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Funds will help farmers reach out to schools

VERMONT — The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) and Food Connects recently received U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School grants totaling $153,767. The grants will help Vermont farms increase their sales to local schools and promote lifelong healthy eating habits among Vermont’s students, according to the office of Sen. Pat Leahy, who announced the grants.
“Our current health crisis has shown us how important it is that our children learn to eat and love healthy, nutritious food and that we support the farms that produce that food,” Leahy said in a press release. “I am proud that the Farm to School grant program is supporting the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and Food Connects as they work to strengthen Vermont’s local agricultural system by building connections with schools. I am also deeply grateful for Vermont’s school food service workers who have worked tirelessly through this crisis to provide healthy meals that Vermont students can depend on.”
The federal Farm to School program, authored by Leahy in the 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act and modeled after Vermont’s successful farm to school program, has now reached more than 33,000 schools nationwide. And as Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Leahy also has promoted annual funding increases for the program. In fiscal year 2020, Farm to School received its highest level of funding to date with $14 million going to the program nationwide.
Food Connects, based in Brattleboro, received $99,900 to increase local food purchasing, throughout Vermont and western New Hampshire. The project plans to:
•  Increase sales.
•  Increase marketing and education efforts to schools in Food Connects’ expanding delivery service range.
•  Provide professional development for School Nutrition Professionals, with a focus on local food procurement and using the cafeteria as a classroom.
•  Develop a more robust regional supply chain in partnership with the Vermont Food Hub Collaborative and others. 
Food Connects will collaborate with VT FEED, Vital Communities, and Green Mountain Farm-to-School to accomplish the project.
VAAFM received $53,867 to develop systems for tracking local food purchases by Vermont schools. Quality data about school and early childhood education food procurement is valuable on a variety of levels, yet collecting this data in a comprehensive, accurate, and efficient way remains a significant challenge. This project aims to make tracking local food purchases easy and accurate for Vermont schools and early childhood education organizations.  The data will be used by policy makers seeking to strengthen farm to school programing in Vermont, and farmers and producers who suffer from a lack of market information.

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