A new pilot program aimed at encouraging states to purchase locally-sourced food will bring more fresh produce to school meals across eight states.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin will be able to use some of their USDA Foods allocation toward unprocessed fruits and vegetables from local farms rather than going through the USDA Foods program.

The Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables, which falls under the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), was created to not only promote farm-to-table meals, but also help schools strengthen relationships with vendors, growers, wholesalers and distributors, according to the USDA.

USDA Foods comprises about 20 percent of foods served in schools, with schools using their allocation from a list of 180 items including fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, rice, low fat cheese, beans, pasta, flour and other whole grain products. Under the new program, schools will be able to substitute those allocations for fresher, local options.

“Providing pilot states with more flexibility in the use of their USDA Foods’ dollars offers states another opportunity to provide schoolchildren with additional fruits and vegetables from within their own communities,” says Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.  “When schools invest food dollars into local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers.”

States were selected on criteria including a commitment to farm-to-school efforts, previous promotion initiatives, the variety and abundance of fruit and vegetable growers in the state on a per capita basis, as well as how diverse the state’s educational agencies are in size and geography.

For states like Connecticut, the program not only promotes the local economy, but also helps children form more nutritional habits of buying fresh, local produce.

“Connecticut’s participation in this federal pilot is great news for our farmers, our economy and our children,” says Governor Dannel P. Malloy. “Our state is home to thousands of farming operations responsible for billions in economic activity. By increasing the amount locally-sourced healthy food options for our students, we help lay a foundation for lifelong successful habits.”

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