Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner today announced that Colorado State University has received $499,420 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct the first national evaluation of the Farm to School program. The grant is part of a $17.9 million investment from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to improve sustainable agriculture and help rural communities thrive. The project will be led by Alessandro Bonanno and Becca Jablonski, both assistant professors in CSU’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
“We congratulate Colorado State University on receiving this grant to evaluate the Farm to School program,” Bennet said. “Not only does this grant recognize the program’s innovative approach, it also will lead to long-term improvements to local food systems to support Colorado’s rural communities. This funding, which was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, will evaluate the Farm to School program and help improve sustainable agriculture.”
“As a Coloradan who was born and raised on the Eastern Plains, I know firsthand that our rural communities have been struggling for far too long,” Gardner said. “I’m pleased this funding will be used to boost rural Colorado and our agriculture industry as low commodity prices have had a real impact on rural America. I’ll continue to fight for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers at the federal level.”
Impact of farm to school programs
“School lunch programs represent an opportunity not just to ensure that our children have enough to eat, but also to educate them about healthy food choices and agriculture,” CSU President Tony Frank said. “Farm to school programs represent an additional opportunity to leverage the almost $13 billion federal dollars spent annually to support farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, and regional economies. This grant will allow us to bring Colorado State University expertise to conduct the first national evaluation of the impact that farm to school programs on rural communities and economies, food waste, and household food purchases.”
Farm to School is a program through which schools source locally produced food to serve on their lunch menus. It also includes nutritional education and experiential learning, such as maintaining a school garden. Farm to School creates economic opportunities for rural communities, U.S. agriculture, and food supply chain businesses, and improves the health and well-being of children and families.
30.5 million students
Nearly 100,000 schools across the United States serve school lunches to 30.5 million students each day, using nearly 13 billion annual federal dollars. As of 2014, 42,587 schools reported participating in Farm to School. However, there has been little national research to assess the effectiveness of the program. This grant will fund the first national research and evaluation of Farm to School.
NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program
The funding for this grant is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The AFRI is United States’ flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences. The AFRI program area of Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities (AERC) supports projects that improve agricultural sustainability, protect the environment, enhance quality of life for rural communities, and alleviate poverty.