Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the release of a new report that shows that USDA's Farm to School Grant Program, established and funded through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, has helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities. Recent studies published in Childhood Obesity and Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior indicate that strong farm to school programs can impact consumption of fruits and vegetables, leading to reductions in plate waste.
"Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them," said Vilsack. "Congress should act quickly to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to build on the success of farm to school and the healthier school meals and continue our momentum towards a healthier next generation of Americans."
Through its Farm to School Grant Program, USDA has awarded 221 grants in 49 States, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands over the past three years. Fifty percent of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria; 46 percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods; and 65 percent included nutrition education activities. Forty percent of farm to school grants were awarded to rural schools or districts, and 38 percent of grants were distributed in StrikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty.
Nationwide, more than 40,300 schools have farm to school programs that impact 23.5 million children. According to USDA's first-ever Farm to School Census, released in 2014, school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future. Later this fall, USDA will release updated Farm to School Census data.
Under the new standards, children are now eating healthier meals at schools. Farm to school programs are one of many tools and resources USDA offers to help schools successfully serve healthier meals. For example, USDA recently launched an initiative called Team Up for School Nutrition Success that allows the schools that still face challenges to pair up and learn best practices from schools that are already successfully serving healthier meals. The program has provided training for more than 3,500 individuals and has been enthusiastically received by schools and school officials.
For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines at schools in 30 years. Over 95 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, and a recent poll shows that more than eight in ten Americans support the healthier school meals.