USDA grant to support Virginia farm-to-school programs

The Virginia Department of Education will use a USDA farm-to-school grant to support efforts of school nutrition programs to serve locally grown-and-raised food in school cafeterias. The $99,825 grant will fund efforts by the department — in collaboration with local, regional and statewide partners — to develop eight regional farm-to-school networks, provide farm-product specific procurement training for division school nutrition staff and create school nutrition programs that capitalize on agricultural products unique to the various regions of the commonwealth.

usda“Proper nutrition is an essential ingredient for educational and economic success. We also know that students won’t be hungry to learn if they are just plain hungry. Our children must have access to good nutrition if they are going to be healthy and strong and build the thriving workforce we need for a new Virginia economy,”said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “These USDA grants create a foundation to support both our Virginia farmers and provide our students with healthy school food options.”

“Virginia’s farm-to-school programs connect the Commonwealth’s rich agricultural resources with the next generation,” said First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe. “This grant will not only help continue the essential work of nourishing our children with healthful meals and expanding economic opportunities for local growers, but will also provide meaningful lessons for students around their food and its impact on their communities.”

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 were in the process of establishing programs. In addition, nearly half of the divisions reported plans to increase purchases of locally grown-and-raised food products.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is VDOE’s primary partner in carrying the grant funded activities. The two state agencies have been working together to promote farm-to-school programs since 2007, when the General Assembly directed the departments to establish a farm-to-school task force.

“Most schools are discovering the benefits of farm-to-school programs and the opportunities they provide students to learn about where food comes from and how the choices they make can impact communities and the environment,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said. “Even if they live in an urban community many miles from the nearest farm, students enjoy wholesome and delicious meals and develop a connection with the commonwealth’s largest industry.”

“Virginia farmers and students benefit when school nutrition programs expand their use of locally grown-and-raised food products,” VDACS Commissioner Sandra J. Adams said. “A very important part of the program is getting students to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, which is good for their health. We’ve also found that many parents prefer Virginia-grown or raised products and we think helping students understand that food comes from farms, not grocery stores, is a very important message. Most school children today are at least three generations away from farm life so they don’t understand basic concepts about their food.”

The USDA says that schools with strong farm-to-school programs report higher school meal participation, reduced food waste and increased willingness of students to try new foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, the USDA reports that nationwide, schools purchase nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and food processors and manufacturers.

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