Lawmakers offer new bills to expand Farm to School program

By Sara Wyant

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2015 - In an effort to expand production and consumption of locally-grown foods in schools, lawmakers introduced new legislation today that would enhance USDA's Farm to School program.

On an annual basis, USDA awards up to $5 million in competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm-to-school programs.

Lets Talk Food

The bipartisan bills, introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, would increase funding for USDA's Farm to School program to $15 million per year.

Supporters hope to include the language in the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30. The program was originally funded as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

The bills would clarify that all school feeding programs are eligible to participate -- such as after school, pre-school and summer food programs - in addition to the current focus on K-12 students during the regular school year. In addition, there is a provision to encourage Indian tribes to help serve tribal schools.

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“The demand from school systems is outstripping the current supply of dollars by more than five to one, so the bills would close some of that gap,” notes Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

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, according to NSAC.

“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,” said Helen Dombalis, policy and strategic partnerships director with the National Farm to School Network.

#30

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