Share this

Minnesota’s legislative session ended in May, and stakeholders are celebrating big wins for Farm to School and Early Care. Building on earlier successes that established and expanded the MN Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School grant, IATP worked with partners to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the historic $17 billion state budget surplus and the trifecta of support from the Governor’s Office and decision makers on the Agriculture Committees to push for an ambitious legislative agenda. We are thrilled that the final MN Agriculture Omnibus Bill includes transformative support that will continue to grow our state’s Farm to School and Early Care initiatives long term. Major highlights of the bill include:

  • The MN Department of Agriculture (MDA) will expand eligibility for its state grants to include early care providers as eligible applicants to the MDA Farm to School (and Early Care) grant program in addition to the K12 schools that have been able to apply so far. Including early cares has been a goal of stakeholders since the creation of the grant program and is a huge win to finally get through. Currently there is no parallel grant program in Minnesota for early cares to launch their own Farm to Early Care initiatives. IATP testified before legislators that during the Farm to Early Care Mini Grant pilot that IATP administered, demand greatly exceeded available funding: In 2022, we had 369 applications for the Farm to In-home Early Care mini grants (both Spanish and English language applications) and funding to offer only 26 mini grants of $250. We had 91 applications for the center-based Farm to Early Care mini grants, and funding to offer eight mini grants of $2,000. These numbers represent the large untapped market for our farmers, as well as the demand from early cares across our state. Our littlest eaters depend on early care meals for half to two-thirds of their nutrition intake, and the years spent in early care offer a window of opportunity to influence their taste preferences and eating habits that will carry forward for the rest of their lives. IATP is offering support to MDA to work out the logistics of implementation with the goal of making funding accessible to all early care settings serving the widest possible number of Minnesota’s kids.            
  • Funding for the MDA grant program will increase from $800,000 to $1 million per year for the next two years, increasing to $1.144 million per year after two years, with that increased amount becoming the new "base" amount of funding. The MDA grant program reimburses schools for purchases made from local farmers and has a separate grant for equipment purchases so that more schools can do scratch cooking. Last year, we saw a $4.25 million federal infusion of funding to Minnesota to support MDA’s Farm to School grant program, and there was still more demand than funding available. In testimony during the bill hearings, IATP and partners made the case that the next year is a critical time to make the investment of increasing funding for this grant, as it will leverage the momentum created by that federal investment and signal to farmers, schools and early cares that there is sustainable support for local purchasing that they can plan around.
  • A new full-time Farm to Institution Coordinator position will be created at MDA to provide statewide support, coordination and strategy. A full-time position at MDA will provide crucial statewide coordination support to farmers, grantees and eligible applicants to ensure the success of this grant program. Stakeholders shared with legislators that currently one MDA staff person has only about 30% time to support Farm to School, and the need for support far outpaces MDA staff capacity. This will have a huge impact and is a great lasting outcome of this session.            

This strong support for Minnesota Farm to School and Early Care was not the only positive outcome this legislative session — read this recap from our partners at Land Stewardship Project to learn about more wins for sustainable and regenerative agriculture, small and mid-sized farmers, and rural communities in Minnesota. Farm to School and Early Care are worthy investments that support the health of our children, the livelihood of our family farms and the connections in our local communities. We are thankful for the hard work of advocates and decision makers to make these wins happen, and we look forward to the positive momentum for Minnesota Farm to School and Early Care on the horizon. 

Join us in advocating for policy solutions that protect communities, farmers and climate while fostering economic resilience for all Minnesotans by signing up for the MinneAg Network to stay in the loop on future opportunities to get involved.