New York is the latest state to be chosen to participate in the US Department of Agriculture's pilot program, Farm to School, connecting school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers.
States chosen to participate receive a federal grant of $100,000, allowing schools to either purchase more foods from local farmers or get students involved in growing their own ingredients on school grounds. Schools are given a guide which lists the number of ways schools can obtain their fresh ingredients while abiding by the regulations. In addition, the USDA hosted a series of webinars that highlights the ways in which schools can participate.
The first Farm to School Census released by the USDA earlier this year reported that participating schools served more than $385 million in local food for the 2011-2012 school year. More than half of those schools planned to increase their purchasing of local foods in the future.
The nationwide movement also includes educational activities that highlight the importance of food, farming and nutrition. Hands-on activities include school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes, as well as the integration of food-related activities within the regular curriculum taught in the classroom.
While 44% of schools surveyed by the USDA said they already had a farm-to-school program in place, an additional 13% said they had plans to start one soon.
Congressman Chris Gibson, who represents Upstate New York's 19th Congressional district, said he would work with farmers and educators to establish new partnerships for the program in the coming year. Gibson had worked hard to get the farm-to-school initiative included in the federal Farm Bill.
"USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers."
The announcement came from Common Market in Philadelphia, which connects wholesale customers with farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The food hub is the recipient of a grant that will go toward supporting their "An Apple a Day" program. Acting as a connection between Pennsylvania Family Farms and public charter schools, the facility will offer food safety, product development, packaging, educational, marketing, planning, ordering and delivery support to farm and school food service partners.
Participants in the program will serve over 4,800 schools and 2.8 million students, almost 51% of them living in rural communities.
There were 82 projects in 42 states and the US Virgin Islands to receive the federal grants.