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USDA Sponsors Talk At UVI; Education Won’t Say How Much University Was Paid

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today $4.8 million in grants for 74 projects spanning 39 states that support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) efforts to connect child nutrition programs with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program.

“Farm to school programs work—for schools, for producers, and for communities,” said Secretary Vilsack. “By serving nutritious and locally grown foods, engaging students in hands-on lessons, and involving parents and community members, these programs provide children with a holistic experience that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. With early results from our Farm to School Census indicating schools across the nation invested nearly $600 million in local products, farm to school also provides a significant and reliable market for local farmers and ranchers.”

USDA’s Farm to School Grants fund school districts, state and local agencies, tribal nations, agricultural producers, and non-profit organizations in their efforts to increase local foods served through child nutrition programs, teach children about food and agriculture through garden and classroom education, and develop schools’ and farmers’ capacities to participate in farm to school. Awards ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 are distributed in four different grant categories: Planning, Implementation, Support Service, and Training.

For the 2016 school year, grants will serve more than 5,211 schools and 2.9 million students, nearly 40 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Funded projects include:

Charlotte Amalie School District in St. Thomas received $21,698 so the Virgin Islands Department of Education could host the first-ever territorial farm to school conference called “Linking The V.I. Chain.” The one-day conference took place in March 2015 and invited 100 farmers, principals, teachers and school lunch workers who are ready to work with the farm-to-school initiative.

“The $21,698 USDA grant covered the cost of that conference only—it was specifically for that purpose,” said Education spokeswoman Cynthia Graham. “The event brought together stakeholders to begin discussing how to implement a robust farm-to-school program in all of the Territory’s schools. Attending the conference were farmers, teachers, administrators, education leaders from across the two school districts – St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John.”

Graham said the conference was held at the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Croix, but did not answer a question about how much of the $21,698 was paid to UVI.

The latest round of USDA Farm to School Grants brings investment since the program’s inception in fiscal year 2013 to $19.9 million. Projects have been funded in all 50 states, DC, and the Virgin Islands.

A report released earlier this year found that a vast majority of grantees use the USDA Farm to School Grant funds to strengthen or develop new partnerships, suggesting the potential for widespread collaboration between eligible schools, nongovernmental and community-based organizations, agricultural producer groups, and other community partners.

This is reinforced by a recent USDA Farm to School Census finding that 39 percent of participating school districts saw greater community support as a result of their farm to school program.

Farm to school programs are one of the many tools and resources USDA offers to help schools successfully serve healthier meals. In the past three years since the bipartisan passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school. Over 97 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards.

Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI)

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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