It’s that time of year! Navigating USDA Farm to School Grants

If you haven’t yet marked your calendar, USDA is accepting applications for their annual Farm to School Grant program for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015!

Final applications are due at 9pm Pacific on April 30th, 2014, which makes March and April a busy time for Farm to School advocates. Many of you are seeking information and insight about how to obtain one of these highly valuable and extremely competitive grants. Read below for tips on how to fully take advantage of this opportunity!

AgToGo’s writeup

One resource currently available comes to us courtesy of Thomas Driscoll, a legal expert with experience in the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress.

Driscoll shared a recent post he wrote for his agricultural policy blog, AgToGo, with helpful tidbits about the application process. In the post, he also covers the criteria USDA use to evaluate your application, and discusses California’s own Pasadena Unified School District as an example of a recently successful applicant.

Below is an excerpt–click here to read the full article!

First, Driscoll describes why and how Pasadena Unified decided to pursue a Farm to School Grant:

Katia Ahmed, a Project Director with PUSD, said school families wondered why the meals in the school cafeteria didn’t reflect the community’s interest in nutritious, local food. They decided to pursue a Farm To School (F2S) Grant to enlist USDA’s help getting local food into school meals. Last year, PUSD won a $46,000 Planning Grant to be used for community outreach, hands-on activities and taste-testing with students, food service worker training and planning conference attendance.

Now PUSD is working toward sourcing over 40% of the food served in their cafeterias locally. School kitchens are piloting fresh cooking programs this year, and the school district plans to apply for an Implementation Grant this year.

“Working with USDA has been a great experience,” Ahmed said. “They are really there to help us out.”

While not every grant application is successful, Pasadena Unified learned how to write a winning proposal based on the feedback they got from years prior. As Driscoll tells it:

The grant application’s numeric score, as well as written feedback, is made available to unsuccessful applicants. This provides valuable insight that can be used to secure a grant in future funding rounds. Ahmed said PUSD had previously applied for a F2S Grant and that the feedback from that application was extremely helpful in their subsequent, winning application. “We knew what USDA wanted us to address,” she said.

Read through Driscoll’s full post for a more in-depth look at how to better understand and write a great proposal!

USDA Resources

Another resource for preparing for this grant application process is the USDA itself!

To help applicants prepare, USDA representatives will be holding four webinars in the coming weeks, one for each type of grant offered:

  • Planning Grant Webinar: Tuesday, March 11 – 10:00 a.m.
  • Implementation Grant Webinar: Wednesday, March 12 – 10:00 a.m.
  • Support Service Grant Webinar: Thursday, March 13 – 10:00 a.m.
  • Conference/Event Grant Webinar: Friday, March 14 – 10:00 a.m.

There’s no need to register for these webinars if you wish to attend them. All you have to do is visit here when the time for the webinar arrives, and then dial 888-989-7679 and use the passcode 3915580 to listen to it on your phone.

You can view these webinar times on our Calendars and Events page, in addition to other relevant events and webinars! For example, yet another webinar on Thursday, March 13th at 9:00 a.m. will be held for applicants who want to work specifically with Cooperative Extensions as partners. Sign up for that webinar (this one DOES need an RSVP!) at this link.

As you may have noticed above, in addition to the usual Planning, Implementation, and Support Service grants (detailed on their site as well as the AgToGo link above), a fourth type of grant is being offered this year that you may want to learn more about:

Conference/Event grants are open to all interested parties. They are intended to support conferences, events and trainings that strengthen farm to school supply chains, or conferences, events and trainings that provide technical assistance in the area of local procurement, food safety, culinary education and integration of agriculture‐based curriculum.

As a note, it’s our hope that if you are considering applying for a Conference/Event grant, that you reach out to us to coordinate efforts with the California Farm to School Network! Please email us at to talk further about this with us.

How the CFSN can help

Finally, we are starting a discussion thread on the California Farm to School Network listserv dedicated to finding collaborators, partners, tips, and assistance with applying for this grant. Sign up for the listserv to join in on the discussion!

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