A program long championed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will invest $98,918 in bolstering efforts to bring local agriculture into the classrooms and cafeterias of Vermont schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced Farm to School grants to connect child nutrition programs with local farmers.
Leahy said: “Tying local agriculture to our schools not only provides our children with healthy meals and improved nutrition, it encourages a long standing connection to the farms that define our Green Mountain State. Every student deserves equal access to healthy meals, and I’m proud that our school nutrition leaders will use these funds to help all children gain a better understand about where their food comes from. This announcement is another example of how Vermont continues to lead the nation in implementing this effective strategy.”
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets received a $98,918 grant to strengthen farm to school programing in 20 schools in Franklin and Grand Isle counties. Project partners, including Hunger Free Vermont, VT FEED, and the Healthy Roots Collaborative, will work with schools to integrate farm to school activities into curriculums. Together, these activities will strengthen the local agricultural economy in northwestern Vermont and increase the health and wellness of students. This grant builds on the Agency’s 2015 Farm to School training grant focused on encouraging Vermont supply chain partners to engage in agriculture learning in schools.
“This important support is great news for the people living and working in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties,” said Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets Anson Tebbetts. “This important project will help schools, students and Vermont’s farmers. We look forward to working with all the partners on this project.”
This award was part of more than $9 million in grants for 126 projects across 42 states that were announced this week as part of a program that Leahy championed in the creation of the child nutrition bill of 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. These projects are expected to serve more than 3.2 million students in over 5,400 schools nationwide. Since the program began awarding grants seven years ago, Vermont has received more than $585,000 in federal funding. Results from the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census showed that schools with strong farm to school programs are seeing reductions in plate waste, increases in school meal participation rates, and an increased willingness on the part of children to try new foods, notably fruits and vegetables. Students at Vermont schools with Farm to School programs were above the state and national averages for fruit and vegetable consumption.
The Leahy-authored USDA Farm to School program receives $5 million per year in annual appropriations. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy has been instrumental in securing additional discretionary funding for this important program through annual appropriations bills. Earlier this year, Leahy and Senator David Perdue (R–GA) introduced bipartisan legislation to raise the program’s funding level from $5 million to $15 million, and increase the maximum grant award to $250,000. The legislation also expands the scope of the program to include pre-schools, summer food service programs, and after-school programs, and it enhances access to tribal foods and other farming, such as aquaculture. The legislation also helps grantees improve procurement and distribution of local food.
Leahy added: “In Vermont we’ve long seen the benefits of farm to school programs in addressing child hunger. Since we started the USDA program, grant applications have far exceed the funds available. It is time we provide additional support to this commonsense strategy.”