Senators Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), along with Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), this week introduced the bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2017. First introduced in 2015 as part of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act process, the Farm to School Act aims to improve upon the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by expanding access to healthy, local foods in schools, while also boosting economic opportunities for family farmers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and National Farm to School Network (NFSN) helped develop the Farm to School Act, and spoke strongly in favor of the bipartisan introduction of the bill earlier today.
“Farm to school activities have proven to be an economic driver for local farms across the country,” said Maximilian Merrill, Policy Director of the National Farm to School Network. “In the most recent USDA Farm to School Census, schools reported purchasing nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors in just one school year. Every dollar spent on local food generates up to an additional $1.60 in economic activity, indicating school districts’ local food purchases are driving over $1 billion in local economic activity. The Farm to School Act will expand these efforts, allowing more schools to access training, resources and technical assistance to grow their farm to school activities and boost new market opportunities for farmers and local food producers.”
“Farmers have been struggling for years with a weak agricultural economy,” said Wes King, NSAC Policy Specialist. “One of the many benefits of farm to school programs is that they open up new, lucrative marketing channels to American producers. The Farm to School Act would create opportunities across the board – children win by gaining access to delicious local food and agricultural programming that is both fun and educational, schools and families win by helping children to maintain and/or improve their health, and farmers win by gaining new customers for their products.”
Our nation’s children deserve access to fresh, healthy, local foods, and our local/regional farmers are the best possible suppliers. The Farm to School Act of 2017 would build upon the already substantial successes of USDA’s Farm to School Grant program by:
- Expanding program access to include preschools, summer food service sites, and after school programs.
- Increasing annual mandatory funding from $5 million to $15 million. Demand for the Farm to School Grant program is over five times higher than available funding. In the first three years of the program (fiscal years 2013-15) USDA received over 1,000 applications requesting over $78 million, but was able to make only 221 awards with its $5 million in available funding.
- Expanding access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, particularly those from tribal producers. Native American communities face disproportionately high rates of diet-related illnesses. Encouraging farm to school partnerships between tribal schools and tribal producers will increase consumption of nutritious, traditional foods, while also supporting Native farmers and ranchers.
- Encouraging greater program participation from beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. By providing technical assistance and outreach to a broader range of potential farmer applicants, the Farm to School Grant program can bring more, much-needed economic opportunities to traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers nationwide.