The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA’s) Farm to School Incubator Grant Program is opening the cafeteria door to more organic producers!
For the first time, schools will be incentivized to buy food from producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic. Organic producers will be prioritized for grants to cover expenses related to food production, processing, and/or distribution for the school food market, including organic certification costs. Small and midsize farms and disadvantaged producers will also receive prioritization.
Prioritizing organic in the Farm to School Program is important to help schools and producers overcome longstanding barriers. Schools struggle to procure organic foods because federal policies provide them with limited resources and little flexibility to deviate from contracts with the largest conventional food companies, while many lack facilities and staff to cook meals from scratch. At the same time, California’s small organic farmers struggle to meet schools’ specific product requirements and lower prices. The Farm to School Program will help provide schools and producers with resources to overcome these obstacles and bring more organic food to lunchrooms across the state.
The Farm to School Program benefits organic producers by providing access to new and expanding market opportunities. According to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, California schools spent $167 million on local foods in the 2013–2014 school year, which is just 14 percent of their food budgets. CDFA’s new report on the Farm to School Program emphasizes that the program "can help increase supply and demand for producers that sell organic products or use other climate smart agriculture practices.”
Providing support for more organic producers to enter and succeed in the farm-to-school marketplace gives them a chance to meet schools’ growing demand for organic food. A recent Civil Eats article describes the efforts of Barbara Jellison, the food service director at West Contra Costa Unified School District, who is working “ingredient by ingredient” to replace conventional foods with organic fruits, vegetables, and meats. She has already succeeded in making several meals entirely organic, including teriyaki chicken and rice, a fruit and cheese plate, and pasta marinara.
Over the past year, CCOF has helped shape the Farm to School Grant Program to ensure it is accessible to organic producers. Last summer, CCOF members had the opportunity to directly share their farm-to-school challenges and solutions with CDFA staff. Those members included Stone’s Throw Farm, Super Tuber Farm, Sun Pacific, Star Bright Farm, and CCOF members who work with the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA). These conversations supported CDFA in developing a comprehensive list of allowable costs for the producer grant, including costs related to infrastructure, equipment and supplies, staff/labor costs, certification, licensure, or insurance costs, education, travel, and contractual costs, and other indirect costs. Allowing producers the flexibility to use funds where they are most needed will help offset the risks of investing in farm-to-school markets, particularly for small and disadvantaged producers. CCOF commends CDFA for their efforts to create an accessible program for diverse producers.
CCOF and our partners also successfully advocated that the California legislature increase funding for Farm to School from $10 million in 2021 to $30 million in 2022. CCOF is committed to advocating for a program that empowers more schools to procure and prepare organic foods and more organic producers to access the farm-to-school marketplace.
We expect the application period for the 2022 Farm to School Grant Program to open at the end of March 2022. Please visit https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/caf2sgrant/ for more details. CCOF can assist members seeking to apply for this program. Please reach out to Laetitia Benador at firstname.lastname@example.org or (831) 346-6339 to learn more about the program and how CCOF can support you.