Somerville Public Schools (SPS) is one of just 71 recipients nationwide selected to receive a fiscal year 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School grant. The federal program seeks to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers. Somerville was awarded a $45,000 planning grant and is one of only two programs in Massachusetts and one of seven in New England to receive 2014 Farm to School funding.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to continue our work on developing a farm to school strategy that will not only benefit our students, but one that will also have a long-term positive impact on our families and our community,” said Lauren Mancini, Director of the Somerville Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services Department.
USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts. Working with a number of community partners, including Groundwork Somerville and the city’s nationally recognized Shape Up Somerville initiative, Somerville Public Schools will use funds to develop a long-term district-wide strategy that supports local sourcing and helps expand current farm to school efforts.
“We recognize that a students’ ability to succeed is dependent upon many factors, that’s why you often hear us say that we’re committed to supporting the whole child,” added Superintendent of Schools Tony Pierantozzi. “This funding allows us to continue to work with great community partners in continuing to develop a school nutrition program that will benefit students throughout their lifetimes, while strengthening our community through local sourcing efforts.”
“Shape Up Somerville is proud to support Somerville Public Schools in complementing their exceptional work to increase access to local, healthy food and to increase access to physical activity for our kids,” commented Director of Shape Up Somerville David Hudson. “Research shows that this work helps our students perform better in the classroom.”
Grant activities will include supporting continuous education of students regarding the value of a farm to school approach to nutrition by introducing students to locally sourced products and providers through expanded School Garden programming, school tasting and sampling events, and other school-based activities. Additionally, community workshops will expand the grants’ reach, while an emphasis on working with a wide range of community partners to research, identify and map local sources will support the program’s efforts at developing a long-term strategy for strengthening the district’s farm to school efforts.
“Somerville continues to be a national leader on efforts to create a healthy and sustainable community, particularly through our commitment to healthy children. Part of those efforts more recently have put a focus on reconnecting students to their food sources, and in addition to our indoor, outdoor and mobile farmers markets, last year Somerville became the first community in the Commonwealth to institute an Urban Agriculture Ordinance designed to do just that. This grant will give our students tremendous support and new opportunities to further our efforts at the local level,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.
USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food. USDA’s Farm to School Program is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which authorized USDA to provide grants and technical assistance to help schools gain better access to local foods. A list of fiscal year 2014 Farm to School grant recipients can be accessed at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/FY_2014_Grant_Award_Summaries.pdf.