FOR RELEASE ON MARCH 23, 2023 AT 10 AM:
Full Plates Full Potential Awarded $10 Million by USDA to Support School Meals and Healthy Kids
BRUNSWICK, MAINE – Full Plates Full Potential has been awarded $10 million by the USDA to manage the School Food System Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants. This cooperative agreement was awarded to only four organizations nationwide and is a part of the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative. Full Plates’ project will aim to dramatically increase the use of local ingredients in Maine school meals by investing in every part of the farm and sea to school ecosystem, including awarding $8.4 million in sub-grants to collaborative partners.
“Full Plates Full Potential is thrilled to partner with the USDA, and humbled by the trust they have placed in us,” says Justin Strasburger, Executive Director of Full Plates Full Potential. “With our successful track record as a collaborative and inclusive advocate for practical, innovative solutions and the support of our dedicated partners from across Maine’s food system, we are well positioned to steward this tremendous investment and deliver on the promise of healthy, local school meals for all Maine kids.”
Maine has become a national leader when it comes to incorporating best practices into school meal programs, creating local food purchasing incentives and expanding breakfast after the bell. Most significantly, in 2021, Maine became one of the first states in the country to make school breakfast and lunch available to all students free of charge–an effort that Full Plates championed.
Over the course of the five year cooperative agreement, Full Plates will be responsible for developing and administering the sub-award processes. This will include providing technical assistance to sub-grantees, increasing collaboration, evaluating impact, and planning for sustainability. Specific focus areas include:
- Fostering stronger collaboration between schools and growers and producers
- Expanding in-state processing infrastructure
- Strengthening farm and sea to school distribution mechanisms
- Equipping school nutrition teams with the skills and knowledge needed to effectively prepare healthy school meals using local ingredients
- Ensuring school kitchens have the equipment to effectively work with healthy, local ingredients
- Instilling a local food culture mindset throughout the school community to ensure long term sustainability of innovations
“USDA is taking a holistic approach to supporting school meal programs, which includes strengthening the food supply chain that supports them,” said Stacy Dean, USDA deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “We’re hopeful that these grants will accelerate and expand innovation in the school food marketplace, so that schools – and ultimately our children – have better access to healthier food products.”
Full Plates’ mission is to end childhood food insecurity in Maine with a focus on expanding access to existing nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Maine youth suffer the highest rate of childhood food insecurity in New England, and school meals are a consistent and critical resource for families.
“Full Plates started in 2014 because too many students were struggling in the classroom, school meal participation rates were all over the place and our state was leaving tens of millions of dollars untouched,” said Justin Alfond, co-founder of FPFP. “Today is a spectacular day for students, schools and our state. The USDA’s award and commitment of $10 million dollars will allow us and our trusted partners the chance to build a permanent local food infrastructure for generations to come.”
Since its inception, Full Plates has granted more than $3 million to child nutrition programs in every Maine county. The USDA cooperative agreement will result in an almost three-fold increase in Full Plates’ grant making. The agreement marks the first major award of governmental funding for the organization, which relies on individual donations, institutional giving, and cause marketing for its funding.
“I’ve been proud to work in partnership with Full Plates Full Potential to ensure that all Maine students are healthy, fed, and ready to learn,” says Governor Janet T. Mills. “Working with the Legislature, we made Maine the second state in the nation to provide free school meals so that all children can eat during the school day. Now, with this exciting investment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Full Plates Full Potential will build on that success to help schools serve our students healthy, locally-grown Maine food. That’s a win for Maine students, and a win for our farmers, fishermen, and other producers.”
“Ensuring access to regular, healthy, and nutritious meals is essential for the success of Maine’s children,” said Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden. “Full Plates Full Potential understands that a hungry student is a distracted student and the organization provides such an important service to schools and children across our state. We were proud to support this funding that will enable FPFP to significantly expand its efforts, improve opportunities for local Maine food producers, and provide a reliable food source to those in need.”
More information about the specifics of the requests for applications will be available in the coming weeks, with the first round of applications opening in September 2023. Interested organizations are encouraged to visit www.maineschoolmealgrants.org to sign up for project updates.
