USDA has announced that its child nutrition programs are implementing new rules designed to encourage use of local farm products in school meals. The final rule will let schools and other providers give preference to unprocessed locally grown and locally raised agricultural products as they purchase food for the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Child and Adult Care, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, and Summer Food Service programs.
"This rule is an important milestone that will help ensure that our children have access to fresh produce and other agricultural products," says USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. "It will also give a much-needed boost to local farmers and agricultural producers."
The rule supports USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative which emphasizes the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers. The effort builds on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides for increases and flexibility for USDA programs in an effort to revitalize rural economies by supporting local and regional food systems. USDA expects consumer demand for locally grown food in the U.S. to rise from an estimated $4 billion in 2002 to as much as $7 billion by 2012.
The Farm to School component of the effort is designed to help connect schools with regional or local farms in order to serve healthy meals using locally-sourced products in their cafeterias. USDA currently is sending teams out to select school districts to work on farm to school issues. Some of these programs also incorporate nutrition-based studies, as well as food-learning opportunities such as farm visits, gardening, cooking, and composting activities.