Ramp up or begin your farm to school program

Farm to school is more than just sourcing local food. Take advantage of grants that are open to support your farm to school program.

Photo credit: Fayetteville Public Schools Sustainability Initiatives
Photo credit: Fayetteville Public Schools Sustainability Initiatives

The idea of Farm to School has become more well-known over the last few years thanks to local efforts, the National Farm to School Network and increased awareness about the state of school food throughout the nation. The clearest example of a Farm to School project is when food service staff source local food directly from farmers and serve it in school food programs. In truth, when most people hear “Farm to School,” that is probably what they envision.

Farm to School efforts can be so much more than sourcing local food from local farmers. While this aspect of Farm to School is important and plays a crucial role in boosting local agriculture and creating a market for local products, it can be challenging for many schools to do successfully.

The National Farm to School Network defines Farm to School efforts as having three key components. These include school gardens, nutrition education and local sourcing. This means that many schools are already doing some form of Farm to School work, and are likely not acknowledging their efforts as such. Making parents and community members aware of any Farm to School effort in a school building or district may bring positive public attention to your school.

The three faces of Farm to School give teachers, food service staff, parent volunteers and community stakeholders more options and opportunities to engage with Farm to School work, depending on the context of their schools. Some schools have a landscape that is ripe for incorporating all three elements, and some schools may find it difficult to start incorporating just one. As Farm to School programs mature, stakeholders will find it easier to add more components and integrate the three facets of Farm to School into their efforts. Eventually, with a good sustainability plan and dedicated stakeholders, Farm to School efforts can lead to a culture shift in a school and a holistic approach to health and wellness, which incorporates healthy food, experiential learning and critical thinking.

Michigan is fortunate to be a host site for an innovative example of a Farm to School program that aligns with the three key components of Farm to School and develops young leaders in the food system. This program is called FoodCorps, a national service program, which is part of the AmeriCorps service network. In Michigan, there are six service sites spread throughout the state, where members engage with and support students in their communities around Farm to School education and efforts

No matter the stage of your Farm to School program, there are resources available. In Michigan, Farm to School grants are available for planning and implementation, both with a maximum value of $2,000. Visit the appropriate link for specific details on eligibility, guidelines and how to apply. The deadline for both grants is May 6, 2015.

On the national level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the release of the 2015 cycle of Farm to School grants. While this funding program is highly competitive, grantees can be awarded a maximum amount of $25,000 - $100,000, depending on the type of grant for which you apply. The USDA has produced two webinars that will assist you with your grant application process.

Categories of grants include planning, implementation, support services and training. For detailed explanations about each of these grant types, eligibility information and application procedure, visit the USDA website. Letters of intent for training grants are due on April 30, 2015 and applications for planning, implementation and support service grants are due on May 20, 2015.

For more information on Farm to School efforts and opportunities in Michigan, consider signing up for the Michigan Farm to School listserv, or the Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems email updates. Michigan State University Extension supports Farm to School efforts around the state, to encourage healthy students and abundant opportunities for Michigan producers.

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