Leahy, Tillis, Brown, Collins Introduce Bill To Renew Popular Farm To School Program

. . . Bipartisan Legislation Will Drive More Resources To The National Farm To School Grant Program

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, April 22, 2021) – U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), joined by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), on Thursday introduced legislation to renew an important nutrition program that supports both school-aged children and local producers.  The bipartisan Farm to School Act will build on the successes of the Farm to School Program, which was authorized in 2010.

The Farm to School Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, supports initiatives that deliver fresh, local foods to schools nationwide.  The program was first authored by Leahy in the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.  Grants from the program help schools across the country implement farm to school activities.  The popular program is significantly oversubscribed; since 2013, USDA has received nearly 2,000 applications requesting over $141 million.  Less than a quarter of grant applications receive funding each year.

Leahy said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to bear the hunger crisis we face in this country.  Farm to School – the grant program, and the movement at large – has won success by encouraging healthier eating habits, and supporting local producers.  I welcome Senator Tillis’ partnership in supporting this meaningful program.  It’s a common sense approach to addressing hunger and supporting our farmers.  It advances education and healthy eating.  These are not partisan ideas – it is simple common sense.”

Tillis said: “As schools return to in-person learning, it’s important to provide more nutritious meal options for students.  It’s even better when the food comes from a local farm, supporting a healthy diet for our kids and supporting the agriculture industry in North Carolina and across the country. I am proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make this a reality because this commonsense legislation is a win-win for everyone.”

Brown said: “Ohio farmers grow some of the best produce in the country. This legislation will increase nutritious, locally grown foods in our school lunchrooms while teaching our children about their food and strengthening family farms across the country.”

Collins said: “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. 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.”

Karen Spangler, Policy Director, National Farm to School Network, said: "The Farm to School Act of 2021 couldn’t come at a more necessary time. When the pandemic began, school nutrition professionals, educators, and local food producers – the people who make farm to school work – were some of the very first community members to step up and ensure the ongoing care and support of children and families. The measures included in the Farm to School Act will give them much-needed resources to continue their work as we emerge from the pandemic, while helping our country build a more resilient and equitable food system.”

Wes King, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said:  “Over the last 15 years, farm to school programs in the U.S. have helped thousands of schools to connect their students with real, healthy foods. These programs have also served as powerful economic drivers, generating hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue for family farmers each year, according to the most recent USDA Farm to School Census. The Farm to School Act is the cornerstone of a series of proposals supported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition that, if included in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, would help improve health outcomes for our children and economic outcomes for family farmers across the country.”

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.

Betsy Rosenbluth, Project Director VT FEED, Shelburne Farms: “The Farm to School Act of 2021 is especially important coming out of the pandemic as a win-win for our farmers, our children’s health and in strengthening community bonds. Students will have more equitable access to fresh, local food in their school cafeterias and early childhood programs, learning healthy habits and skills to carry through their entire lives. Huge thanks to Senator Leahy as a long time champion of farm to school.”

Leahy, who as the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee has worked to increase funding for the Farm to School program through the annual appropriations process, said further:  “Farm to School is a born-in-Vermont idea.  The state has been a leader in making farm-to-school partnerships work in our communities, for our students and for our farmers.  The Farm to School Act of 2021 will further those partnerships, helping them grow and expand to reach more kids and to develop healthier eating habits for generations to come.”

Companion legislation to the Leahy-Tillis Farm to School Act was introduced in the House in March. 

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