Farm to School: Kids Win, Farmers Win, and Communities Win!

By: Wes King

Spring is here and before you know it summer will be too. And while most school districts in Illinois will be off for the summer, just as classes wrap-up, Congress will be ramping up debate around school feeding programs.

At the end of September the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act or the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) act for short will expire. The CNR authorizes a long list of nutrition and feeding programs including: The National School Lunch Program; the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); The National Farm to School Program; and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program among others. Congressional action around CNR is one of the issues at the top of Congress’s agenda this summer.

A lot of the media and political attention around this legislation will be focused on how many school districts have struggled financially to meet the new standards included in the last CNR,  with some schools reporting an uptick in wasted meals as students struggle with accepting new healthier foods after decades of being served high calorie, low nutrition foods that were loaded with sugar and salt. At the same time, the debate around the CNR is an opportunity to support local food and farms, support the growing farm-to-school movement, and help combat the growing obesity epidemic. The CNR structures and funds the national USDA Farm to School grant program, a woefully underfunded program that has helped schools and organizations across the country develop farm to school programs, linking students and farmers through education and local food procurement.

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Recognizing the positive impact farm to school programs have for farmers, kids, and communities, as well as the role they have played in helping schools meet the new nutrition standards, a bipartisan cadre of Senators and representatives have introduced the Farm to School Act of 2015 with the purpose of having the bill’s provisions included in the CNR when it is debated and passed later this summer. The Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS), and by Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to expand the USDA’s successful Farm to School grant program by tripling funding for the program and expanding eligibility to include after school and summer feeding programs. If the Farm to School Act of 2015 were included in the CNR it would be a huge boost to farm to school efforts here in Central Illinois and all across the country.

Interested in helping to support farm to school efforts? Please call Illinois’ junior U.S. Senator Mark Kirk and ask him to co-sponsor S.569 the Farm to School Act of 2015 and let him know “with farm to school programs kids win, farmers win and communities win!” And if you live in U.S. Representative Rodney Davis’ district (which includes Champaign-Urbana) please call him and share the same message asking him to co-sponsor H.R. 1061.