A new USDA program helps schools purchase locally grown produce, boosting local control of food purchases for school districts.
Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said last summer that eight states that have yet to be determined will be granted flexibility for using federal money to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables that are locally grown, for use in school lunches. The fruits and vegetables may be dried, frozen or fresh. Canned food is not included, according to a USDA press release.
Schools that are participating in farm to school activities were able to purchase and serve more than $385 million in local food in 2011-12, according to te USDA’s Farm to School Census The census found that half of participating schools were planning to purchase even more local foods in the future.
“Allowing pilot states to pursue procurement of local fruits and vegetables with their USDA Foods’ dollars provides added flexibility,” Concannon said in a news release. “It offers states an additional opportunity to bolster local farm economies while providing the children who participate in our school meals programs with healthy food from within their own communities.”
The pilot program allows states and local districts to tap into money usually reserved to buy commodities directly from the USDA. By law, schools receive USDA foods, called “entitlement” foods. In recent years, that entitlement was valued at 23.25 cents for each meal served.
States must apply to the program by Sept. 30, according to the release, and participants in the pilot will be announced by the end of the calendar year.
Casey Wong-Buehler, team lead for fruit and vegetable products for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said the pilot program will allow contracts to have a preference for “local” foods, but states and school districts are not required to favor local food.