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Bill Could Grow Connection Between Farms, Schools

More than 450 Nebraska schools source fresh food from local growers and producers through Farm to School programs. (Lance Cheung/USDA)
More than 450 Nebraska schools source fresh food from local growers and producers through Farm to School programs. (Lance Cheung/USDA)
September 11, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. – New legislation would boost a program that connects more than 188,000 Nebraska students to local farmers.

The Farm to School Act of 2017, introduced by Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, would expand the existing U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Grant Program by improving access to local foods at schools.

Maximilian Merrill, policy director for the National Farm to School Network, explains it's a win-win: Farmers source their food to schools and students learn about agriculture.

"Students participating in educational activities related to agriculture, food and nutrition and health – and school gardens, so students engage on hands-on learning through gardening so they understand where their food comes from and the difficulty it is to grow that healthy food," he points out.

More than 450 Nebraska schools participate in farm-to-school activities. The bill asks for funding to be increased annually for the program from $5 million to $15 million to better meet demand for the program.

Bipartisan companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The Farm to School Act of 2017 would expand the program to summer food service program sites and after-school programs, and encourage farm-to-school partnerships between tribal schools and tribal producers. Merrill notes that the program helps boost farmers' bottom lines.

"In 2013-2014, that school year, there was $790 million in local foods purchased from farmers, ranchers and fishermen,” he points out. “And if you look at the multiplying factor, that leads to over $1 billion pushed into the local economy."

In Nebraska, it was more than $6 million invested in local foods. The bill also would improve program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE