USDA Opens Application Process For New Leahy-Led Farm To School Grant Program

Vermont A Leader In Budding Nationwide Movement

(TUESDAY, April 17) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tuesday launched a new program authored by Senator Patrick Leahy to expand farm to school links between local farms and school lunchrooms.

The agency opened the application process for grants under the Farm To School program, which Leahy (D-Vt.) included in major legislation, enacted in 2010, that reauthorized school lunch and child nutrition programs.  Vermont has been a national leader in the budding farm to school movement and will host a national conference on the subject this summer.  Leahy wants Vermont’s farms and schools to take full advantage of the new seed money program.  The most senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Leahy is notifying Vermonters that letters of intent from potential applicants are due May 18, proposals are due June 15, and funds will be awarded soon after Oct. 1.

The Leahy initiative, part of the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, will expand farm to school links through competitive grants for technical help in connecting school food service providers with local small and medium sized farms for efficient and cost-effective purchases of locally produced foods for school lunchrooms.  Leahy secured $40 million in assured funding for the Farm to School program -- $5 million for each of the next eight years.  

Leahy said, “Farm to school partnerships benefit everyone, and the economic and nutritional benefits are particularly compelling in Vermont.  At this crucial early stage, this program is a catalyst that can leverage modest resources to get new partnerships up and running.  It will give schools an avenue to help expand access to quality, local food for children.  The school lunch program is a major food buyer in every community, and these grants will allow us to foster local farm job growth and generate local economic development.  I proposed this program because I saw the success of farm to school programs in Vermont and knew a federal commitment would help so many other programs take off.”  

Earlier Leahy efforts that have linked federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Food Stamp (now ‘SNAP’) nutrition stipends for use at local farmers markets has helped spawn new farmers markets in communities across Vermont and from coast to coast.  

Despite the usual abundance of nearby farms, local farm products are largely missing from most schools’ lunch trays.  The emerging farm to school movement aims to fix that by matching local farms with local schools, cutting out the middleman, and scaling up students’ nutrition.  A study in Oregon in 2009 found that every dollar invested in farm to school projects triggered $1.87 in local economic activity.

“I am proud that Vermont once again is leading the way forward,” said Leahy.  More than 130 Vermont schools are experimenting with farm to school programs, and Leahy said many more are interested.  The partnerships built through these efforts among Vermont’s schools, farms and not-for-profit groups -- such as Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and Shelburne Farms -- have helped make Vermont a national leader in the farm to school movement. 

The farm to school movement also fits squarely into emerging strategies to counter childhood obesity such as the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign.  Leahy noted that more than 30 percent of American children are obese and that the risks to children’s health are also risks to the economy, with the billions of dollars spent each year treating obesity-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  The Centers for Disease Control have identified the addition of more fresh fruit and vegetables as one of six top strategies to control and prevent obesity.

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More Information:  

USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program Website

State of Vermont’s Farm to School Website

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693