USDA Helps Schools Connect with Local Farmers

| November 17, 2015


ATLANTA – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced grants for 74 projects spanning 39 states that support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program. Of the 74 awards, 10 awards are being given in the South East region valued at nearly $750,000.

“Farm to school programs work—for schools, for producers, and for communities,” said Secretary Vilsack. “By serving nutritious and locally grown foods, engaging students in hands-on lessons, and involving parents and community members, these programs provide children with a holistic experience that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. With early results from our Farm to School Census indicating schools across the nation invested nearly $600 million in local products last school year, farm to school also provides a significant and reliable market for local farmers and ranchers.”

Selected projects will serve school districts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Some projects in this region include:

• Food Bank of North Alabama received a support service grant to increase the volume and diversity of locally grown fruits and vegetables served in over 1,500 school cafeterias by leveraging the strengths of key partners. The project includes sales coordination on a local and statewide basis, succession planting planning and harvest coordination, product testing, good agricultural practice (GAP) train-the-trainer training for cooperative extension agents, GAP certification assistance for farmers, marketing services including social media training, and cafeteria staff training with peer-to-peer networking opportunities.

• The Oxford School District in Mississippi, a FY 2013 planning grantee, will expand their program with an implementation grant. The district will take part in a city-wide food hub collaboration with the Oxford City Market and turn garden projects into self-sustaining educational programs. Since receiving their initial grant in 2013, the project has served as an example to schools around the state and will do this more formally in the upcoming years, leading to the development of more farm to school projects across the state.

• Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee received a planning grant to work with faculty, staff, and the community’s School Nutrition Alignment Team to deepen the integration of locally grown foods, nutrition education, and health awareness at high-needs pilot schools. This project will strengthen relationships with the farming community, draw on food education partnerships for collective impact, and evaluate best practices to develop a model that can be replicated throughout the district.

The latest round of USDA Farm to School Grants brings investment since the program’s inception in fiscal year 2013 to $19.9 million. Projects have been funded in all 50 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A report released earlier this year found that a vast majority of grantees use the USDA Farm to School Grant funds to strengthen or develop new partnerships, suggesting the potential for widespread collaboration between eligible schools, nongovernmental and community-based organizations, agricultural producer groups, and other community partners. This is reinforced by a recent USDA Farm to School Census finding that 39 percent of participating school districts saw greater community support as a result of their farm to school program.

Farm to school programs are one of the many tools and resources USDA offers to help schools successfully serve healthier meals. In the past three years since the bipartisan passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school. Over 97 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards.

In addition to school meals, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers several other nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (Commonly known as WIC), and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, these programs comprise America’s nutrition safety net. For more information, visit

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