HARWOOD, Md., April 17, 2012 – Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced today that USDA will be investing in farm to school programs nationwide to help eligible schools improve the health and wellbeing of their students and connect with local agricultural producers. Merrigan joined students at Southern High School to announce the new program that will promote opportunities for nutrition and agriculture education while providing new economic opportunities for food producers of all kinds and communities nationwide. Students at the school displayed and highlighted their farm to school efforts with a tour of the school’s greenhouse.
“School cafeterias are great places to champion U.S. agriculture and to teach students where their food comes from,” said Deputy Secretary Merrigan. “More and more, schools are connecting with their local farmers, ranchers and food businesses each day and these programs are a great way to bring more local offerings into school cafeterias and support U.S. producers as well. As we struggle with obesity and associated diet related diseases, farm to school programs give us one important tool to help our kids make lifelong healthy eating choices.”
The Farm to School Grant Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which authorized and funded USDA to assist eligible entities, through grants and technical assistance, in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. The new investments will assist schools in procuring food from local producers. Farm to school initiatives can also include agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes.
These grants, administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), will 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 and other value-added operations.
To fulfill the farm to school mandate in the HHFKA, effective Oct. 1, 2012, $5 million will be provided to USDA on an annual basis to support grants, technical assistance, and the Federal administrative costs related to USDA’s farm to school program. In this first funding cycle, FNS anticipates awarding up to $3.5 million in grants, while the remaining $1.5 million will support a combination of training and technical assistance, administrative costs, and/or additional farm to school grants.
Letters of Intent are suggested but not required by May 18, 2012, while proposals are due June 15, 2012. To assist eligible entities in preparing proposals, USDA will host a webinar related to Implementation grants on May 15th and a webinar related to Planning grants on May 17th. For more information on webinars, the farm to school grant program, or USDA’s farm to school efforts in general, please visit the USDA Farm to School website.
Reducing childhood obesity and improving the nutrition and health of all Americans is a top priority the the Obama Administration and USDA is committed to promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles and ensuring that all Americans have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals. Championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! initiative and signed by President Barack Obama, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 marked a great win for the nearly 32 million school children that participate in the National School Lunch and the 12 million school children that participate in the School Breakfast Programs each school day. USDA is working to implement historic reforms that will mark the most comprehensive change to food in schools in more than a generation, which include: updated school meals nutrition standards to increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy; science-based standards for all foods and beverages sold on the school campus; performance-based funding increases for schools – the first real increase in 30 years; and training and technical assistance to help schools meet improved standards.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, in addition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and National School Lunch Program, also include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Summer Food Service Program. Taken together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net.