The Farm Bill: What’s In It for School Food?

July 19, 2012

T-minus 73 days until the current Farm Bill expires! The Senate passed their version of the bill on June 21, which leaves the ball in the House's court. While 73 days may seem like plenty of time for the House to work on new legislation, our Representatives will not be in session for six of the next 10 weeks. That leaves little time for the Farm Bill to be debated and voted on in the House, and even less for the Senate and House to reach a compromise between their respective versions. That’s why it’s more important than ever for all of us to speak up and let our representatives know we want a Farm Bill that supports healthy food. In our previous Farm Bill blog, HSC made recommendations that would support the purchase and distribution of whole foods to our nations schools. Take a look at them here.

To speak about the important role of the Farm Bill in supporting healthy food in our schools is Sheilah Davidson, Policy Program Manager and Stakeholder Liaison for School Food FOCUS. She has been advocating for social change for more than 20 years and has experience working on several farm bills during that time.

by Sheilah Davidson, Policy Program Manager, School Food FOCUS

What’s in a name? Some advocates believe the Farm Bill should be renamed the Food Bill –- as that’s mostly what it’s about. The Farm Bill, renewed every five years or so and currently being debated in Congress, is a hugely important part of our county’s food safety net, containing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits -– often called food stamps -– and other programs that affect what healthful foods are available (and affordable!) for school food.

Many people know that the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is important to school food, and the debate and passage of the Farm Bill is another time to make changes that can transform what’s for lunch. These two laws are reauthorized on different timetables — so one sets the stage for further changes in the next. For example, geographic preference (or GP -– meaning that schools can legally apply a preference for local foods in their bidding processes) was first passed in the 2002 Farm Bill. Support for farm to school programs, which can take advantage of GP, were passed in the 2004 CNR.

The 2008 Farm Bill then upped the ante, with more support for actual implementation of GP and more money for fruit and vegetable snacks, among other programs. Guaranteed funding and better language for Farm to School grants followed in the 2010 CNR bill.

All along the way, people spoke up to push these changes through.

Sadly, we’re not seeing the same momentum in the Farm Bill debate going on right now. With Congress unable to agree on much at all, and spending for the public good under constant attack, we will be lucky to hold the line on important gains we’ve seen over many years. 

This is not the time to give up! You can help by contacting your legislators at key times in the process. Healthy Schools Campaign and many other organizations send out action alerts to make it easy to let your members of Congress know what’s important to you. Please speak up for our children’s sake.

School Food FOCUS is a national collaborative that leverages the knowledge and procurement power of large school districts to make school meals nationwide more healthful, regionally sourced, and sustainably produced. FOCUS aims to transform food systems to support students’ academic achievement and lifelong health, while directly benefiting farmers, regional economies, and the environment. If you’d like to learn more, follow School Food FOCUS on Twitter and Facebook.