Amherst schools land USDA grant

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, June 25, 2018, by Dusty Christensen

The town’s public schools have received $30,600 through a federal farm-to-schools program — the only school district in the state to receive such a grant.

The grant comes from the United States Department of Agriculture, and will help Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools plan how to connect students directly to their food sources both in the cafeteria and in the classroom. The grant is just one of $5.2 million awarded nationwide as part of the USDA’s efforts to bring local foods into schools, and in turn benefit local farmers.

“We’re very happy about it… there’s such a passion in the community around this topic,” Amherst Superintendent Michael Morris said.

The money is part of a planning grant, Morris said, which will allow the district to develop three teams that will look at ways to increase the presence of fresh local food in Amherst’s cafeterias and classrooms.

One team — with help from the University of Massachusetts Amherst dining services — will look at the district’s food operations, with the goal of reducing waste and other inefficiencies. A second team will look at local menu design and how it can reflect the district’s cultural diversity.

“We want to make sure our food is highly connected to that,” Morris said.

A third team will be asked with looking at how to connect that food and nutrition education into the district’s classrooms and teaching gardens.

When the planning stage is finished, Morris said the district hopes to win an implementation grant from the USDA during the program’s next funding cycle.

Amherst is the only school district in the state that was awarded money as part of the program this year. The only other Massachusetts recipient was the Boston-based seafood wholesaler Red’s Best, which won $100,000 to teach students about local fresh fish with the hopes of partnering with public schools to increase local seafood consumption.

“From pre-K to high school, farm to school programs benefit everyone from students and teachers to parents and producers,” Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Brandon Lipps said in a statement. “Connecting people to their food builds stronger ties to community agriculture and an appreciation for those who care for our land.”

The USDA has handed out Farm to School grants since 2013. In 2016, a $25,000 grant supported a Massachusetts Farm to School conference in Amherst.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at