The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for a new pilot program that will grant participants the flexibility to use a portion of the federal funds allotted to them for commodities purchases to buy fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables for their lunches.
The Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, will include up to eight states across five regions. Schools in participating states will be able to state a geographic preference for where the foods they purchase with the federal dollars are grown.
“Allowing pilot states to pursue procurement of local fruits and vegetables with their USDA Foods’ dollars provides added flexibility,” USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said in an announcement of a
request for applications. “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.”
Without the new flexibility, schools can state a geographic preference only when procuring products with their own revenue and meal reimbursements, not the restricted USDA Foods dollars.
Geographic preferences are a key part of Farm to School programs, through which schools cooperate with local growers to fill their lunch trays. The USDA’s Farm to School Census, a survey of 4,300 districts completed in 2011-2012, found that schools participating in farm to school activities spent more than $385 million on local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
Interested state distribution agencies must submit an application for the pilot no later than Sept. 30, 2014 to be considered for selection beginning in 2014-2015.
Graphic: From the USDA’s Farm to School Census.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.