Schools in eight states to use locally grown produce through USDA pilot

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2014 - Eight states will participate in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables to increases purchases of locally grown fruits and vegetables in school meal programs.

The USDA announced selection of the following states for the program, as directed by the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill: California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

USDA Foods - provided by the USDA to schools - make up about 20 percent of the foods served in schools.  States use their USDA Foods allocation to select items from a list of 180 products including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products.  This pilot program will allow the selected states to use some of their USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly, instead of going through the USDA Foods program.

“Providing pilot states with more flexibility in the use of their USDA Foods' dollars offers states another opportunity to provide school children with additional fruits and vegetables from within their own communities,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.  "When schools invest food dollars into local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers.”

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The states were selected based on their demonstrated commitment to farm to school efforts, including prior efforts to increase and promote farm to school programs in the state, the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the state on a per capita basis, and the degree to which the state contains a sufficient quantity of local educational agencies of various population sizes and geographic locations. 

This pilot is designed to support the schools' pre-existing relationships with vendors, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors, and increase the use of locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables in school meal programs. While the pilot does not require sourcing locally grown foods, the project will enable schools to increase their use of locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables from AMS authorized vendors.  Unprocessed fruits and vegetables include products that are minimally processed such as sliced apples, baby carrots, and shredded lettuce. For more information about the pilot, please visit the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables website.

Building robust connections between farms and institutions, including schools, is a key element of USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates USDA's efforts and investments in local food system development.  Since, 2009, USDA has supported over 3,000 projects nationwide to build new opportunities in local and regional foods, mainly through programs authorized in the Farm Bill:

·         USDA has expanded access to healthy foods in underserved communities by making EBT available at farmers markets. Over 5,000 farmers markets now accept EBT, and SNAP redemption at farmers markets nationwide rose from $4 million in 2009 to over $21 million in 2013.  In September, USDA announced the application season for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program, a new Farm Bill program to help low-income consumers purchase more fruits and vegetables, particularly locally-grown produce, by providing incentives at the point of purchase.

·         USDA's Farm to School grant program has funded 221 projects in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands since this program began in 2013. According to the USDA's Farm to School Census, schools spent over $385 million on local food purchases during the 2011-2012 school year.

·         In FY14 alone, USDA facilitated over 330 new markets for local foods - including food hubs, scale-appropriate processing, and distribution networks - that are connecting rural producers with new sources of revenue and creating jobs.

“The National Farm to School Network congratulates the states selected to participate in the USDA's Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables,” said Helen Dombalis, Policy and Strategic Partnerships Director for the National Farm to School Network. “Local procurement is a core element of farm to school, allowing school districts to connect to local and regional agricultural producers and thus investing more of their food budgets within their own communities. We look forward to seeing how this pilot will inform and strengthen future farm to school practices across the nation.”

Related articles:

·         USDA announces funding to turn commodities into value-added products

·         USDA announces local, organic food programs

·         USDA farm to school grants will connect school cafeterias, local farmers

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to the National School Lunch Program, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the Summer Food Service Program which together comprise America's nutrition safety net. For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov.

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