It’s National Farm to School Month and USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems is here to help…and not just in October! All year long, we offer research, grants, training and technical assistance to help connect child nutrition programs with local foods. Here’s why.
Farm to school helps form healthy habits. By incorporating local foods, farm to school programs help school meal programs fulfill the updated nutrition standards with appealing and diverse offerings. And the results are impressive. The recent 2015 USDA Farm to School Census shows farm to school programs now exist in every state in the nation and in every type of school district – large and small, rural and urban alike. With that in mind, we plan to build on this momentum!
There are many ways USDA supports schools meals through farm to school efforts. We offer resources to help ensure child nutrition program operators have the knowledge necessary to integrate local foods into their day to day operations. Our Farm to School Planning Toolkit provides resources for starting or growing a program and is filled with tips and examples, insights from others, and lists of resources for further research. There’s also countless recommendations on local foods in schools, activities like school gardens, grant opportunities, and farm to preschool tips – because it’s never too soon to start forging healthy habits.
This investment in the health of America’s students through farm to school programming is also an investment in the health of local economies. The Census results found that strong farm to school programs can increase the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improve consumption of healthier foods at school, and reduce plate waste. Equally important, millions of children are learning about where their food comes from and being exposed to lessons about healthy eating. And while all these great things are taking place, our nation’s farmers, ranchers, fishermen, as well as food processors and manufacturers, benefit from the relationship with school districts.
USDA is committed to bringing more local food into school meals, promoting healthy eating habits and expanding markets for American farmers and producers. To best support that commitment, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. Competitive grants up to $5 million are provided annually for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs. And last month (September) we began accepting applications for Fiscal Year 2017 Farm to School Grant Funding.
From taste tests in the cafeteria and nutrition education activities in the classroom, to farm visits and school garden harvest parties, schools, early care and education sites, farms, communities and organizations throughout the nation are catching on to the farm to school movement. Bringing the bounty of America’s farms into schools and onto breakfast and lunch trays is one of the best ways we can ensure students are receiving nutritious and delicious meals at school. And that’s worth celebrating all year long.