Leahy, Cochran Introduce 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 (WEDNESDAY, Feb. 25, 2015) – U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Wednesday introduced legislation to extend a key nutrition program for school-aged children.  The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 will increase the federal resources committed to helping to bring fresh, local foods to schools nationwide. 

Companion legislation was also introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.  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 is the most senior member of both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Leahy said:  “The farm to school movement is a two-fold 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 2015 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 putting 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.”

Cochran said: “Farm to School is a simple, but great concept to provide more economic opportunities to farmers and more home-state food options for our schools.  The Farm to School Act of 2015 improves this important initiative to eliminate unnecessary barriers and provide opportunities for local communities to educate youth about agriculture while building more viable economies.  The increased flexibility and reduced regulatory burdens in this bill can bring far-reaching economic benefits, especially in rural areas.”

The program, 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 funds authorized and available, with more than 700 applications requesting $53 million in support received over the last two years.

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 89 percent of Vermont schools in supporting farm to school efforts.  Nationally the Farm to School Grant Program supports 82 projects in 42 states.

The Leahy-Cochran bill would raise the program’s funding level from $5 million to $15 million, and increase the maximum grant award to $200,000.  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.

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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 16 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 4000 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 Chuck Ross:  “Vermont is a national leader in Farm to School and we have appreciated Senator Leahy’s ongoing support for farm to school’s impact on our communities and our youth.  Rarely do we find such a win-win as Farm to School, on so many levels: improving health, education, agricultural literacy, the economy, and the environment.  The deep value of Farm to School reaches all socio-economic levels, acting as a catalyst in enhancing the healthy food choices and betterment of our school children as well as supporting our agricultural community.”

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. The USDA Farm to School grants program is a wise investment; VT schools spent almost $1.4 million on local products in 2013 and we see tremendous opportunity to put more dollars back into the local economy as programs grow.  Our goal is to have Farm to School in every VT school district, and the support of Senator Leahy and our Congressional delegation has been instrumental in our progress.”

Keenan Haley, Sharon Elementary School’s Co-Coordinator of farm to school initiatives, and a third-grade teacher:  “Federal support for Sharon’s farm-to-school program has resulted in a culture of wellness within our school and community.  Students are learning the best choices to make later in life about food, health and wellness – meanwhile that education is also reaching into the home life.  We have found nutritional education to be a catalyst to get students excited about all aspects of learning – reading, writing, math, art, physical education.  Children are thirsty to know more, and I have countless examples of parents who come to me talking about the difference this program is making for their children.”

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Press Contact

Press Contact
David Carle: 202-224-3693