The Mansfield School District will receive a $31,600 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School planning grant to bring more fresh local produce to student meals, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday.
The local district’s proposal was among 71 projects in 42 states to be awarded the grants. In the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Southwest Region, which includes Arkansas, seven grants were awarded. One went to Pryor, Okla., Public Schools, and schools in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana also received grants, according to a USDA news release.
Mansfield serves 880 students on the district’s three campuses, according to the news release. The district is committed to the overall health and well-being of its students and wants to establish a farm-to-school program that complements other district initiatives.
The planning grant will allow the district to form partnerships with local farmers and producers to procure more locally grown foods for Mansfield’s nutrition program. The district will also educate students and parents about the farm-to-table connections and the importance of consuming fresh foods.
“Farm to School programs teach students where food comes from while providing health foods that are grown locally on farms and ranches across the nation. These programs also create new market opportunities for local farmers and ranchers interested in partnering with nearby school districts. And by helping to create an even more diverse and thriving agriculture sector, Farm to School efforts hold potential to create new jobs in rural areas,” Vilsack said in a news release.
According to the USDA’s recently released Farm to School Census in which 13,000 public school districts were surveyed during the 2011-12 school year, the districts served more than $350 million in locally produced foods, and more than half the participating districts planned to buy more local food in the future. Alma School District also participates in the program, spending 1 percent of its food budget locally.
According to the census, 14 percent of responding Arkansas schools said they participated in farm to school activities, 15 percent said they planned to participate, and 68 percent said they did not participate. All told, of the $8.8 million Arkansas schools reported spending on food, they bought $643,978 worth of it locally.
In Oklahoma, where the program was pushed by the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Poteau, 36 percent of districts participating in the USDA’s census said they are engaged in farm to school activities, 11 percent said they plan to start and 47 percent said they did not participate. All told, of the $42.02 million Oklahoma districts spent on food, they spent $5.45 million locally. The Cherokee Nation’s Sequoyah Schools at Tahlequah reported spending 5 percent of its food budget locally.
The Farm to School Program is part of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.