Federal grants aimed to help buy local food for schools
By TIM HEARDEN
DAVIS, Calif. -- The West's strong track record of linking its agriculture with local schools is why California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho fared well in the first-ever federal Farm to School grants, an advocate for the program says.
The four states combined to gather $850,297 of the $4.5 million in grants the USDA announced Nov. 14. The 13 grants headed West include $100,000 to an organization to distribute local produce to schools in the San Francisco Bay area and $95,539 to the Washington State Department of Agriculture for regional "mobile tours" involving producers and school food service directors.
The grants will help local food get into schools, which will benefit farmers as well as students who will eat healthier meals, said Helen Dombalis, policy associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C.
"The West Coast did really well this first grant cycle," Dombalis told the Capital Press. "The nice thing is these grants not only provide opportunities where farm-to-school programs are not up and running, but they also keep programs going or help to improve a program that wants to take the next step."
California was among the nation's leaders with six grants worth $335,884, including five to school districts. The $100,000 grant was to the Davis-based Community Alliance for Family Farmers, which has combined the efforts of farmers and urban activists since it was formed in 1978, according to its website.
The grant will enable CAFF to work with a local distributor to create a new line of local produce, making it easier for schools in Sonoma County to source products through current distribution channels, the USDA explained in a news release.
"After nearly a decade of working on farm-to-school programs, we are thrilled to now have the resources to build a sustainable program that can benefit students and growers across the entire county," regional food systems director Diana Abellera said in a statement.
Among other Golden State recipients, the Chico Unified School District is getting $44,555 to hire a coordinator to integrate its existing farm-to-school activities. The coordinator will work with vendors, growers, teachers and officials in California State University-Chico's Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion, the district wrote in its grant proposal.
The USDA also awarded $90,289 to the Ventura Unified School District, $32,871 to the Julian Unified School District, $43,920 to the Lemon Grove School District and $24,294 to the Lynwood Unified School District.
In the Pacific Northwest, the USDA handed out $192,205 for two projects in Oregon, $236,538 for three projects in Washington and $95,670 for two projects in Idaho.
The WSDA, for instance, will bring agricultural producers and food service professionals together for tours to learn about agricultural specialties and identify opportunities for partnerships, according to the federal government's release.
"That's what farm-to-school is really about, which is getting local food into schools," Dombalis said. "In this obesity and diet-related disease epidemic we're in, a farm-to-school program not only boosts economic development but also boosts public health."
USDA Farm to School: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/f2s/
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: http://sustainableagriculture.net/