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Illinois Farm to School Program receives $85,000 USDA Grant


Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), the convening organization for the Illinois Farm to School Network, has been selected to receive a competitive USDA Farm to School Grant. The funds will be used to create a robust farm to school program in Kane Country, in partnership with the Kane County Health Department. Alongside the development of the Kane County Food Hub, this project will increase local food distribution, access and education within Aurora area schools.

Lydia Mills, Farm to School Program Coordinator at SGA, knows from experience that when students take part in farm to school programs, they are more willing to try new, healthy foods. “This grant will enable us to work closely with local farmers and create an easy path for their nutritious food to end up on student’s plates,” she says. “We will also bring our programs into Aurora schools to teach students about food and how it grows, so they are excited to try it!”

The USDA is a major advocate for these types of programs. “Farm to school programs work—for schools, for producers, and for communities,” notes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By serving nutritious and locally grown foods, engaging students in hands-on lessons, and involving parents and community members, these programs provide children with a holistic experience that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. With early results from our Farm to School Census indicating schools across the nation invested nearly $600 million in local products, farm to school also provides a significant and reliable market for local farmers and ranchers.”

There have been $4.8 million in grant funds from the USDA distributed this year for 74 projects spanning 39 states. Seven Generations Ahead is the only 2016 grantee in Illinois. Across the Midwest, many school districts received implementation grants to increase their farm to school efforts. You can find the list of newly funded projects at the USDA website.

The latest round of USDA Farm to School Grants brings investment since the program’s inception in fiscal year 2013 to $19.9 million. Projects have been funded in all 50 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This grant program started with the bipartisan passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The renewal of this law, also known as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, is still being debated in Congress, and a Farm to School Act marker bill seeks to increase farm to school funding to further develop these types of programs.

Early Results From the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census are Here

photo 1On Tuesday, Oct 20th, the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released preliminary results
from the 2015 USDA farm to school census
, which represents data from the 2013-2014 school year. The last survey was conducted two years ago, and provided information on the state of farm to school programming for the 2011-2012 school year. Final results won’t be available until early 2016, but the currently available data is very encouraging!

Over half a billion dollars were invested in local foods; an increase of 55% (212 million dollars) from the previous census. Almost half of those who responded indicated that they wanted to increase their local food purchasing even more in the future. There are now over 42,000 schools across the country who are participating in farm to school activities!

While supporting the local economy by providing new market options for local farmers, fisherman, and ranchers, 75% of respondents found these additional benefits from farm to school programming:

  • Greater participation in school meals
  • Increased community support
  • Less food waste
  • Lower food costs

The USDA wants to make sure their data is as accurate as possible, and they’re asking school districts to review and submit information at the 2015 farm to school census website.  They will be accepting corrections and new data until November 20, 2015. Click here to learn more about the farm to school census.

There’s still time to make your voice heard and show your support for the 2015 Child Nutrition and Reauthorization Act, to make sure the USDA can continue to support farm to school programming, and continue to provide healthy school meals for our children.

Coming up on Thursday, October 22nd the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is organizing a Big Day of Farm to School Action. Show your support for the Farm to School Act of 2015 by sharing your stories on social media, contacting your legislators, and helping to grow the farm to school movement!

Child Nutrition Reauthorization Delayed in Congress


The U.S. Senate has delayed legislative progress on the crucial Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (also known as CNR – Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act), which was set to be in committee markup on September 17, 2015. This delay may last a few months, while the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act is set to expire at the end of September. Congress will likely pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) in order to continue base funding and keep the debate going – without passing a bill that would increase funding to key programs.

Why is the Senate delaying? What is there to debate about feeding our nation’s children? While those are great questions, the answer lies in the progress that we made in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Mandating that students have access to healthier meals with guaranteed fruit and vegetable portions, more whole grains, less junk food for sale in schools, and lower sodium levels in school food is controversial to some, including powerful lobbyist groups.

Now is the time for individuals to act and advocate. Not only do we want CNR passed, we want to increase funding to some of the most effective, evidence-based programs there are, such as Farm to School. To quote, “Participation in federally-funded child care or school meals provided in child care, preschool, school, or summer settings is associated with a significantly lower body mass index among young, low-income children.” (Kimbro & Rigby, 2010 – find out more here).

A great way to help is to call your senators and representative. Tell them your concerns and emphasize your support to continue the program with increased funds. You can find your Illinois congressmen and their contact information here.

If you have an organization you can help by signing on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition support letter here. You can also support increasing Farm to School funding through CNR by signing on with the National Farm to School Network here.