children and continue the important work of reducing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. With this legislation, we can make a difference.”