USDA grants totaling $3.5 million will go toward farm-to-school programs, which, in part, teach kids about growing farm-fresh food.
Schools interested in applying for the USDA’s first round of Farm to School grants need to submit their applications by June 15, 2012. Through the grant program, which was launched in April, the USDA aims to provide fresh, healthy food for children in schools across the U.S and to bolster and sustain local farmers and ranchers.
The USDA say the grants will make $3.5 million available to help local school districts organize and implement new farm-to-school programs that educate children about where their food comes from and improve the quality of school meals. At the same time, the USDA hopes to improve local and regional food systems and create new markets for local food producers.
“The local and regional food sector of agriculture is growing rapidly, as are farm-to-school initiatives,” says Helen Dombalis, a policy associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “While there is now at least one farm-to-school program operating in each state, there is lots of work to be done to deepen and extend these programs, especially in more disadvantaged communities. The new Farm to School grant program is a critical step in revitalizing school meals and engaging children in nutrition education.”
The new competitive Farm to School Grants program was created in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, also known as the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization. NSAC, together with the National Farm to School Network and Community Food Security Coalition, worked for inclusion of the Farm to School program in that legislation, working with many senators and representatives led by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey.
In accordance with the legislation, the USDA says it will prioritize projects that serve school districts and schools that have high free and reduced-price meal enrollment. Additionally, the agency indicated it will be interested in innovative local and regional food procurement strategies. The USDA also says it encourages eligible entities to submit “cluster” applications where, for example, a USDA investment in one school district, working in concert with several additional districts, might benefit a wider geographic area than funding to any one entity.
Grant applicants must provide at least 25 percent of the costs of the grant project from non-federal sources.
There will be two kinds of awards: planning and implementation. Planning grants will range from $20,000 to $45,000 and comprise 25 percent of total awards. These awards are intended to help school districts and schools organize and structure farm-to-school activities. Implementation grants, accounting for 75 percent of total awards, will range from $65,000 to $100,000. School districts, schools, state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers, and non-profit entities may use these awards to further develop existing farm-to-school programs.