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USDA Helps Schools Connect with Local Farmers and Ranchers

Press Release
Release No.
USDA 0315.15
Contact: FNS Press Team

Washington, DC, November 17, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $4.8 million in grants for 74 projects spanning 39 states that support the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to connect child nutrition programs with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program.

"Farm to school programs work—for schools, for producers, and for communities," said Secretary Vilsack. "By serving nutritious and locally grown foods, engaging students in hands-on lessons, and involving parents and community members, these programs provide children with a holistic experience that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. With early results from our Farm to School Census indicating schools across the nation invested nearly $600 million in local products, farm to school also provides a significant and reliable market for local farmers and ranchers."

USDA's Farm to School Grants fund school districts, state and local agencies, tribal nations, agricultural producers, and non-profit organizations in their efforts to increase local foods served through child nutrition programs, teach children about food and agriculture through garden and classroom education, and develop schools' and farmers' capacities to participate in farm to school. Awards ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 are distributed in four different grant categories: Planning, Implementation, Support Service, and Training.

For the 2016 school year, grants will serve more than 5,211 schools and 2.9 million students, nearly 40 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Funded projects include:

  • Conway School District in Arkansas received a planning grant to design a local food processing kitchen program in a centralized school kitchen facility that will allow the district's schools to serve nutritious local produce throughout the school year.
  • The Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri received an implementation grant to partner with St. Louis University and local farms to expand and integrate its farm to school program through the HELP (Healthy Eating with Local Produce) project. Through HELP, student employees will use preservation techniques to make local produce available to all 24 schools in the district year round, even outside of regular harvest seasons. HELP will offer high school students culinary training, hands-on experience with local produce, and food production skills while providing employment in the local community.
  • The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets received a support service grant to build on a successful pilot program that provides local procurement, food safety, culinary skills, and capacity-building trainings for districts. The department will also identify and work with interested local growers to facilitate market-readiness trainings.
  • The Oxford School District in Mississippi, which previously received a FY 2013 planning grant, will expand their program through an implementation grant. The district will take part in a city-wide food hub collaboration with the Oxford City Market and turn garden projects into self-sustaining educational programs. Since receiving their initial grant in 2013, the project has served as an example to schools around the state and will continue to lead the way for farm to school projects in the coming years.
  • The First Nations Development Institute in New Mexico received a training grant to convene Native American food producers and leaders from schools with primarily Native American student bodies for a two-day training. The event will facilitate connections between schools and producers, showcase best practices, present resources available to initiate and further develop farm to school programs, and provide an open forum to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities for farm to school programs in Native communities.

For a complete list of 2016 Farm to School Grant recipients, please see the 2016 Farm to School Grants summary page.

The latest round of USDA Farm to School Grants brings investment since the program's inception in fiscal year 2013 to $19.9 million. Projects have been funded in all 50 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A report released earlier this year found that a vast majority of grantees use the USDA Farm to School Grant funds to strengthen or develop new partnerships, suggesting the potential for widespread collaboration between eligible schools, nongovernmental and community-based organizations, agricultural producer groups, and other community partners. This is reinforced by a recent USDA Farm to School Census finding that 39 percent of participating school districts saw greater community support as a result of their farm to school program.

Farm to school programs are one of the many tools and resources USDA offers to help schools successfully serve healthier meals. In the past three years since the bipartisan passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school. Over 97 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards.

In addition to school meals, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers several other nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (Commonly known as WIC), and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net.

Page updated: February 15, 2022