The USDA has announced the recipients of its first-ever round of Farm to School grants — with some $280,000 destined for programs and farms in the Washington area and Baltimore.
Four of the 68 projects nationwide to share a total of $4.5 million are based in the District, Maryland and Virginia. The funding was established by the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to promote programs connecting school cafeterias with locally produced food. Details were released earlier today.
Nearly $100,000 will go to DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that distributes and processes local food for D.C. Public Schools. The money will buy additional processing equipment and produce during the height of local farming season that DCCK can then freeze or make into value-added products to be served throughout the winter.
“One of the biggest pieces for us is capacity,” said Alexander Moore, who wrote the DCCK grant request. “Because of seasonality, it’s hard for us to use local when it’s out of season. This will help us process and safely store more fresh produce when it’s ready locally.”
Along with purchasing equipment to peel, chop and freeze more produce, Moore estimated the grant would help DCCK invest $165,000 in local growers and farmers — a 43-percent increase over 2011.
Baltimore City Public Schools won a grant of almost $94,000 for its Farm to School Initiative, which aims to expand healthful eating, local produce and the school system’s Great Kids Farm. New salad bars will come into play through the grant, offering student-grown produce onsite while continuing to foster the educational components that go hand-in-hand with these programs.
In Virginia’s farm belt, Rappahannock County Public Schools will get about $45,000 to bolster existing programs to bring local food into the rural school systems, incorporating it into education through school gardens and opportunities to meet local producers.
Richmond City Public Schools will receive $45,000 to expand programs such as the annual weeklong celebration of its farm-to-school program. The funding will help the school system identify resources for local food and the best routes for sourcing them, possibly through existing distributors.
USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan said these programs aim to expand the purchasing power of schools to create local jobs and economic impacts locally.
“Evidence also suggests that when kids understand more about where food comes from and how it is produced, they are more likely to make healthy eating choices,” she said in a news release.
Farm to School grants are administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Today’s news release identifies Farm to School as part of the agency’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, launched in 2009 to coordinate the department’s work on local and regional food systems and create new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural communities. Read more about the grants and recipients here.
Pipkin is a freelance journalist who lives in Alexandria and blogs at ThinkAboutEat.com.