The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will make $3.5 million in new funding available to help school districts organize and implement new Farm to School programs, according to a report from the University of Illinois. Officials suggest these critical initiatives seek to educate children about where their food comes from and improve the quality of school meals. They also focus on improving local and regional food systems and creating new markets for local food producers.

 Planning grants are for school districts just getting started on farm to school activities. They are intended to help school districts or schools maximize the impact of their farm to school efforts by embedding known best practices into early design considerations. Grants are expected to range from $20,000 to $45,000 and represent approximately 25% of the total awards.

 Implementation grants are intended for scale-up or further development of existing farm to school initiatives. They are expected to range from $65,000 to $100,000 and represent approximately 75% of the total awards. Both grant types require at least a 25% funding match.

 K-12 school food authorities, nonprofit private schools, charter schools, Indian tribal schools and others that participate in the National School Lunch or Breakfast programs are eligible to apply for either type of grant. State and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers and nonprofit entities are eligible to apply for implementation grants.

 USDA encourages school districts and other eligible entities to work together and submit "cluster" applications. Proposals where one investment could benefit a wider geographic area than a single school district or eligible entity will be given priority, as will projects that serve school districts and schools that have high free and reduced-price meal enrollment.

 Only one application (either for a planning grant or for an implementation grant) per eligible entity is permitted. As a condition of receiving a farm to school grant, each grant recipient shall cooperate in an evaluation of the program carried out, using grant funds.

 Learn about the grants program on USDA's Farm to School Web site (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/f2s/f2_grant_program.htm and also at www.grants.gov (CFDA#10.575).

 Two webinars will be offered so that grant applicants can learn more about this grant opportunity. To receive additional information about webinars, register for the Farm to School Listserve (https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFNS/subscriber/new?).

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