Farm to School Grants expand access to fresh, local foods & hands-on agricultural learning
Congressman Brian Higgins announced three local recipients of U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Grants. Grassroots Gardens of Western New York received an award totaling $96,627, the Buffalo Public School District was awarded $96,290, and the Niagara Falls Central School District received an award of $94,603.
Higgins’ team said, “The grants will introduce more locally grown produce to school cafeterias and expose children to agriculture and nutrition education and hands-on learning. The grants also work to provide revenue to American farmers and boost the local economy.”
He explained, “Even before the pandemic, too many children went to school hungry, and the breakdown of services caused by the pandemic shows how vulnerable children and families are in our community. These efforts, led by Grassroots Gardens and the Buffalo and Niagara Falls school districts, will play a role in beginning to address food access gaps and foster healthy eating lessons that can be carried forward.”
Grassroots Gardens of Western New York (GGWNY) is a dedicated group of community gardeners and activists with the mission of sharing knowledge, power and resources to grow healthy food, heal systemic harm, and strengthen neighborhood connections through community gardens. Members collaboratively cultivate more than 1 million square-feet of urban green space, with over 100 community gardens in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The grant will be used to implement the Western New York School Garden Project, which serves students at farm-to-school-eligible districts to create collaborations, teacher-led garden clubs, as well as video content, training and resources for teachers and parents leading school gardens.
"While Grassroots Gardens will continue to only build and fund school gardens in the cities of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, we have increasingly been asked to provide technical assistance to rural and suburban schools starting their own school gardens,” Executive Director Jeanette Koncikowski said. “This project will allow us to build a digital curriculum to provide on-demand teacher or parent training on school garden programming. We'll be sharing lesson plans, harvest of the month ideas and recipes, toolkits for building raised beds, and more all the while featuring the beauty and bounty of BPS' school gardens.”
The grant award to Niagara Falls Central School District will aid its farm-to-school program in engaging the community in activities that improve access to local foods. This includes local procurement and agricultural education efforts. Through the grant, the district will expand and enhance the garden curricula, offer enhanced curricula at the middle and high school levels, increase purchasing of local products, expand the existing “Harvest of the Month” program, bring prepared meals to low-income neighborhoods, and provide staff training. As a result, the district wellness committee anticipates expanding building-level wellness committees and training for the 7-8 grade levels.
"The Farm to School Grant helps us take on urban food deserts by bringing healthy, fresh, local foods directly to our students and families," Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said. "It is vital to the health of our community, and it is a duty of the school district to provide nutritious food and information on healthy eating to Niagara Falls residents who are experiencing difficulty getting it on their own."
The award allocated to the Buffalo City School District will help fund the “Celebrating Cultural Diversity Program with Buffalo Farm to School,” enhancing the existing farm-to-school program by introducing a focus on cultural relevancy. Partnering with culturally diverse and socially disadvantaged farmers, the program will identify crops commonly used in the traditional diets of the diverse student body. The partnerships, established with Cornell Cooperative Extension and Providence Farm Collective, will create opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers to successfully enter the urban district’s school food market. Also partnering with growers, the Buffalo School of Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management, adult and youth leaders from the community, and the district’s food service department, the program will develop new, culturally appropriate recipes, which will be served in eight pilot schools.
This year, the USDA is investing $12 million in Farm to School grants, announcing 176 awards in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The awards help to expand access to fresh, local foods and hands-on agricultural learning for children across the country. The projects awarded will serve over 1.4 million students in more than 6,800 schools across the country. The record-breaking grants give children more nutritious food options in school and support local agricultural economies.
The latest data from the 2019 Farm to School Census indicates that, during the 2018-19 school year, districts purchased nearly $1.3 billion in local fruits, vegetables and other foods, totaling approximately 20% of all school food purchases. The new grants are said to reflect the USDA’s commitment to supporting farm to school efforts across the country.