Garden Grants Given

Loren Lindler
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Farm to School Program Connects Generations

More than $9 million has been set aside in USDA grants to help connect the next generation with farmers and ranchers in their communities.

This year marks an all-time high in funding and projects for the USDA Farm to School grant program. USDA is awarding 52 more grants than the previous highest year of 2016, when 74 were granted. The grants range in amount from $20,000 to $100,000.

Since 2013, USDA has offered annual grants to schools, school districts, nonprofits, state agencies, agricultural producers, and Indian tribal organizations to plan, implement, or provide training on Farm to School activities.

As these Farm to School programs are implemented, students can enjoy more locally produced foods in their classrooms and lunchrooms, but also be exposed to ideas about agricultural career paths and economic opportunities in their areas.

TAKING FULL ADVANTAGE OF PROGRAM

The Louisiana Department of Education hopes to take full advantage of the program, being one of this year's recipients of the grant money.

The state's students have a good head start. Some of the Louisiana schools have gardens, which serve as a valuable resource to get kids involved in science, math, art and history.

While the Louisiana Farm to School Program is already in place, the additional funding will help build upon the state program and raise awareness through a program called Seeds to Success.

"Each Farm to School Program in Louisiana schools is unique and tailored to the needs and capacity of the community," explained Louisiana's Farm to School Program Director Crystal Besse. "All Farm to School Programs and activities include at least one of the three components of Farm to School."

Those components include:

1) Procurement -- the use of local food in school meals, snacks and taste tests;

2) Education -- curriculum and opportunities for agriculture, food, health, or nutrition education;

3) School gardens -- support for schools to develop and maintain school gardens.

GRANTS TO VARIOUS PROJECTS

Farm to School Programs across the nation are expected to serve more than 3.2 million students in more than 5,400 schools. Grants currently support 126 selected projects in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

They are used to fund equipment purchases and experiential learning activities, including planting school gardens, offering taste tests to children, and organizing field trips to local farms and food producers.

The grants also help create economic opportunities for nearby farmers.

Two agricultural producers, Green City Growers, LLC (of Somerville, Massachusetts) and the North Country Farmers' Cooperative (of Colebrook, New Hampshire) were among those also awarded grants. (See more on this year's grant recipients at ).

SEEDS TO SUCCESS IN LOUISIANA

The Seeds to Success Program in Louisiana will be a collaborative effort with the Louisiana Farm to School Program through the LSU AgCenter.

Besse explained under the Seeds to Success Program, promotional seed packets will be distributed to all elementary and middle schools in Louisiana to encourage schools to establish and utilize gardens as a classroom tool.

In addition, schools will promote the Louisiana Harvest of the Month Program. The program "is designed to bring fresh local agricultural products into participating schools and communities. Each month, one Louisiana agricultural product is highlighted throughout the school. The product is purchased through the school and served in the cafeteria as a meal, snack or taste test," the program's website explained.

The Louisiana Farm to School program serves all grades and ages, spanning from pre-K through 12th grade. The program offers several ways to reach out to youth of all ages, including the Louisiana Harvest of the Month Tool Kit (),and the Louisiana Harvest of the Month Compendium of Activities and Lessons on Louisiana Food Products ().

Farm to School programs have components that include education, caring for school gardens, and procurement of local foods. (Getty Images)
 

Farm to School programs have components that include education, caring for school gardens, and procurement of local foods. (Getty Images)