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USDA unveils new alliance to strengthen school food procurement

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Friday, October 27, 2023   

As part of October's National Farm to School MonthNational Farm to School Month, the Department of Agriculture has announced a new effort to improve students' access to high-quality food.

While traditionally focused on cost, the new school food procurement plan has the USDA partnering with the nonprofit Urban School Food Alliance. Dr. Katie Wilson, the alliance's executive director, said they'll provide training and technology to school districts to help improve the quality of school food by bringing regional farmers into the mix.

"There are lots of rules and regulations from the federal, state and local level," she said, "but in many cases, those rules and regulations are not conducive to buying local, buying fresher foods."

Legislation approved by New Mexico lawmakers this year also aims to boost the amount of food that comes from local growers through farm-to-table grants. Currently, about 168 farmers, ranchers and food businesses sell locally produced products to schools in 19 of the state's 33 counties.

The USDA's new program would shorten supply chains by bringing the produce of local farms into school lunchrooms. Wilson said Farm to School programs sometimes include such arrangements but also focus on nutrition education, nature exploration and engagement with food-production systems.

"We really want to look at what are the best practices in school food procurement that we could lift up and share with people nationwide," she said.

Federal standards require schools to offer students the right balance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains and protein foods. The USDA has cited research over the past decade that shows meals kids get at school are typically the healthiest meals they eat in a day.


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