July 13, 2011
On Tuesday, July 12, USDA announced several new resources for locally-sourced school food initiatives.
At the 2011 School Nutrition Association national convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan addressed 4,500 school nutrition professionals about the Obama administration’s efforts to improve the health and nutrition of school and institutional meals, most notably the work of the USDA Farm to School Team, assembled in 2009 as part of the Know your Farmer, Know your Food Initiative.
Said Merrigan, “Farm to school programs are a great way to bring more fresh, local produce into school cafeterias and support local farmers as well. Many schools are also using Farm to School programs to teach students where their food comes from through nutrition education.”
Farm to School Report
In conjunction with the conference, USDA released the 2010 Farm to School Report, an analysis by USDA’s Farm to School team of 15 school district’s farm to school programs across the country. Team members worked with these school districts and other professionals in the field to better understand resources, challenges, and potential for USDA support in successful farm to school programs.
The team’s main observations included how passionate communities are about their farm to school initiatives, the increased credibility that USDA initiatives give to local efforts, and the central challenge of insufficiencies in local supply chains. The needs that the team identified included funding for infrastructure, clear language and information about how school meal funding may be used, and the importance of program evaluation to document impact. To address some of these needs, USDA is committed to expanding outreach and collaboration, as well as working with other federal agencies and USDA programs to explore options to support public health and local and regional food systems.
AMS/FNS Fruit and Vegetable School Purchasing Pilot
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced that they will conduct pilot projects in Michigan and Florida for acquiring fresh fruits and vegetables to build on farm to school programs in those states. Schools will use their funds provided by USDA for serving school meals for the purchases. The pilot will use commercial distribution models already in place and allow schools to obtain locally grown produce. A Request for Proposals (RFP) for supplying the food is forthcoming from AMS. USDA funds purchase about 15 to 20 percent of the foods for the National School Lunch Program across the country.
Other Farm to School Resources: National Survey and Annotated Bibliography
Deputy Secretary Merrigan also announced a national survey to gather comprehensive baseline data on farm to school programs across the country. Additionally, she announced that USDA’s Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, which specializes in locating and accessing information related to sustainable and alternative agriculture, has compiled Farm to School: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography. The bibliography gathers existing research and resources in one place to help farm to school programs and to identify research gaps for future planning.
Visit NSAC’s Farm to School page to read more about federal policy initiatives. Read the Civil Eats interview with Deputy Secretary Merrigan to learn more about the various new USDA farm to school initiatives.