Leahy And Perdue Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Renew And Expand Emerging Farm To School Efforts

. . . Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill Will Reauthorize Farm To School Program . . . Leahy-Authored Program Has Helped Make Vermont A National Leader In Pairing Local Foods And Local Schools

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, June 27, 2019) – U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), David Perdue (R-GA), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), Thursday introduced legislation to extend a key nutrition program for school-aged children.  The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2019 will increase the federal resources committed to helping to bring fresh, local foods to schools nationwide.  It also helps set the stage for action as Congress begins the process of reauthorizing child nutrition programs.

Companion legislation was also introduced Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). Leahy is the author of the existing Farm to School program and championed the funding for it in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.  He has also been instrumental in securing additional discretionary funding for the program through annual appropriations bills. 

Senator Leahy said:  “The farm to school movement is a dual solution to helping address hunger in America.  It both encourages healthier eating habits among children, and supports local farmers.  Children, communities, farmers and schools all win under this formula.  The Farm to School Act of 2019 will build on and extend these successes.  Hungry children cannot learn.  Providing security to our children goes beyond having roofs over their heads.  It means having food on their plates.  It also means offering healthy choices to help form healthy lifestyles.  Vermont has been a leader in forging farm-to-school partnerships, and many of the improvements in this bill are drawn from those successes.”

“The Farm to School program connects schools with local farmers and provides hands-on opportunities for kids to learn where their food comes from,” said Senator Perdue. “Studies have shown that when local food is served in schools, students consume 30 percent more fruits and vegetables. The Farm to School program is an important first step toward improving child nutrition, while also supporting our agriculture community and growing the economy. The Secretary of Agriculture has been a strong advocate for this program, and I applaud Senator Leahy for his bipartisan efforts on this bill.”

“Ohio farmers grow some of the best produce in the country,” said Senator Brown. “This legislation will increase nutritious, locally grown foods in our school lunchrooms while strengthening farms and rural communities across the country.”

“Since 2013, schools and non-profits throughout the State of Maine have received funding through the Farm to School Grant Program to help purchase local food and implement innovative food and wellness lessons for students,” said Senator Collins.  “This bipartisan bill would ensure that students in Maine and across the country will continue to have access to local and healthy foods while supporting Maine farmers and reducing childhood obesity.”

The program is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and authorizes federal grants to help schools across the country plan and implement farm to school programs.  Grant applications for the program have exceeded the funding available for the program.  Since 2013, USDA has received more than 1,900 applications requesting over $141 million.  But less than a quarter of the grant applications received for the program can be funded each year.

Vermont has successfully linked farms to classrooms through organizations like Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), a partnership of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-Vt.), and Shelburne Farms.  With the help of federal Farm to School funding, organizations like VT FEED and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets have successfully aided over 80 percent of Vermont schools in supporting farm to school efforts.  Nationally, the Farm to School Grant Program has helped over 30,000 schools adopt local and healthy meal options in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The Leahy-Perdue-Brown-Collins bill would raise the program’s authorized 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.

Vermont schools’ success with farm to school programs has received national recognition.  In 2013, Milton Elementary students were invited the White House to showcase their leadership in incorporating healthy foods into school meals from local producers and from school gardens. 

The Farm to School Act of 2019 has the support of leading national advocacy groups including the National Farm to School Network, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Education Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, FoodCorps, the American Heart Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and the National Farmers Union.

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Support For The Farm To School Act

Farm to school direct sales are crucial to farmers and ranchers, who otherwise receive only 14.6 cents of every dollar spent on food.  Students benefit too by learning the importance of where their food comes from.  The program links classrooms with farms to engage students about the importance of farming and farming’s contributions to their local economies. 

In recent years the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets used USDA Farm to School funds to develop a new resource dedicated to ways that food hubs can use their existing infrastructure and expertise to support and strengthen area farm to school programs.  Federal Farm to School grants also support local programs such as the Burlington School Food Project, the state’s largest farm to school effort, which serves more than 4,000 students.  Through creative initiatives such as the half-acre Healthy City Youth Farm at Hunt Middle School, the Burlington School Food Project is able to buy more than a fourth of its foods locally.

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets Anson Tebbetts:  “The Farm to School program not only helps schools, students and farmers. It also keeps everyone grounded. Our world is a better place when we all are closer to animals and our land.”

Betsy Rosenbluth, Project Director for Vermont FEED, the Northeast regional leader of the National Farm to School Network: “We are proud that Vermont schools help lead the nation with groundbreaking Farm to School programs that build thriving local economies, healthy kids and stronger schools. Now more than ever as our farms face growing challenges, it is essential that our children understand where their food comes from and what it does for their bodies and for their communities. The USDA Farm to School grants program is a smart investment; for every dollar VT schools spend on local food, $1.60 is contributed to the VT economy.  We see tremendous opportunity for more school dollars going to local farmers as programs grow, while more students access the essential nourishment they need to succeed in school.  Our goal is to have Farm to School in every VT school district, and the support of Senator Leahy has been instrumental in our progress.”   

Doug Davis, Food Service Director, Burlington School Food Project: “The Burlington School Food Project has been incorporating a Farm to School program into our school meal operation for over 15 years. During that time, we have seen student involvement and engagement increase greatly. Currently, we have cooking carts and or gardens at all our schools and, at the high school, students are offered a Food Science class as well as several other food or garden based opportunities. During that time, we have also seen our produce purchases and consumption grow. Our student's acceptance of fresh fruits and vegetables has also allowed us to increase the items we offer daily on our menus and in our salad bars. We have also worked with several local farms and other small businesses to help them get their products on our bids and on to our broad-line distribution trucks.” 

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