By Justin Carter
Project associate, Center for Rural Affairs
Each day, 29 million students participate in the national school lunch program. The Nebraska Food Council is urging Congress to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, with inclusion of the Farm to School Act and Kids Eat Local Act, to bring responsible food choices into schools.
Last spring, 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.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its first Farm to School grants to provide schools and organizations opportunities to bring production and nutritional education programs to classrooms. During the 2013-2014 school year, nearly $790 million worth of local food was purchased from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors, a 105 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year.
The implementation of the Farm to School and Kids Eat Local acts will lay the foundation for a more knowledgeable consumer base. In addition, it will bring benefits to producers and allow us to spend funds in our own states and communities.
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.
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.Expanding these programs would benefit child nutrition and offer educational programs to students, giving them insight to where their food is grown and motivation to feed their fellow students.