LYONS, NEBRASKA – Currently, Nebraskans spend $4.4 billion on food, 90 percent of which is sourced from outside the state. The Nebraska Food Council and the Center for Rural Affairs advocate for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, with inclusion of the Farm to School Act and Kids Eat Local Act, to bring responsible food choices into schools as a way to improve local food access around the state.
In spring 2019, Congress signaled an attempt to build a new Child Nutrition Act. This legislation is traditionally revised every five years and, while most program authorizations are permanent or extended through annual appropriations, a new Child Nutrition Act has not been reauthorized since 2010.
“Local producers often face high barriers to break into new markets, especially in an environment where so much is dependent on cost and supply,” said Justin Carter, project associate with the Center for Rural Affairs. “This can be commonplace in our schools, where tight budgets, minimal staff, and the need for consistent supply favor large distributors who can offer lower prices in volumes and consistency that meet school requirements.”
In 2013, the federal Farm to School program offered its first grants to schools and organizations to improve local food education. The program is currently supported by $5 million of annual mandated funding. In the last six years, demand for farm to school activities has increased, with $141 million in grant funds requested.
Today, 50 schools are registered in Nebraska Thursdays, a program in which schools provide completely local lunches the first Thursday of each month. On Oct. 24, the state was crowned winner of the regional Crunch Off Competition, which saw 88,812 students bite into local foods to celebrate October’s Farm to School month.
The Kids Eat Local Act would create a new, user-friendly local product specification option, allowing schools to specify “locally grown,” “locally raised,” or “locally caught” in their procurement language, then award to the lowest bidder who can meet that product specification.
“It’s important for schools to have the tools to value local foods in their procurement decisions, because that’s a win for both the kids and the producers who are supplying those foods,” said Katie Jantzen, farmer and Nebraska Food Council member.
The Farm to School Act of 2019 would increase the mandatory annual funding to $15 million while increasing the maximum grant award to $250,000. Both pieces of legislation currently have bipartisan support.
“The Farm to School program feeds kids, teaches kids, and inspires kids about local, nutritious food and farm life,” wrote Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, recently in a weekly column. Fortenberry is a sponsor of each act. “I am very happy that the children of Nebraska will continue to benefit from this program, and that our schools are embracing this opportunity to teach young people to ‘know your farmer, know your food.’”
For more information, contact Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.