Eat healthy! That has to be one of the most timeworn sentiments ever directed at children. But think back to your own youth for a moment. Which of the following scenarios would have been more successful in getting you to eat your veggies? Authority figures barking at you with drill sergeant intensity to clean your salad plate? Or putting your books aside in order to slip into the fresh air and harvest the tomatoes and carrots you planted from seed? Next comes cooking lessons, to show you and your classmates creative ways to prepare them. If you picked the second scenario, you are normal. Research shows that while all those nags can backfire, engaging students in holistic processes like gardening actually encourages them to make healthier choices on their own. That is why the Farm to School Grant Program is so refreshing. At heart, it inspires kids to form a lifelong appreciation of that green stuff! (Not to mention purple, yellow, red, orange....)
What Is the Farm to School Grant Program?
The Farm to School Grant program helps improve access to locally grown food in schools. Types of qualifying activities include training, planning, purchasing equipment, planting school gardens, developing partnerships with local agricultural producers, child nutrition programs, cooking classes, field trips to nearby farms and more. Last year almost $5 million was provided to 74 different projects that can be replicated and modified as needed in schools across the country.
Selected Past Recipients
- Tuscon Unified School District, AZ - Food service staff will receive garden training, and schools within the district will benefit from a multi-vendor produce bid to incorporate more local produce in the lunch menu.
- County of Sonoma Department of Health Services, CA - Onsite gardens, Harvest of the Month tasting kits, and more locally grown produce for the pre-kindergarten meals are on the menu for fifteen sites serving low income families in Sonoma County.
- Perry County School District, KY - This project has three main goals, support agricultural businesses within the county, provide nutritional education in all of its schools, and develop a means to freeze and store local produce for the winter months.
- First Nations Development Institute Albuquerque, NM - Native American food producers and schools with primarily Native American populations will explore opportunities for farm to school programs in Native communities.
- Milton, VT - Every day all year around, students see the herbs used to season their lunches growing in three indoor tower gardens in their cafeteria.
- North Carolina - The nonprofit Growing Minds partnered with school districts to incorporate garden lessons in the classroom that align with state standards for literature, math and science.
More Benefits of the Farm to School Program
Giving students healthier food choices by making fresh fruits and veggies more available is an obvious benefit. But there are other advantages to this program as well. It has the potential to:
- Increase the market for local produce, thus enhancing the local economy.
- Benefit the environment by fostering an appreciation for local and seasonal foods. Choosing local helps preserve open spaces in the region and may even reduce our carbon footprints.
- Lower school meal costs.
- Create a more cohesive community. 39% of school districts reported increased community support while participating in farm to school programs.
- Contribute to good mental health. While more evidence is needed, preliminary studies have found digging in microbe rich soil can reduce stress and improve our mood.
Applying for the Farm to School Program
Grants in this program fall into 4 different categories:
Part A Planning Grants – For those who are looking to implement farm to school activities, these grants help them plan and learn about best practices from the start. Eligible applicants are tribal organizations, consortia, nonprofits, and schools/school districts.
Part B Implementation Grants – School and school districts receive resources to further develop existing farm to school initiatives. Eligible applicants include tribal organizations, consortia, nonprofits, and schools/school districts.
Part C Support Service Grants - These encourage partnerships between state and local agencies, Native American tribal organizations, nonprofits, agricultural producers and school districts to support farm to school initiatives. Eligible applicants include state and local government, tribal organizations, consortia, nonprofits, and members of the private sector.
Part D Training Grants - Support for training that strengthens farm to school supply chains, or technical assistance in areas such as local food procurement, food safety, culinary education, and the incorporation of agriculture-based curriculum in the classroom. Eligible applicants include state and local government, tribal organizations, consortia, nonprofits, and private sector entities.
The deadline for all 4 parts is December 8, 2016. On September 29 there will be a webinar at 1:00 PM EDT for grant seekers. The USDA Resource Page has links to the application, webinar registration, recordings of past webinars, fact sheets, previous winners and other relevant information.
Update: Planning (part A), implementation (part B) and training (part D) grants are offered in 2017. The deadline is December 8, 2017. Visit our sequel to this post Digging Your Veggies 2
Further Resources for School Gardens
Here are 8 more organizations that provide grants and resources to either establish school gardens or improve existing ones. Just click on the heirloom carrots below to access.