USDA makes more than $60 million in school meals available, launches new partnership

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today visited Annandale Terrace Elementary School in Annandale, Virginia, where he unveiled two new grant opportunities plus a training and technical assistance partnership to help schools continue to invest in nutritious school meals.

This announcement helps to reach the goals released in conjunction with the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022 to increase access to healthy foods for students at schools across the country. All this unfolds as USDA joins students, parents/caregivers, schools, communities, and partners across the country in recognizing National School Lunch Week, as proclaimed by President Biden, and National Farm to School Month.

“USDA is committed to giving students the nutrition they need to reach their full potential by empowering schools to continue serving delicious, healthy meals,” said Vilsack. “There’s no better time to announce these new efforts to support schools than during National School Lunch Week and Farm to School Month, as we acknowledge the critical role that school meals play in a child’s life. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue doing everything we can to ensure schools have the tools they need to keep serving the highest quality meals to kids across America.”

USDA is partnering with the Urban School Food Alliance to provide trainings and tools to school districts that will help them purchase high quality foods, while keeping costs low. In recent years schools have faced challenges in obtaining healthy foods consistently, efficiently and effectively. This initiative will support schools with school meals procurement, including the development of tools and training.

“The Urban School Food Alliance appreciates the opportunity to work with USDA to improve the school food procurement process for all stakeholders,” said Dr. Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance. “With procurement practices laying the foundation for obtaining fresh, healthy food served throughout our nation’s schools, we look forward to developing and implementing new tools to push for a more efficient and sustainable food system that includes supporting local economies.”

In addition, there are two new grant opportunities opening to support school meals:

  • Beginning today, USDA is accepting applications for the next round of USDA Farm to School Grants– which support local child nutrition programs in serving more fresh and local foods – through January 12, 2024.
  • Applications will open soon for the School Food Systems Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants. As the second phase of USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, these sub-grants will fund projects promoting innovation in the school meals marketplace through collaboration between schools food producers and suppliers, including local producers and small and disadvantaged businesses. 

Partnership with Urban School Food Alliance

The Urban School Food Alliance currently consists of 18 large school districts that share best practices about purchasing school foods, based on their experiences and procurement data they have gathered and analyzed beginning in school year 2017-2018.

Through its new partnership agreement with USDA, the Urban School Food Alliance will:

  • Develop new tools to educate school districts on best practices for purchasing school foods.
  • Organize an advisory group of school nutrition stakeholders to create an action plan that will address challenges with school food procurement through the development of targeted trainings and resources.
  • Develop an interactive bid template that will help standardize procurement processes in school nutrition.

The Urban School Food Alliance has existing trainings and resources they will begin sharing with school districts immediately, and the development of new tools and the advisory group are both expected to begin in early 2024.

Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative – School Food Systems Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants

Two of the four organizations leading the School Food Systems Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants will open applications in November 2023:

  • Supporting Community Agriculture and Local Education Systems, led by Boise State University, will encourage innovative partnerships between schools and producers, growers, and processors to nourish students through transformation of the school food system.
  • Partnerships for Local Agriculture and Nutrition Transformation in Schools, led by the Chef Ann Foundation, will support regional efforts to nourish students, increase equity, foster a resilient supply chain, and create scalable and sustainable change for school districts across the country.

Applications for sub-grants managed by two other organizations – Full Plates Full Potential and Illinois Public Health Institute – will open in early 2024. Collectively, the four organizations were awarded $50 million to administer these sub-grants. The grants will support collaboration between school districts, food producers, suppliers, distributors, and/or community partners to stimulate a resilient, equitable, and nutritious school food system.

Eligible organizations are encouraged to check the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentiveswebsite for updates and sign up for bi-monthly newsletter at the bottom right of the USDA Team Nutrition website.

Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program
The Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program, also known as the Farm to School Program, helps child nutrition programs incorporate local foods into school breakfast and lunch; summer meals; and meals served at childcare centers. The program offers a variety of resources, from research, technical assistance, and grants to help build and grow farm to school programs.

Applications for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grant Program are now open through Jan. 12, 2024. To receive updates about the grants application and other farm to school news, subscribe to The Dirt, program’s monthly e-newsletter.

Since the Farm to School Grant program began in 2013, USDA has awarded a total of $84 million in grants to projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, which have reached more than 28 million students in more than 63,000 schools. The department is expected to award at least $10 million in grants in 2024.

In addition, this month, the Farm to School Program also launched the 2023 Farm to School Census, a periodic survey of school districts’ participation in local procurement and agricultural education activities. The Census is the most comprehensive survey of farm to school activity in the United States. USDA encourages all school districts to complete the survey to build an accurate picture of farm to school activity across the nation.

Related resources:

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service works to end hunger and improve food and nutrition security through a suite of 16 nutrition assistance programs, such as the school breakfast and lunch programs, WIC and SNAP. Together, these programs serve one-in-four Americans over the course of a year, promoting consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, and affordable food essential to optimal health and well-being.

FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. FNS’s report, “Leveraging the White House Conference to Promote and Elevate Nutrition Security: The Role of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service,” highlights ways the agency will support the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy, released in conjunction with the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022.

To learn more about FNS, visit fns.usda.gov.