COLUMBUS, Ohio – Proposed bipartisan legislation introduced into Congress last week that calls for increased funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program could, if passed, lead to more schools expanding or adding the fresh foods programs for their students and could increase opportunities for growers to sell fresh, local foods to schools.
That’s according to local-food experts with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University, who say the potential increased USDA funding could help more local foods make their way into more schools across Ohio, boosting economic opportunities for Ohio farmers.
“The proposals call for increasing funding for the USDA Farm to School program from $5 million per year to $15 million per year,” said Carol Smathers, an OSU Extension field specialist and the program’s director. “In recent years, on average about four Ohio school districts each year have gotten USDA Farm to School grants to fund their local foods programs for students, so any increase in funding could mean more schools can provide the benefits of Farm to School to their students.”
The proposed legislation, the Farm to School Act of 2015, was introduced Feb. 25 by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio.
Farm to School is a national program, which in Ohio is led by Ohio State University Extension, and partners with numerous agencies, organizations and industry groups. Ohio’s Farm to School program has partnerships in all 88 counties. Leadership of the program transitioned from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to OSU Extension in 2011.
OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
Smathers said OSU Extension’s Farm to School staff were contacted by national organizations for information on successful Farm to School programs that demonstrate positive impacts to garner congressional support for the proposed legislation.
Some of the Ohio school districts that have gotten USDA Farm to School grants to fund their local foods programs include:
- The South Euclid-Lyndhurst School District receives support to increase the quality and variety of locally procured offerings, establish new procurement methods, upgrade school kitchen equipment, and launch a social marketing campaign.
- Rural Action receives support to work with six rural school districts in southeast Ohio to overcome fresh, local product preparation barriers by integrating food preparation into a culinary arts student lab experience at Hocking College.
Other groups that have gotten the USDA Farm to School grants include Akron City Schools and the Stark County Educational Service Center.
“We meet with all of the grantees each year to ensure they are connected with OSU Extension resources at the state and county level,” Smathers said.
Representatives from these schools and organizations will be on hand to discuss their projects on March 5 during a statewide Farm to School conference hosted by OSU Extension, Smathers said. The goal of the discussions is to “help proliferate their efforts across the state to other school districts,” she said.
Offering this conference and bringing together these grantees can help multiply Farm to School efforts statewide by informing school districts about successful programs, said Stacy Haught, Ohio Farm to School program coordinator.
“It’s a great way to connect Farm to School advocates and help school districts leverage connections across the state,” Haught said.
The conference is part of OSU Extension’s effort to expand Farm to School initiatives, which can include increasing students’ access to healthy foods, creating economic opportunities for growers, and teaching about food, health, nutrition and agriculture, Smathers said. It is expected to draw more than 200 farmers, producers, educators, school food service professionals, business leaders and OSU Extension experts, she said.
The conference is from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the university’s Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, 2201 Fred Taylor Drive in Columbus. The conference theme is “Local Foods Across the School Meal Tray” and will include sessions on healthy school breakfasts, opportunities unique to Ohio and procurement, along with panel discussions that include producers and school food service personnel, she said.
Conference registration is $40 and includes breakfast, lunch, parking and handouts. Door prizes will include a fruit sectionizer and smoothie blender. Participants can register at: regonline.com/OhioFarmtoSchoolConference.
For more information on Ohio’s Farm to School program, visit farmtoschool.osu.edu.