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Leahy, Cochran Introduce Bill To Renew And Expand Emerging Farm To School Efforts

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Wednesday introduced legislation to extend a key nutrition program for school-aged children.  The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 will increase the federal resources committed to helping to bring fresh, local foods to schools nationwide. 

Companion legislation was also introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Leahy is the author of the existing Farm to School program and championed the funding for it in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.  He is the most senior member of both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Leahy said:  “The farm to school movement is a two-fold solution to helping address hunger in America.  It both encourages healthier eating habits among children, and supports local farmers.  Children, communities, farmers and schools all win under this formula. The Farm to School Act of 2015 will build on and extend these successes.  Hungry children cannot learn.  Providing security to our children goes beyond having roofs over their heads.  It means putting food on their plates.  It also means offering healthy choices to help form healthy lifestyles.  Vermont has been a leader in forging farm-to-school partnerships, and many of the improvements in this bill are drawn from those successes.”

The program, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and authorizes federal grants to help schools across the country plan and implement farm to school programs.  Grant applications for the program have exceeded the funds authorized and available, with more than 700 applications requesting $53 million in support received over the last two years.

Vermont has successfully linked farms to classrooms through organizations like Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), a partnership of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-Vt.), and Shelburne Farms.  With the help of federal Farm to School funding, organizations like VT FEED and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets have successfully aided 89 percent of Vermont schools in supporting farm to school efforts.  Nationally the Farm to School Grant Program supports 82 projects in 42 states.

The Leahy-Cochran bill would raise the program’s authorized level from $5 million to $15 million, and increase the maximum grant award to $200,000.  The legislation also expands the scope of the program to include pre-schools, summer food service programs, and after-school programs, and it enhances access to tribal foods and other farming such as aquaculture.  The legislation also helps grantees improve procurement and distribution of local food.

Vermont schools’ success with farm to school programs has received national recognition.  In 2013 Milton Elementary students were invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to showcase their leadership in incorporating healthy foods into school meals from local producers and from school gardens.