By MATTHEW D. ERNST
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The traditional fresh produce season in most of this region runs from May-October. In the past, that has presented a problem for farms attempting to market fresh produce to local schools.
But those involved in farm-to-school efforts say the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) has helped improve opportunities for the region’s farms to deliver fresh produce direct to school foodservice. The program provides free summer meals meeting federal nutrition guidelines “to all children 18 years old and under at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentration of low-income children,” according to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.
Approved SFSP sites are not just schools; the program can also fund meals and healthy snacks served through parks and recreation departments as well as nonprofits like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs. In order to receive government funding for the food programs, however, locations must be in areas where 50 percent or more of children are eligible for free or reduced cost school meals.
Glenda Ritz, superintendent of Public Instruction at the Indiana Department of Education, has stated summer foodservice programs help students return to school healthy.
“Good nutrition is essential for learning in school, but hunger does not take a summer vacation,” she said. “I am honored to have the Indiana Department of Education actively involved in these programs. They are critical to the well-being of Indiana’s children.”
Even with such programs creating opportunities to deliver locally-grown produce, it can be difficult for local farms to supply schools and other institutions. “Some smaller farms are starting to figure out ways to consolidate and group products from different farms for delivery to institutional customers,” said Bob White, Retail Agriculture Business specialist at the Indiana Farm Bureau.
Salads in schools
Tom Stenzel thinks there may be a better way to get children to eat their fresh fruits and vegetables – granting schools salad bars.
“All of our preaching is not nearly as effective as putting out four or five beautiful (fresh produce) items and letting the kids choose,” the United Fresh Produce Assoc. president/CEO recently told a group of produce merchandisers in St. Louis.
To make that happen, United Fresh is involved in “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools,” a campaign to place 6,000 six-foot rolling salad bars in schools around the country. Support is provided through the group’s nonprofit affiliate, the United Fresh Foundation. Stenzel said his group has helped place salad bars in about 2,500 schools to date.
“When we introduce kids to four or five choices of fresh fruit and vegetables, they love it,” he said. The fresh produce industry also benefits from kids choosing to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. “Simply by doing the salad bar, we have seen schools double their purchase” of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the Cincinnati public school district, United Fresh helped donate eight salad bars. The district then obtained additional corporate and nonprofit grants to purchase enough salad bars, at a cost of about $3500 each, for each of the district’s 55 schools.