American Farmland Trust Applauds Inclusion of Farm to School Provisions in the Universal School Meals Program Act and the Kids Eat Local Act
A Win-Win-Win for Kids, Farmers, and Communities
Washington D.C. – The COVID-19 pandemic has increased food insecurity nationwide and greatly impacted school meal program revenues, while also laying bare the enormous toll that diet-related diseases can take on public health. Meanwhile, school food service staff have become emergency food providers, ensuring that children and families remain fed throughout this crisis. Two recently introduced bills come at a pivotal moment to support schools in purchasing local food. The policies put forward in these bills will build farm to school purchasing nationwide by incentivizing the creation of new markets for local farmers and building shorter, local supply chains that are more resilient in the face of disruption.
The Universal School Meals Program Act, introduced by Senators Sanders (I-VT) and Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representatives Omar (D-MN) and Moore (D-WI), would create a federal farm to school purchasing incentive. The Kids Eat Local Act, introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Alma Adams (D-NC), would improve the regulatory environment for farm to school purchasing.
“These bills would be a critical step toward increasing access to healthy local food at school for children nationwide,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “On average, children get half of their daily calories from school meals. For many kids, school is their only reliable source of nutrition throughout the day.”
“In New York state, American Farmland Trust and our partners in the New York Grown Food for New York Kids Coalition have long advocated for changes to procurement laws to enable local purchasing, and also the creation of financial incentives to help more schools purchase products from local farmers,” said Samantha Levy, New York Policy Manager for American Farmland Trust. “These bills propose important changes that will unlock farm to school purchasing power, including an exciting new federal incentive that would expand farm to school not only in New York, and in other states considering local purchasing incentives, but also nationwide. With these simple actions, we get the triple win of improving the health of kids, supporting farmers, and building more resilient and connected local communities all at the same time.”
In a recent report, “Growing Resilience: Unlocking the Potential of Farm to School to Strengthen the Economy, Support New York Farms, and Improve Student Health in the Face of New Challenges”, American Farmland Trust found that with continued support, the New York State Farm to School Reimbursement Incentive – which quadruples schools’ per meal reimbursement if they spent at least 30% of their lunch budget on local food, and serves as a model for the proposed federal incentive – is poised to increase the amount New York schools spend on food from farms within the state to $250 million by 2025. This would increase access to fresh, healthy local food for over 900,000 kids—over half the students in the state—while generating nearly $360 million in total economic impact in New York alone, a return on investment of $3.50 for every taxpayer dollar spent. The report also called on federal and state lawmakers to change procurement laws to make it easier for schools to purchase food from local farms.
Fink added, “These changes could grow farm to school nationwide while also increasing the impact of farm to school incentives and programs in states like New York. We applaud Senators Gillibrand, Sanders, Brown, and Collins, and Representatives Omar, Moore, Pingree, Fortenberry, Harder,, and Adams for recognizing this opportunity, and introducing measures to benefit farmers, kids, and communities at a critical moment of need.”
American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on a half million additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.