Leahy’s Bipartisan Bill To Expand Farm To School Efforts Advances In The Senate

. . . Bill Doubles Funding To $10 Million Annually . . . Leahy-Lead Program Already Has Brought Several Grants To Vermont Schools, Helping Vermont Become A Leader In The Farm To School Movement

WASHINGTON (WEDNESDAY, Jan. 20, 2016) – The Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday advanced bipartisan legislation authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to double funding for the federal Farm To School grant program as part of a larger package reauthorizing child nutrition programs through 2020. 

The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act includes the Leahy-Cochran Farm To School Act of 2015, which builds on earlier Leahy legislation that chartered the grant program.  Leahy’s chief Republican cosponsor is Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).  The Leahy-authored provision increases funding for the Farm To School program from its current level of $5 million to $10 million annually, leveraging local funds investing in community agriculture and nutrition education.  The scope of the program would expand to include preschools, summer food service and after-school programs.  Farm To School grants to Vermont schools in recent years have helped Vermont to become a national leader in the Farm To School movement.

Leahy said:  “Vermont has led the way in the Farm To School movement, and we have taken this to the national stage.  We all know that the Farm To School program is a winning strategy for our communities, and I am proud to know that more schools will now have access to federal grant assistance through this program.  I commend the Senate Agriculture Committee for its commitment to promoting healthy eating habits, while serving up the promise of health and economic stability for generations to come.”

Since 2013, the Farm To School Program invested nearly $400,000 in nutrition education and local agriculture in Vermont, leveraging local funds to support school and community gardens, establishing food hubs and bringing local farms to the classroom to help students learn about where their food comes from. 

Betsy Rosenbluth of Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), a partnership of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-VT) and Shelburne Farms, is the Northeast regional leader of the National Farm to School Network  said: "This is a great victory for Farm To School. Passing the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act and doubling funding for Farm To School grants will translate to stronger programs, and healthier kids, communities, and farms in Vermont. We are so thankful to Senator Leahy for his leadership.  Thanks to the Farm to School program, last year Vermont FEED received a grant to expand the farm to school institute for schools across the Northeast and training for school nutrition staff. There is great demand from schools to learn from Vermont's experience. Our USDA grant is helping Vermont reach its goal of integrated food systems education and purchasing of VT products in all our schools. Expanding the national program supports schools and preschools in every state to work towards that same goal‎."

Leahy, former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and long a leading member of the panel, first included the Farm To School Program in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  Since 2010, grants applications received by the USDA have far exceeded the available appropriations for Farm To School.  With more than 1067 applicants requesting more than $78 million in grant funds, only 221 grant requests have been able to gain grants to date nationally. 

In addition to expanding Farm to School, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act maintains strong nutrition standards in the nation’s schools to ensure all students who receive free and reduced lunch have access to healthy and balanced meals.  The bill expands eligibility for the Child Care and Adult Food Program (CACFP) and the Supplemental Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).  It strengthens summer food assistance by allowing states to adopt summer EBT allowances for each child in a household, and the bill rewards states who are working to improve direct certification of students in free and reduced lunch programs.

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