Federal lawmakers have introduced a bill that would expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program.
Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett (D- U.S. Virgin Islands) and Congressman Marc Molinaro (R-NY) have introduced the Farm to School Act which would increase funding for the program from $5 million to $10 million.
“The increased demand for Farm to School programming tells us that more people are beginning to understand the connection between local foods and healthy young minds. Through the Farm to School Grant Program, participating schools, nonprofit organizations, and local, state and tribal governments can help schools offer locally grown, fresh food to students,” said Congresswoman Plaskett in a statement.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Over 67,000 schools participate in the Farm to School program, according to the USDA. Each year, schools and organizations can apply for grant funding through the program to bolster their farm-to-school efforts. This year, 103 grants were awarded, reaching an estimated 2,791 schools and more than 1.2 million students.
As supply chain disruptions continue to cause headaches for school nutrition professionals, some have turned to local sourcing to help fill gaps in their menus. In a study by the USDA, 97% of school nutrition operators reported that they were still experiencing one or more supply chain-related issues in the first quarter of the 2022-2023 school year.
Outside of its Farm to School Program, the USDA has made additional investments to help schools get more local food on students’ lunch trays. Last year, for example, it invested $60 million in farm-to-school commodity purchasing to help schools with local procurement. It’s new partnership with the Urban School Food Alliance is also aimed at helping schools overcome procurement challenges, including sourcing locally.