July 22, 2014
Yesterday, July 21, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released a Request for Applications from states interested in participating in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Kevin Concannon, the USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, announced that under the pilot, up to eight states across five regions will be granted flexibility in using a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase locally-grown unprocessed fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The pilot project “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,” said Under Secretary Concannon.
USDA’s FNS and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will be working closely together to implement the pilot project and anticipate having deliveries start in the middle of the 2014-2015 School Year.
The pilot projects are an offshoot of a farm bill provision championed by NSAC and included in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act marker bill and the House-passed Farm Bill. The final 2014 Farm Bill pilot project provision does not go as far as we would have liked, but could still prove to be very useful experiments in increasing local food procurement for school meals.
The pilot project comes at a time of increasing momentum around local procurement and other Farm to School activities. According to the USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census, which released updated results in June 2014, in school year 2011-2012, schools participating in farm to school activities purchased and served more than $385 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase even more local foods in future school years. Additionally, of the local food purchased by school districts, fruits and vegetables topped the list. This investment of school food dollars into local communities benefits all of agriculture – from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, to food processors, manufacturers, and distributors.
Applications must be submitted via email using the forms and instructions in the Request for Applications. Interested State Distributing Agencies (SDAs) must submit an application by September 30, 2014 for consideration for selection for the 2014-2015 school year. The pilot projects are anticipated to be multi-year and may involve additional Requests for Applications. However, SDAs interested in this pilot project should submit their application by September 30, 2014 for consideration for this first round of the pilot and as USDA takes steps to determine the direction of the pilot in subsequent years.
In states selected to participate in the pilot project, school food authorities (SFAs) or SDAs (acting on behalf of participating SFAs), will be permitted to competitively solicit a USDA-approved vendor using USDA NSLP entitlement funds for unprocessed fruits and vegetables. SDAs or SFAs will be able to use their pre-existing commercial distribution channels and relationships with farmers, produce wholesalers, and distributors, as well as apply geographic preference in procurement.
State and Vendor Selection Process and Pilot Project Details
The Farm Bill requires that at least one project be located in a state from each of the five regions of the U.S.: Pacific Northwest, Northeast, Western, Midwest, and Southern. FNS plans to prioritize applications based on: the quantity and variety of growers of local fruits and vegetables in the Applicant States on a per capita basis; the demonstrated commitment of the States to farm to school efforts; and whether the States contain a sufficient quantity of SFAs, varying population sizes, and geographic locations.
Once Pilot Project States are selected, AMS will work with those States to identify approved vendors, such as farmers, food hubs, wholesalers, distributors, and processors. Vendors must submit documentation certifying compliance with AMS requirements regarding a comprehensive food safety program, 100 percent domestic origin, and food defense. AMS will publish an approved vendor list on the AMS website. SFAs or SDAs from Pilot Project States can then procure unprocessed fruits and vegetables from these vendors, up to the amount of USDA entitlement that the States set aside for the pilot project. SDAs must submit monthly reports to FNS and AMS summarizing delivery and pricing information from all USDA-approved vendors, who are then paid by AMS in accordance with these reports.
USDA Technical Assistance and Contact Information for State Applicants
FNS plans to conduct conference calls on August 7th and September 10th to answer questions and provide technical assistance with the application process to states that wish to apply. Details from USDA are forthcoming.
For questions regarding the pilot project and application, SDAs should contact:
Carolyn Smalkowski at Carolyn.Smalkowski@fns.usda.gov or 703-305-2674; or
Christina Conell at Christina.Conell@fns.usda.gov or 415-705-1353.