Administered by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Office of Community Food Systems, the program provides farmers, schools, local governments, and healthy food advocates with funding to increase the availability of local foods in schools through training, research, equipment, operations support, and the development of partnerships.
Since 2012, the program has provided at least $5 million in grants each year, on a competitive basis, to schools, nonprofits, state and local agencies, agricultural producers, and Indian tribal organizations to increase local food procurement for school meal programs and to expand educational activities related to agriculture and food.
Since the program’s inception, USDA has awarded over $60 million through Farm to School Grants, funding nearly 900 projects across all 50 States, the District of Columbia, US Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, ultimately reaching more than 21 million students in 50,000 schools.
Thanks to the work of Congressional appropriations, led by long-time farm-to-school champion Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the program funding has been expanded. The $5 million in mandatory funding per year provided through The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act or CNR 2010) has been supplemented with additional funding through the annual discretionary appropriations process. As a result, approximately $12 million is available in FY 2022 for Farm to School grants.
In the FY 2021 application and award cycle, FNS received 232 eligible applications and awarded 177 -76 percent of the applications. A 76 percent success rate is fairly high for a competitive grants program and is undoubtedly a result of the additional funding provided by Congressional appropriators to address the consistent demand for farm-to-school resources. The high success rate also suggests that additional work is likely needed to improve outreach about the program, especially in light of the fact that appropriators appear poised to provide the program with another, larger tranche of discretionary funding.
Typically, grant projects are limited to no more than $100,000 each. However, in anticipation of changes to the program by way of FY 2022 agriculture appropriations that will allow USDA to provide grants of up to $500,000, USDA will consider proposals of up to $500,000 from State agencies or other eligible organizations proposing projects that are multi-state or national in scope. Final award decisions will depend upon the final appropriation language.
In general, the following entities are eligible to apply for F2S grant funding:
Pre-K–12 school food authorities that participate in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program and/or operate a USDA Summer Food Service Program, Seamless Summer Option, or Child and Adult Care Food Program on-site
State and local agencies, such as a school district or state department of agriculture
Indian tribal organizations
Agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers
However, it is important to note that eligibility to apply varies by grant track. Interested applicants should refer to the annual Request for Applications (RFA) for more information on eligibility for specific grant types.
Eligible entities may apply for three types of grants:
Implementation grants* are available to help applicants scale or further develop farm-to-school initiatives. Awards will range from $50,000 – $100,000 for most applicants. Applicants proposing projects with a national or multi-state focus will be eligible to apply for up to $500,000.
State agency grants are intended to increase the amount of local food served in eligible schools by funding state agencies to support and grow farm-to-school efforts in their states. Award amounts will range from $50,000 – $500,000.
Turnkey grants* feature a simplified application process for common, discrete projects with a predesigned set of activities. The Turnkey grant project choices are farm to school action planning; agricultural education curriculum development and delivery; edible garden projects; and State agency producer-focused training. Maximum award amounts will range from $25,000 – $50,000, with no minimum amount.
*Organizations that received Implementation or Training grants through the Farm to School Grant Program in the last three funding cycles (FY 2019, FY 2020, or FY 2021) are not eligible to apply for FY 2022 funding through the Implementation or Turnkey tracks.
Applicants are expected to match at least 25% of total project costs. USDA will only provide funding for up to 75% of the project’s total costs.
As alluded to above, for the second year in a row USDA is making available a new grant category – Turnkey grants. Turnkey grants include a specific, limited set of key activities with pre-defined requirements. Consequently, the Turnkey application is a streamlined and simplified application compared to other grants available through the program. In addition, there are no minimum request amounts in the Turnkey track.
Prospective Turnkey grant applicants have the choice of four predefined “Turnkey” projects:
- Action Planning projects
- Agricultural Education Curriculum projects
- Edible Garden projects
- Producer Training projects
The creation of the Turnkey application option is an exciting and innovative approach. Creating a streamlined and simplified application for a set of predefined projects without a minimum for grant sizes is a model the Biden administration and Congress (via the 2023 Farm Bill) should consider for other USDA grant programs such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program.
Spotlight on NSAC Member Projects
Multiple outstanding projects were funded as part of the previous year’s Farm to School Grant cycle, including projects from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) members. The following are examples of NSAC member Farm to School Grant project awards for FY 2021. A list of all FY 2021 grantees’ project descriptions can be found here.
Georgia Organics (GA)
Georgia Organics received a $95,337 implementation grant to support their October Farm to School Month campaigns, a Georgia Organics strategy to expand Farm to School programming statewide since 2013. This funding will support expenses for the October Farm to School month campaign, reaching more than 1 million students across the state while targeting schools in Muscogee County and the city of Atlanta schools with printed educational materials and farmers’ market incentives. Interactive, innovative, educational resources are developed in response to participant feedback and to keep pace with instructional modalities. The key partners include Community Farmers Markets, Muscogee County Schools, The Columbus Botanical Gardens, the Georgia Farm to School Alliance, and the Georgia Farm to Early Care and Education Coalition.
Sustainable Food Center (TX)
The Sustainable Food Center received a $97,177 implementation grant in partnership with Texas Department of Agriculture, Common Market, City of Austin, and the Farm to Institution Metrics Collaborative— to increase the amount of fresh, healthy, local food available in rural and peri-urban Central Texas school systems through a three-pronged approach. This approach includes: capacity building for local food procurement and agricultural education; the creation of a peer-to-peer statewide learning collaborative; and piloting an innovative metrics framework to inform ongoing learning and development of farm-to-school programming.
Tilth Alliance (WA)
The Tilth Alliance received a $47,366 Turnkey grant to work with families, teachers, and Solid Ground, to work at a community level to redesign existing farm-to-table curriculum to better integrate with school classrooms. The farm to school curriculum will be implemented at Seattle Public Schools (SPS) elementary schools, including Concord International Elementary, and focusing on Title 1 schools. The curriculum will be enhanced with field trips to Tilth Alliance’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm or Children’s Learning Gardens, or Solid Ground’s Marra Farm. Classroom teachers at partnering schools will attend Garden Educator Workshops to support the uptake and sustainability of the farm-to-table curriculum they will implement with their classrooms. The Seattle School Learning Garden Network, Tilth Alliance and the SPS Self Help Program will provide additional Garden Education Workshops to a broad coalition of teachers and community members, to lay the groundwork for sustainable farm-to-school programming.
West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition (WV)
The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition $98,307 received an implementation grant to support a project that aims to utilize teachers, nonprofits, FFA, local farms, and community members to work with schools in three school districts across three counties in West Virginia (Doddridge, Kanawha, and Randolph) to engage youth in six components of a farm to school program. This includes: creating school gardens, marketing through local campaigns, youth entrepreneurship, aggregation of locally grown produce, nutrition education, and policy education. Utilizing all six components of farm to school will help create programs within county school districts that are sustainably robust, educational, and will incorporate locally sourced farm products in school cafeterias.