The U.S. Department of Agriculture has selected Florida and Michigan for test states to supply fresh fruits and vegetables to schools in its farm-to-school programs.
The agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service divisions plan to conduct the pilot which will use existing commercial distribution infrastructure and allow schools to source locally grown produce, according to a July 12 news release.
Jimmie Turner, a USDA spokesman, said details of the program are being worked out. He said the reason Florida and Michigan schools are involved in the pilot is because their schools approached the USDA.
Turner said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has been the driving force in getting fresh produce into the schools.
The program’s start date hasn’t been set yet, and the respective state’s agencies will determine participating schools, Turner said.
He said the USDA would contract for the produce while the schools will be responsible for transportation and other costs. Before USDA releases its request for bids, the agency plans to develop a list of eligible grower-shippers, Turner said.
“This is a win-win for everyone as this pilot program will allow us to get fresh fruits and vegetables to schools,” agriculture deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in the news release. “We are constantly searching for new opportunities to expand markets for producers while providing fresh, healthy food to schools.”
AMS will issue request for proposals for different fruit and vegetables to be delivered in quantities that are usable by school foodservice recipients and plans to review growers’ program participation eligibility to ensure they meet good agricultural practices and good handling practices, according to the release.
The USDA says Florida and Michigan plan to use entitlement funds or grants-in-aid to help schools pay for meals.
The states are to buy the commodities from a list of USDA purchased foods and available through the school lunch program. In the entitlement programs, school districts earn fixed federal reimbursements for each school lunch served consistent with USDA nutritional guidelines, according to the release.
During the July 12 School Nutrition Association national convention, secretary Merrigan discussed the importance of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and reported the agency’s findings of its first Farm to School report.
Merrigan addressed thousands of school nutrition professionals participating in the three-day event which had the secretary discussing the Obama administration's efforts to improve school meal nutrition through the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.