A pair of amendments to the Senate Farm Bill authored by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that establishes multiple farm-to-school demonstration projects across the United States and helps gleaners access USDA operating loans to assist their efforts to alleviate food insecurity in their communities have been approved.
The Farm-to-School amendment will for the first time create a competitive pilot program with at least 5 farm-to-school demonstration projects, each representing five regions of the country. These demonstration projects will allow for schools and local school food authorities to truly be able to source healthy, local produce for the breakfasts, lunches or snacks served to kids every day. Recognizing the growing obesity epidemic among children in the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics supported this amendment, citing its effective approach to supporting child nutrition.
"Oregon schools receive millions of dollars per year in federal school lunch assistance and yet they are required to spend that money almost anywhere but Oregon," Wyden said. "Fresh, healthy, locally-grown food products available in their communities should be on the shopping lists for Oregon schools and the same should be said for all schools throughout the country. This amendment will give innovative states with established farm to school infrastructure the ability to buy locally, support their own communities and help to make their children's meals healthier." ***
Wyden's microloan amendment will make gleaners eligible for USDA-backed microloans to purchase the equipment such as refrigerators or vehicles needed to expand their efforts. Over 34 million tons of food was wasted nationwide in 2010. Gleaners voluntarily collect food that would otherwise be thrown away and donate it to food banks or other institutions that deliver it directly to those in need. Often, these gleaners do not have enough vehicles or large enough refrigeration equipment needed to expand their abilities to meet the needs of those in their community. These microloans of $500 to $5,000 will give them the access to capital necessary to improve their operations and assist more people.
"For a lot of gleaners, the only thing standing in the way of them helping more and more members of their communities get a good meal is the limitations of the equipment they have on hand," Wyden said. "A small loan for another refrigerator or a vehicle to transport perfectly good food that would otherwise end up in landfills or incinerators could go a long way toward improving their ability to expand their operations and help more people."
The amendments were included in the Farm Bill being considered on the floor of the Senate this week. Final passage of the entire Senate Farm Bill is expected later this week.
*** The dollar amount in this quote has been corrected. The original $1 billion figure in the quote refers to the total federal budget for school lunch assistance nationwide, not just Oregon.