Healthy school meals comprised of fresh, locally grown products are now more affordable thanks to California’s participation in United States Department of Agriculture’s Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables.
“This program will give schools more flexibility in how they procure fresh produce directly from local farmers,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “This is of great benefit to both local economies and local food producers.”
As part of the Agricultural Act of 2014, or Farm Bill, this pilot will allow Turlock Unified School District to utilize a portion of its USDA Foods allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly from local producers, rather than through the USDA Foods program.
“Providing pilot states with more flexibility in the use of their USDA Foods’ dollars offers states another opportunity to provide school children with additional fruits and vegetables from within their own communities,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. “When schools invest food dollars into local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers.”
According to TUSD Child Nutrition Director Scott Soiseth, TUSD is one of 43 school districts in California to be piloting the new program, which effectively increases purchases of locally-grown fruits and vegetables for school meal programs.
“This program will greatly benefit our District because you just can’t beat bringing fresh, local produce to our children and providing that learning experience to them about where their food comes from,” said Soiseth.
To be selected for the pilot, applicants had to have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to farm to school efforts.
TUSD proved to be a perfect fit for the program with its implementation of California Thursdays last year, a program that encourages school districts and allied organizations to serve healthy school meals made with fresh California products.
“We are California and we really want to promote and support California farmers,” said Soiseth in October. “Using Californian foods is less expensive, it is great for the economy, and it is great for the farmer—not to mention the freshness and quality of the food.”
To mark the beginning of the District’s participation in the pilot program, TUSD received $2,700 worth of fresh oranges from SunWest Fruit Company on Tuesday morning.
Located in Parlier out in Fresno County, SunWest Fruit Company is the combined effort of the Britz family, which started farming tree fruit in 1972. A third generation family farming business, SunWest boasts 100 percent California grown fruit.
According to Soiseth, the District will select all of its future producers through Ag Link, which provides a selection of USDA approved sellers and produce.
“Although we have only received oranges so far, we are expecting to receive other fruits and vegetables, such as kiwis and green lettuce,” reported Soiseth. “Next year will be really exciting because we’ll get an assortment of summer fruits, including peaches, nectarines, grapes, and even strawberries.”