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New school lunch pilot for locally-grown produce accepting applications from states

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.

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