Child nutrition programs are effective investments in the health and development of children across the country. As programs that serve tens of millions of meals per day, they also present an opportunity for sustainable farmers to expand and diversify their markets by selling their products to local schools. As Congress begins the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR), we have an important opportunity to leverage federal policy to support farm to school activities that benefit our kids, our farmers, and our communities.
We the undersigned enthusiastically ask that you support our country’s kids, farmers and communities by including the Farm to School Act of 2019 (S.2026, H.R.3562) and the Kids Eat Local Act (S.1817, H.R.3220) in the upcoming Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. These bills together will help ensure our children have access to healthy, high quality meals and create economic opportunity for our nation’s farmers.
In the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Congress established mandatory funding of $5 million annually for a farm to school competitive grant and technical assistance program. The USDA Farm to School Grant Program increases the use of and improves access to local foods in schools – thus boosting farm income and economic opportunities – while also fostering experiential food education for our nation’s children. However, demand for the program is more than five times higher than available funding. Since 2013, over 1,900 applicants have requested more than $141 million in grant funding. Congress needs to build on the success of farm to school program by expanding its scope and providing an additional $15 million per year in mandatory funding. The Farm to School Act of 2019 can address these needs and continue to expand upon the successes of this highly impactful program. Schools across the country are eager and ready to put more local food on students’ plates. While some schools can purchase and/or preference locally produced foods using the current geographic preference option, many school food service providers find it burdensome and confusing to implement. The Kids Eat Local Act would give schools a new, easier way to procure local food and farm products through which they could go beyond preferencing certain products and instead explicitly specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language – substantially improving market opportunities for local farmers and food producers, and resulting in fresher, healthier food in the cafeteria. The Kids Eat Local Act directly responds to what schools have been asking for: greater flexibility to purchase and serve local foods from the farmers right in their own communities.
Farm to school is a common sense approach to child nutrition that empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Growing the reach of the program, as proposed in the Farm to School Act, only enhances these benefits while the Kids Eat Local Act allows schools the flexibility they need to implement farm to school more effectively.
The Farm to School Act will:
- Increase annual mandatory funding for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program from $5 to $15 million, and increase the individual grant award maximum to $250,000.
- Advance equity by prioritizing grant applications that engage beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and serve diverse and high-need student populations.
- Fully include early care and education sites, summer food service program sites and after school programs.
- Increase access among Native and tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional foods, especially from tribal producers.
The Kids Eat Local Act will:
- Bring more local food into school meal and child nutrition programs without raising the cost of school meal programs. - Reduce burdensome red tape, making it easier for schools to source local food.
- Provide market opportunities for local family farmers, ranchers and fishermen.
We urge you to support these forward-looking pieces of legislation and ensure their inclusion in the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization to improve healthy food choices and educational efforts for children and economic opportunities for farmers.