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Vilsack announces new school meal partnershipVilsack announces new school meal partnership

USDA also makes more grants available for farm to school programs.

Joshua Baethge

October 13, 2023

2 Min Read
Elementary students eating lunch in school cafeteria
Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

During a Wednesday visit to an Annandale, Virginia elementary school, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA would partner with the Urban School Food Alliance to help school districts improve their food procurement process. That partnership will also provide tools and assist with school nutrition training.

News of the partnership, as well as a new round of grant funding, were announced to coincide with National School Lunch Week and National Farm to School Month. Those efforts are part of the Biden administration’s plan to meet goals established during the September 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. Vilsack believes it’s important to work with school districts to identify best practices and develop better school menus.

“USDA is committed to giving students the nutrition they need to reach their full potential by empowering schools to continue serving delicious, healthy meals,” Vilsack says. “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 Urban School Food Alliance is a nonprofit started in 2012 by school districts in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Orlando. Today its membership has grown to 18 districts. Together, they work to address students’ nutrition needs while advocating for their health and well-being. Executive Director Dr. Katie Wilson says her organization appreciates the opportunity to work with USDA and help improve the school food procurement process for all stakeholders.

“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,” she adds.

New round of grant funding

Vilsack also announced another round of funding for two USDA grant programs. The agency is now accepting applications for the Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grant program. That program incentivizes government agencies, nonprofits and businesses to help schools implement and expand farm-to-school programs. It was started in 2012 and renamed this year to honor recently retired Sen. Patrick Leahy, D- Vt.

Starting next month, USDA will begin taking applications for School Food Systems Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants. Those grants will fund collaborations between schools, producers and suppliers that promote innovative projects in the school meal marketplace.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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