Archive for USDA

Exclusive Interview with Kathleen Merrigan: Farm to School Movement Comes of Age

It’s a big day for the farm to school movement. At the 2011 School Nutrition Association national convention in Nashville today, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a comprehensive, groundbreaking report on the current state of farm to school efforts around the country. Download the full report here.

The data in the report was complied by the USDA Farm to School Team (comprised of both Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) staff), which made visits to 15 school districts (over what time frame) in a wide range of states. Merrigan spoke with Civil Eats earlier today about the findings and how it might shape the farm to school landscape of the future. read more…

$1 Million Grant Funds WSU Extension ‘Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth’ Project

WSU Extension is the lead institution on a new “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” project funded by a $1 million grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. The grant was announced today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Aimed at reducing childhood obesity and improving nutrition, the pilot project spans four states, will serve an estimated 2,800 students at 70 elementary schools, and will engage low-income students in the physical activity involved in growing food and learning life skills. The Cooperative Extension Services of Iowa State University, Cornell University, and the University of Arkansas are collaborating with WSU Extension on the project.

“School gardens hold great promise for educating our kids about food production and nutrition,” said Vilsack. “Learning where food comes from and what fresh food tastes like, and the pride of growing and serving your own fruits and vegetables, are life-changing experiences. Engaging kids in our efforts to end childhood hunger and curb childhood obesity is critical if we are going to succeed.” read more…

USDA Challenged by Child Nutrition Overhaul

Now that the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act has become law, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be challenged to put policy theory into practice expeditiously and fairly. The Department will be called on to address meal standards, restrictions on junk food, direct purchases of farm goods, and numerous other issues in the course of implementing the Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Undoubtedly one of the most contentious issues will be revised nutrition standards for school and childcare meals, standards that directly address America’s child obesity epidemic. For the first time in 30 years, USDA has been given the authority to regulate the availability and quality of all foods served on a school campus during the entire school day, along with an extra six cents per meal for upgrading the menu. However, the National School Boards Association is already saying that “the actual increased cost of compliance” will require twice as much money as the Act provides. read more…

More schools trying to serve Washington-grown food — but it isn’t easy

Aahh, the Snoqualmie Valley. All that fertile land. All those vegetables. All that …

Wait a minute, parents inevitably wonder: Shouldn’t that blushing-fresh produce be winding up in my kid’s lunchroom?

Tricia Kovacs is here to tell you it is. Or, at least, it is in some schools. Sometimes.

Kovacs is in charge of the state’s Farm-to-School Program, which was created in 2008 by legislation intended to make it easier to get more local food into school cafeterias. In recent years, Kovacs said, more and more schools have been putting Washington-grown food on the menu. Farms, too, are increasingly interested in selling to schools.

Still, while all that produce may be only a few miles away, getting it onto lunch trays is no easy matter. Even proponents concede it can be a logistical feat. And with astonishingly tight lunch budgets, even spending a few more pennies on an apple can push it out of reach.

“The things that are stopping people are real challenges,” Kovacs said. “But we also are learning every day ways school districts and farms have found to overcome some of them.”

One of the biggest changes is in attitudes. It used to be just parents and food advocates were the ones pushing for local food. Today, even the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on it, with proposed changes to purchasing rules and even farm-to-school webinars to show how it can be done.

“It’s very active right now from the national level down to the local level,” Kovacs said. “It used to feel like the schools needed to be pushed. Now I’m hearing from schools and they’re so excited.”

How many schools serve local food? Numbers just don’t exist — yet (Kovacs said she’s working on a survey).

What she does know, however, is that this year, dozens of school districts on Wednesday will join in on Taste Washington Day, an event organized by Kovacs’ program and the Washington School Nutrition Association. Schools are free to participate, or not. The idea is simply to feature Washington-grown items on school menus.

That’s good for both the kids and the farms, Kovacs said.

First of all, local produce tastes better than something from afar, which means kids will eat more of it, she believes. It also boosts the local economy and helps farmers. read more…

Schools Challenged to be Healthier

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is prodding schools to do a better job of promoting meal participation, meal quality, nutrition education, and physical activity through its HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) initiative. The program was established to recognize schools that are creating healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and physical activity.

Four levels of superior performance are awarded: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Gold of Distinction. Schools can participate in this model program by going to the HUSSC web page to learn about the range of educational and technical assistance materials that promote key aspects of the Dietary Guidelines. The website includes a menu planner for healthy school meals, and provides tips on serving more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and lower amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated and trans fats in school menus. USDA hopes to qualify and recognize some 3,000 schools meeting the challenge within the next three years. For details, visit HealthierUS School Challenge.