Farm to school programs are a win for kids, farmers, and communities. They empower our children and their families by informing them about their food system and giving them the tools and confidence to make healthy choices. At the same time they support local farmers financially by connecting them to new market opportunities.
On Tuesday, March 15, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the final results of their 2015 Farm to School Census. The census was great news for farm to school programs and for farmers, showing that the programs have had huge successes all across the country.
Big Impacts for Farmers and Students
In surveying over 18,000 school districts across the country, census shows definitively that farm to school programs result in increased market opportunities for local farmers. Some 42 percent of the school districts that responded to the survey reported that they hosted farm to school programs as of the 2014-2015 school year. According to the census local food purchasing from these school districts translated into nearly $800 million spent on local food during the 2013-2014 school year.
Farm to school programs are not only making big impacts now for the farmers, students and communities they serve, they’re poised for even more growth in the future.
Of the schools surveyed, 16 percent said that they plan to start programs in the future, and 46 percent of school districts currently sourcing from local producers report that they plan to buy even more local food in future school years.
Estimates from the USDA predict that the buying power of new farm to school programs, combined with pledged increases from current school districts, could result in an additional $350 million for family farmers. All together the economic impact of these current and future programs could top $1 billion according to USDA estimates.
Farm to school programs not only create new economic opportunities for farmers, they invest in the future of our children by giving them access to healthy, local foods and gardening and farm-based learning opportunities. By connecting students to agriculture, farm to school programs connect children and their families to a healthier way of eating both for themselves, and for the environment.
The Farm to School Census highlights the manifold social impacts and benefits of farm to school programs:
- 38 percent of surveyed school districts indicated increased support from parents and the community for healthier school meals after introducing farm to school programs
- 28 percent reported improved acceptance of healthier school meals by their students
- 21 percent reported lower school meal program costs
- 18 percent reported reduced plate waste, and
- 17 percent indicated increased school meal program participation.
“One in a Melon”
To recognize outstanding school districts the USDA Farm to School Program is holding a contest in conjunction with the Farm to School
Census release, wherein school districts can win USDA’s coveted “One in a Melon” award.
Now through April 15, USDA will be accepting nominations through their website from parents, students, teachers, farmers and other community members for their favorite farm to school programs. Awards will be announced before the end of school year, with one district from each state winning!
See how your school district is doing and vote for your school district to win a “One in a Melon” award here.
The Farm to School Program: Past, Present & Future
Thanks to the leadership of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and our congressional champions the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) included, for the first time, mandatory funding of $5 million per year for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The Farm to School Grant Program has played an important role in supporting the growth of farm to school programs nationwide, as highlighted through the census.
Congress is currently going through the process of renewing authorization and funding for all school meal programs, including the USDA Farm to School Grant program, through the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (CNR). CNR expired September 30, 2015, which means Congress is now significantly behind in reauthorizing several critical nutrition, anti-hunger, and education programs for our nation’s children.
NSAC is currently working with our partners at the National Farm to School Network, along with key congressional champions, to encourage Congress to pass a CNR package with a robust Farm to School Grant Program expeditiously.
Four months after the last iteration of CNR expired, on January 20, the Senate Agriculture Committee took a critical step forward by unanimously voting their new version of the bill out of committee. Titled “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016”, the Senate committee bill includes an increase of $5 million in annual grant funding for the Farm to School Grant Program (from $5 to $10 million per year), which would significantly help school meal programs to increase local food purchases and expand educational food and agriculture activities.
The House Education and Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over CNR in the House, has yet to release or consider in committee their own version of the bill. However, NSAC has it under good authority that staff and committee members are in the process of writing their version of the bill, which they have indicated they plan to mark-up in committee in the near future.
NSAC has been actively urging House Education and Workforce Committee members and staff to follow the Senate’s lead and submit a robust CNR that supports our children and our family farmers, including, of course, a strong Farm to School grant program.
Cape Town – The English language school industry in South Africa could collapse within weeks or months, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan was told on Monday.
She took part in a workshop on South African visa requirements, hosted by Wesgro (the destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency for the Western Cape).
A number of English language schools in South Africa might have to close their doors soon, because of the silo approach between the Departments of Labour, Home Affairs and Higher Education, said a school owner during question time at the workshop.
He told Chohan that his English language schools will have to shut down soon if the various departments do not sort out problems in the sector so that prospective students from abroad can obtain their student visas.
He has already had to let some staff members go, he said.
“The current visa situation is making it impossible for the English language schools to sustain themselves through the high season which is starting,” the attendee said.
Another attendee, who said he started his first English language school in SA in 1991, said he has so far this year had to refund R150 000 to prospective students who did not manage to obtain visas.
“Home Affairs must become jacked up on the issue. If they are worried about fraud, they must follow up on the cases where students arrive in the country and then do not attend the school; we report those cases, but nothing gets done about it by Home Affairs,” he said.
Yet another workshop attendee said his school will have to close down soon, because for the past ten years he has been “pushed from one department to another and even made a presentation to Parliament at some point about the problems in the sector. The two silos of the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Higher Education are not communicating with each other.”
Wesgro CEO Tim Harris said the workshop has shown him how complicated the relationship between the Departments of Labour, Home Affairs, Higher Education and even Trade and Industry is.
“Maybe we should invite other departments to our next visa workshop too,” said Harris.
Chohan responded that she would be willing to facilitate a meeting with the Department of Higher Education on the issue.
She said the Department of Higher Education has certain standards and that there is no provision for the registration of English language schools in the department’s framework.
Chohan said in Gauteng the department found cases where people would come to South Africa from abroad as English language students, only to “throw away their passports and claim asylum, which allows them to stay in SA longer”.