USDA Farm to School Grants connect more students with locally grown, raised food

usdaThe Virginia Department of Education will use a nearly $100,000 Farm to School Grant from the USDA to support efforts of school nutrition programs to serve Virginia-grown food in school cafeterias and school-based meals programs.

The $99,987 grant will fund efforts by the department — in collaboration with local, regional and statewide partners — to expand the commonwealth’s eight regional farm-to-school networks, continue farm-product specific procurement training for division school nutrition staff and create school nutrition programs that capitalize on local agricultural products. VDOE launched these initiatives in 2017 after receiving a similar USDA Farm to School Grant.

“With support from this latest award, more of our school communities will discover the benefits of farm-to-school programs and the opportunities they provide to learn about where food comes from and how the choices they make can impact communities and the environment,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said. “Even if they live in a community many miles from the nearest farm, students can enjoy wholesome meals and learn about the commonwealth’s largest industry.”

The grant will also support school field trips to farms, the development of an agriculture curriculum for students and a statewide farm-to-school conference. Key partners include the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom.

“This grant furthers our ability to provide more Virginia school children with fresh locally grown food, expands economic opportunities for agricultural producers and encourages job creation within the community and the state,” said VDACS Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh. “In addition, the farm-to-school program connects the commonwealth’s rich agricultural resources with the next generation.”

“As a statewide organization, Virginia Cooperative Extension is uniquely positioned to support an agriculture-oriented curriculum for students,” said Ed Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “One of our goals is to help Virginians learn about the origins of their food. VCE extension faculty all across the commonwealth are excited to collaborate on the life-long mission to educate and improve peoples’ quality of life.”

“We are excited to continue our partnership with VDOE by providing support and resources to help connect children to agriculture,” Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom Programs Director Tammy Maxey said. “Not only will this grant allow more children access to nutritious, local foods, but it will also highlight that all food begins on the farm. Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom has a long history of working with Virginia educators and partners to provide curriculum, classroom grants, and other resources to connect children to the source of their food.”

In addition, the USDA awarded grants to three non-profit organizations collaborating with local school divisions, as follows:

  • $100,000 to the Augusta Health Foundation to support efforts in Waynesboro to reduce food insecurity, increase the use of locally grown and raised foods in school nutrition programs, and expand agriculture education;
  • $48,839 to the Local Environmental Agriculture Project to collaborate with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Roanoke Public Schools to establish a farm-to-school program in the city; and
  • $100,000 to Project Grows Inc. for a farm-to-school initiative in Staunton, including food tastings, the integration of local farming and food production into curriculum and instruction, school gardening, and expansion of local food procurement by school nutrition programs.

According to the most recent USDA survey of school districts, 68 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions have farm-to-school programs and another 30 are in the process of establishing programs. In addition, nearly half of the divisions report plans to increase purchases of locally grown and raised food products.

         
 

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