USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday announced grants for 71 projects spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia that support the agency's efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its "Farm to School" program.
Vilsack said the programs – in both rural and urban schools – teach students where food comes from, while providing healthy foods that are grown locally on farms and ranches.
"These programs also create new market opportunities for local farmers and ranchers interested in partnering with nearby school districts," Vilsack said, "and by helping to create an even more diverse and thriving agriculture sector, Farm to School efforts hold potential to create new jobs in rural areas."
The USDA's selected projects will serve more than 13,000 schools and 2.8 million students, nearly 45% of whom live in rural communities, USDA said.
Somerville Public Schools, Massachusetts: Schools will work to develop a district-wide farm to school program with community partners that focus on creating youth jobs and promoting healthy eating and physical education.
Olympia School District, Washington state: Olympia will partner with two local farms to help students apply biology, American history, and horticulture skills towards farm management. The farms will grow organic produce for the school district and serve as an outdoor educational space for students, USDA said.
Bayfield Regional Food Producers Cooperative, Wisconsin: Bayfield will overcome the obstacles of a short growing season by helping local school districts install and manage high tunnels to supplement school gardens. In addition to providing nutrient-dense hardy greens and other vegetables to the students in their lunches and snacks, the high tunnels will allow educators to implement experiential, project-based learning in the spring and fall seasons.
Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative and Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, Iowa: The programs will work with local farmers and a newly established food hub to boost production to meet the needs of local schools. They have set a goal with four rural school districts to increase local purchases by 200%, USDA reports.
Vilsack said the projects highlight the need for a new farm bill, as producers require renewed and expanded access to programs to fuel demand for local food in new markets.
Farm to school programs increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors, USDA said. The grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes.
The projects announced Tuesday are expected to build on previous program success; In school year 2011-2012, school districts purchased and served over $350 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase more local foods in the future, USDA said.
For a complete list of FY14 Farm to School grant recipients, click here.