Bill seeks to get more locally grown food in Ohio schools
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who’s on the Senate Agriculture Committee, recently introduced a bill to get more locally grown foods in schools.
The Farm to School Act would expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture program. Farm to School is designed to help schools purchase, serve and teach students about local foods.
Advocates say the program is a win-win for students, parents and farmers because it boosts awareness of local foods while economically supporting local farmers.
“Ohio farmers grow some of the best produce in the country and farm to school programs help connect students with those fresh foods,” Sen. Brown said in a statement. “This legislation will increase locally grown foods in our school lunchrooms while strengthening farms and rural communities in Ohio and across the country.”
Since 2013, around 30 Ohio school districts have received over $3 million in grant funding to develop some curriculum around food nutrition such as gardening, cooking lessons or farm field trips, according to Carol Smathers, Ohio’s Farm to School Network director.
Smathers said, however, schools or nonprofits with limited resources face barriers if they want to apply for program funding.
“When you think about some of the more rural or nonprofit organizations that are focused on some underserved communities or populations within our communities, they're competing against very well-versed, large districts,” Smathers said.
The bill proposes increasing mandatory program funding from $5 million to $15 million per year and raising the maximum grant award from $100,000 to $500,000.
The act also proposes waiving a 25% matching requirement groups have to put in when applying for grants. Smathers says that would allow more children to eat and learn about healthy foods
“There's plenty of research out there that tells you that kids who are engaged in farm to school, particularly schools with gardens, they consume more fruits and vegetables,” Smathers said. “So they can identify more fruits and vegetables and they can identify how they would eat them, and that's why we do farm to school.”
Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.