Farm to School in the 2015 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization – This is Our Year!

2015 is a big year for kids, school food, and farmers. Every five years or so, Congress must pass a new bill to reauthorize federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, and others.  This bill is known as the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, or CNR. This is the year Congress will be passing a new CNR bill, and sustainable agriculture advocates will be mounting a major effort to gain big wins for Farm to School.

Historically, the Child Nutrition Act, and its predecessor, the 1946 National School Lunch Act, have had the dual goals of ensuring healthy children and supporting the nation’s farmers: federal support for Farm to School is very recent. The 2004 CNR created (but did not fund) the Farm to School Grant Program, which provides grants on a competitive basis for schools, nonprofits, state and local agencies, agricultural producers, and Indian tribal organizations to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and expand educational activities on agriculture and food. In the 2010 CNR, Congress provided first-time mandatory funding for the program of $5 million per year. The program has since funded 221 projects starting in 2012, including 47 projects in NESAWG’s 12 state region (read this report for a state breakdown of funding by year). The program is popular, with demand far outweighing available funding – less than 20% of applications have received grants.

Farm to School Efforts

In the 2015 CNR, several groups in the NESAWG network, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), will be working to increase support for Farm to School. As part of the legislative process for CNR, the Chairs of the Committees with jurisdiction over the bill (the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Education and Workforce Committee) will write the bill, and members of Congress introduce marker bills, which contain provisions that, if popular, will be included in the bill the Committee Chairs write. NSAC and NFSN will be advocating for the Farm to School Act of 2015, a marker bill that increases support by:

  • Expanding the scope of eligible entities for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to include preschools, summer food service program sites, and after school programs;
  • Increase annual mandatory funding for the Program from $5 million to $15 million; and
  • Increase access among tribal schools to farm-fresh and traditional food, especially from tribal producers.

Take Action Now!

While it’s fairly early in the process, there are several things you can do to gear up for supporting Farm to School in the 2015 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization:

If you represent an organization that serves the general public, encourage your local constituency to organize house parties, coffee breaks, potlucks or other low-maintenance face-to-face gatherings to discuss and learn about CNR, using the above resources. Encourage them to bring the conversation to their local PTA meetings, and get their local and federal politicians engaged, informed and supportive!