A new USDA report finds that farm-to-school programs established through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has benefited more than 6.9 million students in 12,300 schools while also helping area farmers.
Recent studies published in Childhood Obesity and Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior indicate that strong farm to school programs can impact consumption of fruits and vegetables, leading to reductions in plate waste, USDA says.
"Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack highlighted the HHFKA as it comes up for reauthorization at the end of this month.
USDA's Farm to School program
Through its Farm to School Grant Program, USDA has awarded 221 grants in 49 States, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands over the past three years.
How the funding has been used:
• 50% of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria;
• 46% included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods;
• 65% included nutrition education activities
• 40% of farm to school grants were awarded to rural schools or districts
• 38% of grants were distributed in StrikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty.
Nationwide, more than 40,300 schools have farm to school programs that impact 23.5 million children.
According to USDA's first-ever Farm to School Census, released in 2014, school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future.
Later this fall, USDA will release updated Farm to School Census data.
Under the new standards, USDA says children are now eating healthier meals at schools. In addition to farm to school, USDA recently launched an initiative called Team Up for School Nutrition Success that allows the schools that still face challenges to pair up and learn best practices from schools that are already successfully serving healthier meals. The program has provided training for more than 3,500 individuals.