Grant created to offer locally-grown food at Missouri schools

Applications are now open to receive the grants.

In an effort to bring locally-grown food into Missouri schools, the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority has created a grant to offer local farmers.

“We’re thrilled that we can offer this program to incentivize Missouri businesses, which will in turn increase the amount of nutritious and delicious Missouri-made food served to students and benefit Missouri farmers,” agriculture director Richard Fordyce said in a news release for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, created the program and introduced the legislation to the Missouri House of Representatives. Senate Bill 672 and Senate Bill 701 brought into existence the program when Gov. Jay Nixon signed both into law in early July.

“Locally grown foods can and should be an important part of everyone’s diet, especially children,” said Scott Holste, the press secretary for Nixon. “By making those Missouri-grown agricultural products more available in schools, it will help keep kids healthier and help our farmers at the same time. This is another way in which Nixon has been supportive of Missouri agriculture.”

Missouri Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Sarah Alsager said the department is also excited about the program.

“This program provides businesses with the opportunity to place locally grown agricultural products in Missouri school meals and snacks, while at the same time strengthening local farming economies,” she said. “It’s one more outlet for Missouri farmers to do business.”

The grants also aim to allow Missouri businesses better access and ability to process locally produced foods.

Columbia Public Schools is excited about the new opportunity, District Communications Committee member Michelle Baumstark said.

“The district has been using locally grown produce for several years,” she said. “We welcome opportunities to be able to expand quantities and varieties of what is offered as well.”

Missouri has a strong agricultural economy, which provides endless opportunities to expand and bring local food to schools.

“As evidenced by Missouri being in the top 10 states in the number of farmers markets, producers in Missouri grow some of the best food around,” Fordyce said in a news release. “We’re thrilled that we can offer this program to incentivize Missouri businesses, which will in turn increase the amount of nutritious and delicious Missouri-made food served to students and benefit Missouri farmers.”

Despite this, there are some concerns about the viability of producing enough local food to meet the needs of schools.

“The challenge for any school district and local farmer that provides locally-grown food is having an adequate quantity to meet the need,” Baumstark said. “Columbia Public Schools has nearly 18,000 students. About a third of those students are purchasing school lunch and/or breakfast daily.”

The grant would give the recipient of the grant up to $200,000 to fund necessities such as coolers, freezers, washing, bagging, sorting, packaging and other equipment. Grants could also be used to hire professionals to create Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plans for businesses.

However, there are limitations to these grants. They cannot be used to fund agricultural production practices or equipment, grant recipients (or their employees) salaries or wages, or pay for motor vehicles or operating expenses.

“Legislative intent was that the grant cover infrastructure-type expenses,” Alsager said.

In addition to these funding limitations, to be eligible for the grant an applicant must be a small business that processes and/or purchases locally grown agricultural products. These small businesses must have their main consumer be Missouri schools and they must use products that are purchased from a small farmer.

Another aspect of the grant program is the competitive nature of applications. Applicants will receive a score based off of their economic development potential, credibility and merit, as well as the source and level of matching funds. Those eligible must pay a 10 percent cash match towards the item they are requesting be funded by MASBDA.

Applications opened Aug. 28, and will close Oct. 31 at 5 p.m.

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