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Farm to School Grants Offer New Opportunities to Serve Healthy Local Foods in School Meals

On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)

On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to hang out with a group of cool elementary school students.  Which is why I was so excited for the chance to spend a few hours at J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C. You see, it was “Fresh Feature Friday” and D.C. Central Kitchen was coordinating a taste test to see which type of spinach the students like best. “Fresh Feature Friday” is their way of getting kids to try healthy new foods while improving student nutrition and decreasing school food waste.

D.C. Central kitchen manages the school meals program at J.C. Nalle and has been involved with serving healthy school meals for years. In fact, in 2013, the USDA Farm to School Program awarded funds to D.C. Central Kitchen to develop a year round farm to school program. The funds helped purchase school kitchen equipment to process and serve local foods, train staff to prepare school meals using local foods, and develop key partnerships with D.C. Public Schools, the D.C. Farm to School Network, and several regional farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Recently, the USDA Farm to School Program also awarded funds to the D.C. Office of State Superintendent (OSSE) to support its farm to school efforts in under-served schools. Like the “Fresh Feature Friday,” OSSE is partnering with local and regional growers to coordinate a “Harvest of the Month” program that will promote local and regional foods to students and cafeteria staff. Their efforts will also include educational programs that teach students about horticulture and the importance of eating healthy foods. These are just two local examples of the fantastic efforts underway across the county to source more local foods in school meals. During the 2011-12 school year, schools in Washington, D.C. spent approximately $2.6 million dollars on local foods for school meals.

The USDA is currently soliciting proposals for the third round of its Farm to School Grant Program. In addition to planning grants, implementation grants, and support service grants, this year USDA has created a separate funding track to support farm to school trainings and events. Proposals are due on April 30, 2014 by 11:59 p.m. EST for the planning, implementation, and support service grants while letters of intent are due on April 2, 2014 by 11:59 p.m. EST for the new conferences/events track. More information about the Farm to School Grant Request for Applications is available at the USDA Farm to School Grant Program website.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the USDA Farm to School Program, sign-up for the Farm to School E-letter.

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