Congress introduces Farm to School Act of 2015

The Farm to School Act of 2015 has been officially introduced in Congress! This bipartisan effort is being led by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH).

The Farm to School Act of 2015 builds on the success of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 by proposing an increase in funding from $5 million to $15 million for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program. The bill would also ensure that the grant program fully includes preschools, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers while improving program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Why is this bill important?

  • Farm to school is a proven method for improving the health of our nation’s children. Today, more than 23 million students are making healthier food choices at school and at home thanks to farm to school activities like school gardens, cooking classes and incorporating local foods in school meals.
  • Demand for the successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program far exceeds supply. In its first three years, the program received more than 1,000 applications but only had enough funding to award 221 grants. In other words, just one in five projects was funded.
  • Schools are an important market for farmers. In 2011-12, U.S. schools spent $385 million on local food. Farmers participating in farm to school initiatives nationwide have seen an average 5 percent increase in income.

What’s next for the Farm to School Act of 2015?

  • Tell Congress you support the Farm to School Act of 2015 by signing a letter of support as an individual or on behalf of your organization. Make sure Congress knows that farm to school is a powerful tool for supporting our kids, our farmers and our communities!
  • This act is what’s known as a “marker bill” which means it will be considered by Congress as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR), which is set to expire on September 30.
  • As Congress considers the Farm to School Act of 2015 and CNR over the coming months, expect to hear from us about steps you can take to encourage your Senators and Representatives to support the bill. To learn how you can be an advocate, visit our website, sign up for our next webinar or watch this archived webinar.

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Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress

by Sarah A. Low, Aaron Adalja, Elizabeth Beaulieu, Nigel Key, Stephen Martinez, Alex Melton, Agnes Perez, Katherine Ralston, Hayden Stewart, Shellye Suttles, Stephen Vogel, and Becca B.R. Jablonski

Administrative Publication No. (AP-068) 89 pp, January 2015

Cover image for ERS report "Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress" (AP-068) This report provides an overview of local and regional food systems across several dimensions. It details the latest economic information on local food producers, consumers, and policy, relying on findings from several national surveys and a synthesis of recent literature to assess the current size of and recent trends in local and regional food systems. Click the report to access.

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Current Food Policy Legislation in Mississippi – February 2015

2015 MS Food Legislation

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Rethinking Obesity Prevention

Despite reported areas of decline, no country has reversed its obesity epidemic. Researchers increasingly believe that governments and stakeholders should act urgently to decrease the prevalence of obesity, including childhood obesity.

From regulatory action to empowering the public, the authors highlight opportunities to break the cycle of demand for foods of poor nutritional quality and move the focus toward changing food environments.

Register here.

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Southern Remedy: Food Insecurity

Check out a recent video by Mississippi Public Broadcasting highlighting the issue of Food Insecurity in the state.

“In the land of plenty, food deserts exist. In Mississippi, access to high-quality foods is a challenge for most of its citizens, which also presents health challenges. Southern Remedy looks at Mississippi’s food deserts, where the food is, how people get it, how the lack of access is being addressed, and its impact on school-aged children.”

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WEBINAR: Food Policy and Regional Food Systems: Opportunities for Networking across Jurisdictions

The Institute for Public Health Innovation and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future will host a webinar on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 from 1:00 – 2:15 PM EST.
Food Policy and Regional Food Systems: Opportunities for Networking across Jurisdictions
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
1:00 – 2:15 PM EST

Where does your local food policy council fit within the regional food system? Would you like to play a stronger role in both your locality and at a regional level but not sure how? Functioning with limited resources and volunteer members, it can often be easiest for a food policy council to concentrate locally.

By understanding the role of local food policy councils within the context of a regional food system, groups can network across geographies to maximize impact and effectiveness of policy changes.

During this webinar, expert panelists will address a number of big picture questions local food policy councils have about regional food systems, including:
• The role of local food policy councils within a regional network
• When is it beneficial to connect across a region
• How to determine your “region” and what to do when definitions vary
• Best practices and challenges to organizing and building regional networks, including resources and infrastructure needed
These issues will be addressed to show participants how networking across jurisdictions can positively influence food system change. The webinar will also include time for participant Q&A.

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The Relationship between Healthy Food Access and Consumption

A recent blog post:   If You Build It, Will they Come? The Relationship between Healthy Food Access and Consumption

Over the past several years, the term “food desert” has become prevalent in nutrition research and policy and is used to describe areas with a lack of access to fresh, healthy foods. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food desert as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” Low-income census tracts qualify as food deserts if they have “at least 33% of the census tract’s population live more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store or 10 miles in non-metropolitan census tracts.”

Areas defined as food deserts may receive federal, state, and foundation funding to improve their access, whereas areas that lack the label have greater difficulty in qualifying for the same opportunities. However, many policymakers do not take into account the complex relationship between healthy food access and consumption.

The relationship between access and consumption

Many studies on fresh food access and consumption focus on distance to and/or density of food outlets in an area. Similarly, most public policies increasing access to healthy food focus on locating supermarkets in food deserts. However, living closer to stores that sell fresh foods may be necessary but not sufficient to improve healthy food consumption among lower-income individuals. There is evidence that access to healthy food includes multiple factors, including transportation to food outlets; convenience of purchasing and preparing fresh foods; affordability, quality, and variety of fruits and vegetables; nutrition knowledge; and cooking skills. The limitations of defining access may be one reason for mixed results in studies assessing the relationship between healthy food access and consumption.

Where do we go from here?

Most qualitative studies continue to point toward factors beyond geographic proximity in influencing consumption of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, such as food quality and cost. However, quantitative studies are more likely to focus on distance to grocery stores and their relationship with consumption. So, where do we go from here? Fortunately, individuals focusing on access to healthy food are recognizing the importance of asking communities’ opinions about these issues before jumping in head-on. Instead of coming at the issue with, “We know how to solve your problem” we are beginning to ask communities, “How do you think this problem can be solved?

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