Finding Fresh Food in the Farm Bill

June 25, 2012

By Ashley Hofmann, HSC public policy intern

What’s the Farm Bill have to do with school food? A lot, actually. And it has the potential to do a lot more if Congress votes to promote healthy food by making it physically and financially accessible through updates to the Farm Bill.

As it relates to school food, the Farm Bill acts mostly as a funding mechanism through the purchase of farm commodities, support of fresh produce programs, grants aimed at developing local supply chains, and provisions to encourage schools to source locally-grown food. The problem arises in funding levels for different types of crops. In 2010, for example, corn and soybean growers received $5.5 billion in subsidies. But most of this isn’t the kind of corn-on-the-cob you grill or the edamame you add to your salad; it ends up as silage, ethanol, and high-fructose corn syrup. This type of spending policy is currently prioritizing fuel and feed over fresh food.

The 2008 Farm Bill took steps to support healthy eating by requiring the USDA to spend more of its budget on fresh food — $200 million per year. (In case you don’t have a calculator handy, this means corn and soybeans received 28 times more funding than fresh apples, oranges, and broccoli.) Last week the Senate passed their version of the bill, named the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, which increases funding for community food projects and farmers markets, and introduces a farm-to-school pilot program in five states.

At HSC, we commend Congress on their steps to increase support for fresh, healthy food through the Farm Bill and urge our elected officials to continue making changes that will support student health and wellness. HSC makes the following recommendations for the Farm Bill:

  • Increase the required amount USDA spends on fresh fruits and vegetables to support the nutrition guidelines set forth in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
  • Provide commodity support for the School Breakfast Program at a value of 10 cents per meal served to help schools meet new nutrition standards and rising numbers of participants
  • Allow school districts to apply for Community Food Projects Competitive Grants to encourage their participation in building local food networks, supporting local growers, and bringing fresh produce to children

Now that the Senate has taken positive steps toward these recommendations, we look to the House to ensure the Farm Bill continues to promote healthy food options by providing adequate funding for school meals and grants to local farm-to-school networks. Representatives need to hear that fresh, local food for students is a priority. We encourage you to send your representative a letter urging support of fresh, local food in the Farm Bill. 

Take action by sending a letter here.

Over the next few weeks we’ll hear from several guest bloggers about the bill’s impact on the future of school food, obesity rates, and community food initiatives. In the meantime, check out this infographic examining the disconnect between the government’s nutritional recommendations and funding levels for fuel and feed.

Plant-the-Plate-Infographic

Stay posted for updates!

Plus: Interested in learning more about the Farm Bill? Check out HSC's Farm Bill fact sheet!