Senators Reintroduce Bill to Expand Home-State Food Options for Schools
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have renewed their push to expand the Farm to School grant program, which promotes the use of home-state agriculture products in school cafeterias.
The Senators on Wednesday reintroduced the bipartisan Farm-to-School Act of 2017 (S.1767) to expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School grant program. The Leahy-Cochran bill would increase school eligibility, reduce barriers for farmer participation, allow broader use of agriculture and aquaculture (including catfish) products, and restrict the amount of program funding that can be used for administrative costs.
“Our Farm to School legislation would make it easier for local farms to grow more food for local schools,” Cochran said. “Schoolchildren across the country can have greater access to locally-grown meat, fish, and produce, which can be particularly beneficial for students in underserved and rural areas.”
“Farm to school programs have a proven track record to help address hunger in America. Nearly half of all school districts participate in farm to school activities because this program both encourages healthier eating habits among children, and supports local farmers. It’s a natural partnership with benefits all around. Children, communities, farmers and schools all win under this formula,” Leahy said. “The Farm to School Act of 2017 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 making sure they don’t go hungry. 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 Farm to School program works to increase the availability of locally-produced foods in school cafeterias through grant funding. The Farm to School was authorized in 2004, but not funded until 2010. Over the past four years, the Oxford school district, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi have received grants.
The reintroduced bill would also expand program eligibility to land-grant colleges and universities, preschools, summer food service sites and after school programs. It would also create incentives for beginning farmers and ranchers, including veterans and the disadvantaged, to participate in the program.
The legislation would raise the program’s annual authorized level from $5 million to $15 million, and increase the maximum grant award to $200,000. The bill has been referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee, on which Cochran and Leahy both serve.
A companion House bill (HR.3686) has been introduced by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio).