There’s an exciting current opportunity for schools to get grants to purchase kitchen equipment that can make it easier for them to prepare, store and serve more locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
One of the big barriers for buying from farms is the lack of equipment and available staff time for preparing, storing and serving fresh food. To save labor cost and time, most buy fresh foods already chopped, diced, shredded and bagged—ready to go straight into soup or onto the salad bar. Many don’t even have the option of a salad bar because refrigeration and salad bar service equipment is too costly. Farms often don’t have equipment or time for processing either, so most school food is ordered through distributors after the food has traveled around for processing and may come from very far away. Using the funds from the stimulus package can help schools who wish to buy direct from farms and do more preparation in-house. This is a great time to contact your local school with a positive message and encourage them to apply for equipment to support them in preparing and serving food from Washington farms! Call your local school and ask to speak to the i-grants administrator, the food service manager at the school or the nutrition director for the district.
The economic stimulus package provides $100 million for school food service equipment grants, which can fund new freezers, salad bars, milk coolers, etc. Priority will be given to school food authorities (SFAs) in which at least 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals. Grants will be made no later than June 8, 2009, and the deadline for school districts to apply is May 1st.
For this grant, the definition of eligible equipment is “articles of nonexpendable, tangible personal property with a useful life of more than one year and a per unit acquisition cost of $5,000 (or such lesser amount as the SFA uses when reporting equipment as assets in its financial statements).”
From the USDA Memo on the grant:
“In order to make the most effective use of the NSLP equipment assistance grant funds, when developing the application process, State agencies should incorporate one or more of the following four focus areas:
• Equipment that lends itself to improving the quality of school foodservice meals that meet the dietary guidelines. (e.g., purchasing an equipment alternative to a deep fryer),
• Equipment that improves the safety of food served in the school meal programs. (e.g., cold/hot holding equipment, dish washing equipment, refrigeration, milk coolers, freezers, blast chillers, etc.),
• Equipment that improves the overall energy efficiency of the school foodservice operation (e.g. purchase of an energy-efficient walk in freezer replacing an outdated, energy demanding freezers.
• Equipment that allows SFAs to support expanded participation in a school meal program (e.g., equipment for serving meals in a non-traditional setting or to better utilize cafeteria space)
State agencies may opt to propose alternate or additional focus areas, but must submit the
proposal to FNS for prior approval.”
Some of you may have received a notice about adding a focus area for encouraging local food in this grant. (Wisconsin and Michigan got USDA approval to add this as a 5th focus area: "Equipment that enables Wisconsin schools to use locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.”) We were unsuccessful in getting language added in Washington, simply due to time constraints in getting approval from our Western District USDA office. While it is disappointing not to have this encouragement written into the grant, there is no reason this goal cannot be met within the original 4 focus areas. I know that George Sneller, State Child Nutrition Director, and others at OSPI are supportive of the Washington grown programs in schools.
(The link above goes to the USDA Memo on 2009 Equipment Assistance Grants for School Food Authorities)
I hope this email gives you the information you need to support your school in improving their infrastructure for serving healthy fresh foods, grown in Washington to improve the quality of food served and increase participation in school meal programs.
If you have questions or need advice on approaching your school staff or sharing the message, feel free to contact us here at the WSDA Farm-to-School Program: firstname.lastname@example.org.