The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has released a new grant in an effort to support farm to school connections during COVID-19.

The AGRI Farm to School Rapid Response for Schools grant encourages Minnesota school districts to source their food locally.

The AGRI Farm to School Rapid Response for Food Vendors grant is also offered for financial assistance to ag producers, vendors or food hubs to help cover the cost to keep up with the demand.

“There has been a lot of energy in Minnesota for over a decade to strengthen farm to school connections, this grant has allowed those connections to grow,” Helen Schnoes, who works in ag marketing and development for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said.

The Department of Ag hopes this grant will continue to foster farm to school relationships, teaching children where their food comes from and what the landscape of Minnesota agriculture looks like, even during the pandemic.

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The Department of Ag was looking for a way to support market opportunities for producers in a different way, as well.

“We want to invest in farmers and markets and encourage schools to buy locally from producers,” Schnoes said.

By supporting farm to school connections, this grant is also ensuring children get healthy, locally sourced food. The Department of Ag is hoping this grant will help strengthen those connections and communities by taking this holistic approach.

To be eligible for this grant, schools must begin to source locally, diversifying their sourcing, or increase their local sources.

With some of the funding possibly not being spent until later this fall, the Department of Ag is hoping schools will do a farm to school promotion in October, as October is farm to school month throughout the state of Minnesota.

“This could be a great way to make sure schools are making that farmer connection, to support celebrating farm to school, together as a state. Farm to school at its heart is just about strengthening how we are all connected, from farm to fork,” Schnoes said.

Both school districts and ag producers are eligible for reimbursement up to $5,000 in this first wave of funding. The first wave, which ends Aug. 12, has a total of $124,000 available. However, a larger wave will come into effect this fall, with $374,000 in available funding.

The application deadline for this round of funding is Aug. 12. Schools and producers can apply through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's website.