Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Introduction of the Farm to School Act of 2015

Five years ago, the President signed into law the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act.  This law has made improvements to our school lunch program by making healthy food choices a reality for students nationwide.  One of the best ways to help students make healthy choices is to teach them about their food and how it is grown.  That is why I championed the inclusion of funding for a farm-to-school grant program, which was included in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act.  The program has had tremendous success and interest nationwide, and has awarded grants in 42 states — showing the reach and diversity of farm-to-school.  In order improve upon this successful program and expand its reach, I am glad to be joined today by Senator Cochran, and Representatives Fudge and Fortenberry in the House, to introduce the Farm to School Act of 2015. 

We all know that hungry children cannot learn.  Studies have shown that healthy nutrition in a young person’s diet is crucial to cognitive ability and better health in the long run.  With food insecurity on the rise, more than 30 percent of all children in the United States struggle with obesity, resulting in poor health, and learning and behavioral difficulties at school.  The school meal program has made tremendous strides in recent years to ensure not only that children have access to meals throughout the school day, but that those meals are nutritious.  The Farm to School program has given children and schools across the country the tools to craft farm-fresh, healthy, and delicious meals that students enjoy.     

The Farm to School grant program offers support to farmers and local economies, while teaching kids about nutritious foods and where they come from.  The program has helped schools across the country meet the new nutrition standards by offering children local, fresh produce that tastes great.  And just as importantly, the program has a strong educational component, making our school cafeterias an extension of the classroom, giving students an opportunity to learn about nutrition, well-balanced meals, and even how to grow the food themselves. 

In Vermont, I have seen first-hand how farm to school efforts have better connected children with the food in their cafeteria.  Students participate in school gardens, sustainability projects, and taste tests for new school menu items.  The Burlington School Food Project created a half-acre Healthy City Youth Farm, connecting schools to the farm by engaging individuals in local agricultural production.  Organizations in Vermont such as Vermont Food Education Every Day, now the Northeast regional leader of the National Farm to School Network; Shelburne Farms; and the Northeast Organic Farming Association have been able to expand their programs to link more farms to the classroom throughout Vermont. 

Farm to school is equally crucial to farmers and ranchers, who currently receive only 16 cents out of every dollar spent on food.  The program opens another market to them to sell their locally grown and locally harvested goods.  And by incorporating farm fresh products in school meals, children learn the importance of where their food comes from.  The program links the classroom with the farm to engage students in the importance of farming and contributing to the local economy.

The Farm to School Act of 2015 would build upon these successes and expand the program’s scope by increasing the funding for the program to $15 million per year.  The bill also recognizes the importance of growing the program to include preschools, summer food service program sites, and after school programs. 

Improving childhood nutrition is a goal we all share.  Small changes in eating habits by children will result in lifelong health benefits for generations to come.  The Farm to School program empowers children and their families to make healthy choices now and in the future.  As the Senate begins considering reauthorizing the child nutrition bill this year, I look forward to including these improvements in the Farm to School program. 

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