PROVIDENCE, RI – With Governor Dan McKee proclaiming October as Farm to School Month across Rhode Island, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is announcing a $260,000 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School grant award. The statewide proclamation aligns with National Farm to School Month, which Congress designated in 2010 as an annual showcase of food education, school gardens, and lunch trays filled with nutritious, local ingredients. The award will provide Rhode Island Farm to School (RIF2S) funding allowing the network to boost local procurement for Rhode Island schools, hire a full-time Farm and Sea to School Coordinator, and expand funding for the RIF2S Network which has expanded the RIF2S network throughout Rhode Island.
"As a dad and the husband of a teacher, I know the importance of having fresh, local fruits and vegetables in our schools," Governor McKee said. "That's why as Governor, I'm honored to proclaim October as Farm to School Month. Thanks to our very strong public-private food system partnership, school districts across Rhode Island are buying and serving locally-grown produce while ensuring high nutrition standards at the same time. Encouraging kids to eat healthier while supporting local farmers is a win-win. It also makes our food supply chain more resilient. I'm proud of the progress we're making."
"Food, nutrition, and gardening education programs empower students to make informed choices, form lifelong healthy habits, improve eating behaviors, and enhance academic achievement – so, obtaining this USDA Farm to School grant award is a very big deal and a tribute to the effectiveness of all partners involved in the endeavor," said DEM Director Terry Gray. "The fact that RIF2S also helps local farmers and stimulates the Rhode Island economy makes it a win on every level."
"We are thrilled to work together with our partners to expand Rhode Island Farm to School and bring nutritious meals to all children, regardless of their zip code," said Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Angélica Infante-Green. "Thank you to Rhode Island's farmers, educators, and wellness advocates who help our children learn, grow, and thrive. We look forward to the great impact these new RIF2S investments will have on our school communities."
"Rhode Island's small farms, fishers, and local food producers have taken advantage of the 'buy local' movement through farmers markets and CSAs. However, they face barriers to accessing institutional markets which offer more consistent and high volume sales but require standardized products, connections to certain distributors, and for K-12, strict nutrition requirements to meet national school lunch standards," said CommerceRI Director of Food Strategy Julianne Stelmaszyk. "We look forward to partnering with DEM and RIDE to hire the State's first Farm & Sea to School Coordinator to provide important value chain coordination, build stronger connections across the supply chain, and support school food service operators in identifying strategies to serve more locally grown, caught, and harvested food in schools. This a clear win for our kids and our small businesses."
"Farm Fresh Rhode Island is excited to work with DEM and the RI Farm to School Network to continue to build strong relationships between schools and the local food system," said Farm Fresh Rhode Island Co-Executive Director Jesse Rye. "Forging transparent sourcing relationships helps to ensure that local farmers, fishers, and food makers play a significant role in providing nutritious school meals to Rhode Island's students. Local food in schools contributes to a more resilient supply chain that is better for the environment and bolsters local economies."
"We're seeing a growing interest for Farm to School in communities across the state. Families, students, and educators are becoming more knowledgeable about where their food come from along with its economic and environmental impact," said RI Healthy Schools Coalition Co-Director Karin Wetherill. "There's always excitement when local fresh foods are prepared and served in school cafeterias. They taste great, after all!"
The RIF2S Project began in 1999 with the goal of improving children's nutrition, support sustainable agriculture, and preserve open space and the quality of Rhode Island's environment by integrating locally grown foods into school cafeterias.
Recently, farm to school at the statewide level has been re-energized through the creation of the Rhode Island Farm to School Network. It's a joint initiative of DEM, the Rhode Island Department of Education, Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition, CommerceRI Director of Food Strategy, and Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FFRI). In the past two years, the RIF2S network has worked to engage partners to develop, expand, and strengthen local procurement, education, and gardening initiatives through unified advocacy, organization, and funding to address the growth and sustainability of a statewide program. The RIF2S network seeks to engage partners across the state to develop, expand, and strengthen local purchasing, education, and gardening initiatives and welcomes individuals from the school, farm/food producer, and community sectors to join.
With the announcement of this new funding comes new priorities and partners are especially committed to increasing local procurement.
The new funding will be mobilized to support the following three key objectives:
o Hire a Farm and Sea to School Coordinator to address distribution barriers to increasing procurement of locally produced, caught, and harvested foods and to increase engagement with members of the RI Farm to School Network from underserved and underrepresented communities.
o Establish a comprehensive action plan to provide a road map to expand access to local food and agricultural education across all school districts in Rhode Island.
o Energize and engage a broader and more diverse group of farmers, fishers, and food producers to solve distribution barriers that limit the ability of schools to source more regionally produced foods.
To celebrate a yearly Farm to School tradition, the 2022 RIF2S network's "Apple Crunch" event will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 19, when students across Rhode Island will set their watches for 12 PM and bite into locally grown apples! Classrooms and cafeterias or school groups anywhere can participate by registering online to get an Apple Crunch Celebration Guide with ideas on how to assemble a planning team, source local apples, incorporate farm to school education, and promote activities. Share videos and photos on social media with #RIAppleCrunch22.
If you are passionate about Rhode Island Farm to School and connecting children with locally grown and nutritious foods, please visit and get involved by visiting the Rhode Island Farm to School Network at www.rifarmtochool.org. There are many events and fun filled resources to explore!
For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov or follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.