The Missouri Department of Agriculture will soon announce the winners of competitive grants aimed at increasing the amount of locally produced food in schools, while growing local businesses.
Farm to School Value-Added Grants will go to businesses that buy or process food from local farmers, or are food producers themselves. Applicants must already have a relationship with the schools, either directly or through a distributor.
Grants of up to $200,000 could help these businesses purchase items like coolers, freezers or equipment that sorts or packages food, making it easier to get this local food from the farm to schools.
“We are looking at it, and the intention of the legislation, was to help incentivize the producers themselves, but also the people who are the distributors and the people who currently have a relationship with the school food service,” said said Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce.
Fordyce said the program is not just about bringing in fresh vegetables, but also connecting schools with local meat and dairy producers. He said the opening of a new market will create an economic boon for small farmers and businesses, while bringing fresher food to schools.
“As a student or a faculty member at school, would you rather eat a tomato that comes from a farm down the road, or would you rather eat a tomato that comes from, say, Mexico?” he said. “We know these products will be fresher.”
The department’s Missouri Agriculture and Small Business Development Authority interviewed qualified applicants at a meeting Thursday to decide on the winners. According to Fordyce, successful applicants must demonstrate that a grant will have an economic impact across the entire farm-to-school pipeline, including: providing benefits to producers, expanding markets for Missouri agricultural products, creating new jobs and investing.
They will also be judged on the commercial feasibility and innovation of their submitted plans, their ability to acquire 10% matching funds and their overall merit. Fordyce said the winners will be announced in the coming days.