The Mountain Times

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Local group gets big boost for farm-to-school work

A major new commitment of federal, state, and private funding will help Vermont's Farm to School programs expand in every county in Vermont. The funds will strengthen links between farmers, school cafeterias and classrooms, community members, and local food hubs. Successful programs have shown that schools are a key partner towards establishing stable year-round institutional markets for Vermont grown products.

Complementary grant programs from the USDA, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the Vermont Community Foundation, and the Vermont Department of Health will total over half a million dollars for this effort. The funding for farmers and producers, public schools, nonprofits, and businesses statewide will: 1) integrate local food into Vermont cafeterias, classrooms, and communities; 2) link farmers with institutional buyers to expand year-round use of Vermont products; 3) improve processing and distribution hubs to meet the increasing demand for locally-grown products; and 4) expand successful programs to underserved parts of Vermont.

•    $75,000 Vermont Community Foundation Grant to Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, with Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) as one of three partner organizations for the project, which is called Building Farm to Institution Capacity.
•    $2,150 Agency of Agriculture Farm to School Planning Grant to Lothrop Elementary (Pittsford)
•    $5,000 Agency of Agriculture Local Food Market Development Grant to Vermont Bean Crafters (Rutland)
•    $3,769 Agency of Agriculture Local Food Market Develop Grant to Evening Song Farm (Cuttingsville)

"Focusing on our schools offers an enormous opportunity to test a range of innovative programs that help reach food-insecure Vermonters," said Vermont Community Foundation President & CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay. "What we learn here will lay the groundwork for establishing a food system that opens new markets to farmers and can expand to fit the needs of other institutions that want to purchase Vermont-grown products year-round."

The Vermont Community Foundation awarded over $284,000 in grants as part of the launch of its new Food and Farm Initiative, which was established to support farmers and others who want to help families put nutritious, local food on the table regardless of where they live, what they earn, or how much they cook. Other foundations and Community Foundation fundholders, including Lyman Orton, partnered with the Foundation in awarding the grants. Through research, grants, and investments-and in partnership with funders and providers across the state-the Vermont Community Foundation will help Vermont develop a nationally-recognized food system that sustains local farmers and creates healthy communities for all Vermonters.

"Since 2006, the Agency of Agriculture has worked with partners across Vermont to create a nationally-renowned Farm to School program. Our model has been replicated by other states, and on the federal level," said Chuck Ross, Secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. "Thanks to these expanded resources, the Farm to School program in Vermont will continue to grow, creating new and important opportunities for local farmers, and providing more students with nutritious, wholesome foods."

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture announced $75,000 in funding for its 2013 Farm to School grantees and $40,000 in funding for its 2012 Vermont Local Food Market Development Grants. While the first category goes directly to schools, the Market grants are intended to increase Vermont producers' access to institutional markets and the quantity of local food available in Vermont institutions. This funding complements the $100,000 USDA federal grant received by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for Vermont food hubs, which was recently announced by Senator Leahy, along with Senator Sanders and Representative Welch.

The Vermont Department of Health is funding Farm to School through an $80,000 grant program aimed at improving nutrition, healthy lifestyle, and food education in Vermont schools.