PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 2, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $5 million in grants for 82 projects to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through the USDA’s Farm to School Program.

The grants span 42 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The program helps schools purchase more food from local farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local food for school children and supporting local economies. According to USDA's first-ever Farm to School Census released earlier this year, school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future.

"USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects," said Vilsack. "These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers."

Secretary Vilsack made this announcement at Common Market, a pioneering food hub in Philadelphia that connects wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Common Market is receiving a grant to support their "An Apple a Day" Program. The facility will act as a bridge between Pennsylvania Family Farms, a small Pennsylvania value-added processor, and public charter schools to provide food safety, product development, packaging, educational, marketing, planning, ordering and delivery support to farm and school food service partners.

“Today’s announcement is terrific news for local economies, students, farmers and families,” said U.S Senator Debbie Stabenow, (D – Mich.), Chairwoman of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “As I visit schools with local farm to table programs, I continue to be impressed to see students enjoying broccoli and pineapple from salad bars, while learning about how their food is grown. Farm to school programs give needed support to local farmers, while educating and encouraging students to eat healthy. Whether it’s teachers, students, parents or farmers, everybody wins when local food makes it to cafeterias close to where it has been grown and produced.” 

Together, Common Market and the other selected projects will serve more than 4,800 schools and 2.8 million students, nearly 51 percent of whom live in rural communities.

Other programs include:

·        -- Tift County School System in Georgia will build on its current efforts to provide agriculture and nutrition programs that are experiential, educational and better connect students to local and regional food. Proposed activities include retrofitting a school bus to serve as a farm bus/rolling classroom, retrofitting a canning plant to preserve local tomatoes, and irrigating the school farm to expand the growing season and increase yield.

·         -- Colonial School District in Delaware will have students and staff directly engaged in the entire process of planning, growing and processing foods, creating new menus, and placing healthy foods directly into school nutrition programs. At the Historic Penn Farm, high school students will grow crops for both the school's breakfast and lunch programs.

·         -- The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council in South Dakota intends to provide locally raised tribal bison meat into the school lunch programs, procure other locally produced food products, and implement school gardens.

·         -- The National FFA Organization will connect local youth producer-FFA members to school food buyers and host a series of webinars focused on developing state level partnerships.

-- In Colorado, the Mancos Conservation District won a $97,683 Farm to School Grant. It will be used for the Mancos Conservation District’s Local Foods4Local School’s project. The project is developing a new model for school-based food production by hiring school staff to cultivate a farm plot on school district property, increasing student’s access to local foods, and engaging students in educational farming and gardening activities.  The Local Foods4Local Schools program will serve Montezuma and La Plata Counties as well as two Native American reservations.

“Innovative projects like Local Foods4Local Schools ensure that kids have access to fresh, healthy foods, while supporting local producers and local economies,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, (D – Colo.). “These types of grants are part of a larger efforts to combat childhood hunger and obesity and improve nutrition in schools.  With this grant, the Mancos Conservation District has this opportunity to expand access to nutritious foods, provide education to students about the source of their food and food options, and connect community producers with local schools.” 
See a complete list of FY15 Farm to School grant recipients.

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USDA's Farm to School Grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes.

USDA Farm to School Conference and Event Grants support regional, state, and national conferences, events and/or trainings that have a specific emphasis on developing supply chain relationships by connecting local producers to school food buyers, along with events and trainings that provide technical assistance or other programming in the area of local procurement, food safety, culinary education and integration of agriculture-based curriculum.

USDA's Farm to School Program is made possible by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorized USDA to provide grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods. Since 2012, USDA has awarded $15.1 million in grants to 221 Farm to School projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands. The Farm to School program is a core element of the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the department's work on local food systems.

USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food.

Updated:  Dec. 2, 2014, 3:25 p.m. CST 


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