The Missouri Department of Agriculture will soon announce the winners of competitive grants aimed at increasing the amount of locally produced foods in school, while growing local businesses.
The Farm-to-School Value-Added grants will go to businesses that either buy or process foods from local farmers, or are food producers themselves. The applicants must already have a relationship with schools, either directly or through a distributor.
The grants of up to $200,000 could help these businesses buy items like coolers, freezers or equipment that sorts or packs food, which make it easier to get those local foods from the farm into schools.
"We envision it, and the intent of the legislation, was to help incentivize the growers themselves, but also the people who are the distributors and the people who currently have a relationship with school food service," said Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce.
Fordyce said the program is not just about bringing in fresh vegetables, but also connecting schools with local meat and dairy producers. He said opening up a new market will create an economic boon for small farmers and businesses, while bringing fresher foods into schools.
"As a student or a faculty member at school, would you rather eat a tomato that came from a farm down the road, or would you rather eat a tomato that came from, say, Mexico the country?" he said. "We know that those products will be fresher."
The department's Missouri Agriculture and Small Business Development Authority interviewed qualified applicants during a meeting Thursday to decide awardees. According to Fordyce, successful applicants must show that a grant will bring an economic impact throughout the farm-to-school pipeline, including: bringing benefits to growers, expanding markets for Missouri agricultural products, potential for creating new jobs, and capital investment.
They will also be judged on the commercial feasibility and innovation of their presented plans, ability to acquire 10 percent in matching cash funds, and overall merit. Fordyce said the winners will be announced in the next few days.