On Wednesday, January 20, 2016 the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed a bill reauthorization the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act that expired at the end of September 2015. The legislation, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, is being updated to change food served in schools and expand farm-to-school activities. The Recirculating Farms Coalition, the National Farm to School Network, Louisiana Farm to School and other local and national groups pushed for various important items in the bill. If passed, the new law will reauthorize child nutrition programs through 2020, and double the funding for the federal Farm to School grant program from $5 million to $10 million annually! The individual grants, allowing eligible schools to partner with local farms and develop their own gardens too, will see an increase from $100,000 to $200,000. The scope of the Farm to School program will be widened to include pre-schools, summer food services and after-school programs.
The farm-to-school movement promotes healthy eating and a connection with fresh food – where it comes from, how it is grown and even how to cook healthy dishes. In addition to expanding farm-to-school, the bill includes nutrition standards for free or reduced school food programs, moving meals served through these programs to include healthier items. Some nutrition goals are sodium reduction, more fruits and vegetables and an increase in whole grains. Especially for kids who eat most or even all of their meals a day at school, it’s critical that school food programs offer healthy options and help shape long term good eating habits.
The increase in funding, and expanded farm-to-school programs will inspire nutritious eating, and connect kids and their families with where good food comes from. Farm to School is also an important way to support our farmers. Making new markets – schools – for local farms, keeps our farmers employed doing what they do best – growing good food! The new bill is a huge win for farmers, school children and their families. Next the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 will go to the full Senate for a vote.