RICHMOND, Va. -- Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced today that Virginia was selected for two U.S. Department of Agriculture awards that will help connect Virginia agricultural producers with school systems statewide. The awards include a USDA grant for Virginia’s Farm-to-School program, as well as a USDA pilot program that will enable Virginia schools to purchase locally grown produce for their school meal programs.
“By collaborating with partners like the USDA, we can increase our momentum toward building a new Virginia economy,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “These awards will support local agriculture economies while helping our efforts to bridge the nutritional divide. I’m pleased that Virginia communities, schools, families and children will benefit from these programs.”
“These USDA awards bring fresh, nutritious Virginia products to our students and support local producers,” said First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe. “I look forward to working with the Commonwealth Council on Bridging the Nutritional Divide, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and our other partners on these programs that will help solve childhood hunger in the Commonwealth.”
USDA Farm-to-School Conference Grant
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was awarded a USDA Farm-to-School Conference and Event grant of $20,750 for a statewide Farm-to-School Conference, scheduled for March 2015. Virginia has embraced the farm-to-school effort since 2007, when the General Assembly passed a House Joint Resolution requesting that partner organizations work toward advancing farm-to-school initiatives in the Commonwealth. Through marketing and education, including organizing Virginia’s annual Farm-to-School Week, the state has made successful strides to help connect fresh, healthful food from local farms to schools.
This USDA grant provides the opportunity to increase the number of Virginia school systems incorporating Virginia Grown products into school menus, while at the same time encouraging reliable, ongoing markets to support Virginia’s agricultural economy. Conference education programs will feature procurement training, capacity building, supply chain distribution, food safety, school gardens and nutrition education. The conference will provide a venue to showcase, network and inspire professionals who are involved in nourishing Virginia students and incorporating Farm-to-School programs in schools.
In addition to VDACS’ grant, the USDA awarded two other Farm-to-School grants in Virginia. Appalachian Sustainable Development in Abingdon was awarded a grant of $99,179 to increase the flow of local produce into three local school systems in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee. In addition, Pulaski County Public Schools will receive a $43,415 grant to develop a Farm-to-School initiative in their district.
USDA Pilot Project
Virginia was one of eight states selected by the USDA to participate in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, as directed by the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill. Under the pilot, Virginia school systems will be able to increase locally grown fruits and vegetables in their school meal programs.
Virginia schools receive approximately $24 million each year through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, which provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. This funding allocation is used to purchase USDA Foods from a list of 180 products including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products. The pilot program will allow Virginia to use some of the state’s USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly, instead of going through the USDA Foods program.
This pilot is designed to support the schools’ pre-existing relationships with vendors, growers, produce wholesalers and distributors while increasing the use of locally grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables in school meal programs. Although the pilot does not require sourcing locally grown foods, the project will enable schools to increase their use of fresh, in-season Virginia produce.