VALLEY – Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) announced that the San Luis Valley (SLV) Local Foods Coalition will receive $99,866 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fund farm to school programs in the SLV’s 14 rural districts. This grant is part of a $5 million USDA investment to advance farm to school partnerships across the country.
“Farm to school programs enrich our rural communities, providing healthy food to students while boosting Colorado’s local agriculture economy,” Bennet said. “USDA’s investment in these programs recognizes healthy food as a critical element of student success. We congratulate the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition on receiving this grant, which will fund efforts to connect even more rural schools with local farms.”
“The San Luis Valley understands the impact of local agriculture,” Gardner said. “I’m confident this award will further that connection between students and agriculture by providing children with a healthy lunch option sourced from local producers.”
“Increasing the amount of local foods in America’s schools is a win-win for everyone,” said Cindy Long, deputy administrator for Child Nutrition Programs at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the department’s school meals programs. “Farm to school projects foster healthy eating habits among America’s school-age children, and local economies are nourished, as well, when schools buy the food they provide from local producers.”
The SLV Local Foods Coalition advances farm to school programs in rural preschools and school districts. The centerpiece of the group’s efforts is the Valley Roots Local Food Hub, which sources locally-grown produce and distributes it to local schools and institutions. The coalition works in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center, the SLV Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Colorado BOCES Cooperative Buying Program, the Early Childhood Council of the SLV, Guidestone Colorado, the SLV Integrated Nutrition Education Program, Cooking Matter SLV, and LiveWell Colorado.
According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, schools with strong farm to school programs report higher school meal participation, reduced food waste, and increased willingness of the students to try new foods, such as fruits and vegetables. In school year 2013-2014, schools purchased more than $789 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers. Nearly half of these districts plan to purchase even more local foods in future school years.