$1.25 million available from fall 2023 through spring 2025
Missouri schools now have an unprecedented opportunity to begin adding local farm-fresh food to school menus. A $1.25 million Local Food for Schools grant to Missouri from the federal government will flow directly to schools that apply for the opportunity to plan and implement local food purchasing over an 18-month period starting this fall.
Awards from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will range from $675 for the smallest schools (0-499 students) to $25,000 for schools with more than 14,500 students. Allowable expenses include distribution and storage costs, as well as purchasing. Allowable products include fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains.
Schools can apply at any time during the 18-month period. Applying now is best for taking advantage of Missouri’s current fall harvest and planning for purchases in upcoming growing seasons, said Jaclyn Carroll, Farm Business Counselor with rural Missouri community development organization New Growth.
“The biggest factor to consider is our fall produce in Missouri,” she said. “Schools won’t want to lose out on one of our best growing seasons. Local apples in the fall; that’s a big one for a lot of schools.”
Schools can also request assistance in finding and working with local farms, including seasonal menu planning and adding geographic preference to procurement procedures, which is expressly allowed in the 2008 U.S. Farm Bill (Section 2403).
Jaclyn Carroll has been working with schools in rural west central Missouri, through West Central Missouri Community Action Agency (West Central), to build farm-to-school programming and purchasing. She is available to help schools with their applications and awards. Other experts are also on call to support schools that request technical assistance in their applications. They are part of a statewide planning team that Carroll helped DESE pull together more than a year ago when the opportunity to bring the federal funds to Missouri became available.
Barbara Shaw, DESE’s Coordinator of Food and Nutrition Services, leads the project. She said, “This project is a win for farmers to scale towards the school food service market and a long-term investment in the nourishment of Missouri students’ school meals.”
Shaw was excited to take on the project, but needed help when it came to helping schools work with Missouri farmers. Carroll organized a planning group from across the state to assist Shaw with Missouri’s application for the federal funding and with execution of the project, including engaging farmers. The planning committee is comprised of partners from DESE, West Central, New Growth, the Missouri departments of agriculture and health and senior services, school officials, community food organizations, university extension educators, managers of “food hub” organizations that aggregate and distribute local foods, and more.
Such statewide teamwork and assistance to schools is essential because the Local Food for Schools program prioritizes purchasing close to home and from smaller, underserved farm businesses within the allowable 400-mile “local” range. This priority aligns with the twin goals of Farm to School programs: Healthy children and strong local farm economies.
It’s a great opportunity for schools to develop working relationships with nearby farmers, said Kate Nixon, New Growth’s Food Systems Director.
“For some of our smaller school districts one small farmer might have the capacity to provide all the locally grown products that school might need. This program offers the chance to start making this happen,” she said.
Program and application information is available at DESE’s Local Food for Schools page.
Farmers and schools are welcome to contact New Growth’s Jaclyn Carroll for assistance making Farm to School connections and submitting Local Food for Schools applications.
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