Demand is expected to outpace supply for $3.5 million in the Farm to School Grant Program to be awarded this fall.

Farm to School Grant Program accepting proposalsU.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the USDA will be accepting letters of intent through mid-May and grant proposals by June 15.

“We will learn a lot from these applications and get a better sense of the magnitude of interest,” Merrigan said.

The grants, capped at $100,000 per award, will be awarded by this fall.

“Farm to school is pitch perfect on so many different levels,” Merrigan said in an April 17 press conference. “It allows kids to learn more about where their food comes from and who produces that food.”

Farm to school efforts can also incorporate gardens at schools, field trips to local farms, cooking classes and nutrition education efforts, according to USDA officials.

Merrigan said farm to school efforts can help midsize farms get more food dollars and help create jobs in local communities.

The Farm to School Grant Program was created by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in December 2010. The law provides funds for grants and technical assistance to schools buying local foods. The program will be funded at $5 million for fiscal year 2013, with $3.5 million being set aside for grants and $1.5 million reserved to support a combination of training and technical assistance, administrative costs and possibly additional grants.

The two types of grants expected to be distributed this year are planning grants — for schools just now exploring the concept — and implementation grants, which are for schools that have already been involved with farm to school sourcing and want to take it further. The USDA expects 25% of the grants are expected to be planning grants and 75% will be awarded to implementation projects.

Merrigan said grantees will be evaluated.

“We need to scale up those learning experiences and broadcast them across the countryside,” she said.

Deborah Cane, national director of the Farm to School program, said the USDA will host a Web seminar related to implementation grants at 1 p.m. EST May 15 and a web seminar about the planning grants at 1 p.m. EST May 17th. Information about the web seminars can be found online.

Cane said the USDA will try to place priorities on schools that have high rates of free and reduced price meals.