About Full Plates Full Potential – Full Plates Full Potential is a Maine-based organization working statewide to end childhood food insecurity. We work to expand and strengthen existing child nutrition programs by partnering with schools and communities to create sustainable systems change through investment and advocacy. We break down structural barriers within programs that prevent more children from getting meals, support more effective and sustainable administration, and support efforts to address root causes of food insecurity. We are driven by a steadfast belief in our vision of a healthy and thriving Maine with plentiful food for all. For more information, visit fullplates.org.
About the USDA – The United States Department of Agriculture provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management. USDA has a vision to provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forest, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.
Supplemental Quotes in Response to Full Plates Full Potential’s USDA Cooperative Agreement Announcement
“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that a healthier future for our country starts with our children. Continuing to make school meals healthier and available to more students are some of the best ways we can help our children thrive early in life.”
– US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
“USDA is taking a holistic approach to supporting school meal programs, which includes strengthening the food supply chain that supports them. We’re hopeful that these grants will accelerate and expand innovation in the school food marketplace, so that schools – and ultimately our children – have better access to healthier food products.”
– Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for USDA Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
“I’ve been proud to work in partnership with Full Plates Full Potential to ensure that all Maine students are healthy, fed, and ready to learn. Working with the Legislature, we made Maine the second state in the nation to provide free school meals so that all children can eat during the school day. Now, with this exciting investment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Full Plates Full Potential will build on that success to help schools serve our students healthy, locally-grown Maine food. That’s a win for Maine students, and a win for our farmers.
– Governor Janet T. Mills, State of Maine
“Ensuring access to regular, healthy, and nutritious meals is essential for the success of Maine’s children. Full Plates Full Potential understands that a hungry student is a distracted student and the organization provides such an important service to schools and children across our state. We were proud to support this funding that will enable FPFP to significantly expand its efforts, improve opportunities for local Maine food producers, and provide a reliable food source to those in need.”
– Senators Collins and King & Representatives Pingree and Golden
“This opportunity has the power to transform Maine school meals and fuel the minds of kids across our entire state. Good Shepherd Food Bank is looking forward to supporting this work through thought partnerships, local food distribution, and marketing of grant opportunities.”
– Kristen Miale, President, Good Shepherd Food Bank
“Full Plates Full Potential has continuously supported Maine Students and Schools in amazing ways. The Maine School Nutrition Association is thrilled at the opportunity that Maine schools are being given for the opportunity and resources to further expand our school nutrition programs! Full Plates Full Potential has yet again advocated for us in a big way! Their support over the years has helped make school nutrition in Maine a model for the rest of the US! This additional funding to help us procure the healthiest, local food possible shows their efforts truly impact our next generation, and help support so many farmers and local businesses. Thank you for all you do for our school nutrition programs and our students!”
– Whitney Thornton, President, Maine School Nutrition Association
“Let’s Go!, a program of MaineHealth, is grateful to the USDA for acknowledging the excellent work of Full Plates Full Potential and our healthy food access partners statewide. School meals are incredibly important to fostering the development of students’ healthy eating habits and increasing their readiness to learn. We look forward to supporting our shared goal of providing healthy and locally sourced meals to ALL Maine students!”
– Emily Walters, Director, Let’s Go!
“The Maine Farm & Sea to School Network at Healthy Communities of the Capital Area is excited to continue our partnership with Full Plates Full Potential by supporting implementation of this food system transformation collaboration. MFSN will provide convening and training opportunities to build capacity and overcome barriers among our school partners to incorporate more locally-sourced nutritious foods into school meals. We can’t wait to get started!”
– Renee Page, Executive Director, Healthy Communities of the Capital Area
“Full Plates Full Potential is uniquely positioned to take on this potentially transformative opportunity for the Maine school food system. They understand the challenges of those working in schools, and are connected to all the key players working to feed kids across Maine. This collaboration is sure to make a big impact on the lives and health of our children.”
– Billy Shore, Founder & Executive Chair, Share Our Strength (parent organization of the No Kid Hungry campaign)