Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan on Wednesday announced more than $4.5 million in grants for 68 projects, spanning 37 states and the District of Columbia, to connect school cafeterias with local agricultural producers.
"When schools buy food from nearby producers, their purchasing power helps create local jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural agricultural communities," Merrigan said. "Evidence also suggests that when kids understand more about where food comes from and how it is produced, they are more likely to make healthy eating choices."
The first-ever USDA Farm to School grants will help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes.
The grants will serve more than 3,200 schools and 1.75 million students, nearly half of whom live in rural communities. Projects are diverse. Some award recipients are using grant funds to coordinate efforts with other school districts to aggregate buying power and attract new producers to the school food service market.
Other funded projects will expand kitchen facilities to serve local products year-round through processing and freezing techniques. Also, a school district in New Mexico will receive grant funding to increase the types of products it buys from local vendors. Local cattle farmers already supply the school district with 100% locally produced beef; USDA grant funds will be used to develop relationships with local fruit and vegetable producers to serve a full meal using locally sourced products.
This year's funding also includes:
-Twenty-five programs that create jobs by hiring new farm to school coordinators, with 43 projects supporting and maintaining existing staff.
-Thirty-one programs that use food hubs, or partner with mainline distributors.
-Forty-four projects that will result in development of new products and menu items.
-An estimated 47 projects will develop new partnerships by working with and educating farmers and ranchers new to the school food market.
-Three projects support American Indian communities by improving access to local and traditional foods to increase local economic benefits for producers as well as promote a healthy diet among their youth.
-More than 50 projects support hands-on learning activities, such as field trips to farms and creation of school gardens.
The full list of awards granted for fiscal year 2013 is available by clicking here.