Opinion: School Meal Move A Win-Win For Growers

Lisa Lochridge

At FFVA’s board of directors meeting in January, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam outlined new efforts under way by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services now that it is overseeing the school food and nutrition programs. Under the Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act, which became effective Jan. 1, the department now has the ability to educate students on nutrition and ensure they have access to the healthful products provided by fresh fruit and vegetable producers throughout the state.

From a big-picture standpoint, Putnam explained, children benefit because the quality of their school meals will improve and they will learn healthy-eating habits that can last a lifetime. Diseases attributed to obesity and poor eating habits (high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease) are a major contributor to soaring health-care costs.

The good news for growers, he said, is that it creates powerful opportunities for new markets. “We now have the real estate of the lunchroom in the schools of Florida 180 days a year to tell our story and build it into the lesson plans,” he said. “There are unlimited possibilities in terms of the things we do and the partnerships we build.”

A Side Of Synchronicity

The timing couldn’t be better. The federal government’s new dietary guidelines call for half of the plate to be vegetables and fruits. First Lady Michelle Obama has taken aim at child obesity with her “Let’s Move” program, which focuses on healthy eating and physical activity. There’s significant interest by consumers in eating food that is produced domestically, regionally, or locally. And more recently, the USDA released new rules that require more fruits and vegetables to be served in school breakfasts and lunches. School districts that meet the guidelines will receive an additional 6¢ of federal reimbursement for each meal. All of those factors provide the perfect backdrop to propel the Agriculture Department’s efforts to success.

Specialty crop producers will have the opportunity to develop a loyal customer base among school districts, which feed 2.5 million children every day, and in many cases twice a day, in addition to summer feeding programs.

Field To Fork

The Department’s work has just begun, and it won’t be easy. Procurement isn’t unified. Each school district’s foodservice director operates independently. The team Putnam has put in place is meeting with stakeholders, gathering information, listening, and learning so they can get this right. One of the biggest challenges is to “solve the distribution riddle,” as Putnam puts it. “I know you all can grow it, and the kids will eat it. Getting it there in the right form … that’s the trick. We have an advisory group that’s tackling nothing but that,” he said.

Besides a more centralized approach to purchasing, another key goal is to help school district buyers understand what’s in season when in Florida. Robin Safley, director of the school food and nutrition programs, detailed to the FFVA board what the Department has been doing since she came on board last September. “We spent a lot of time in the fall understanding the [procurement] system. No one from the government had gone to the districts and asked, ‘What can we do to help you?’”

Safley and her team are conducting a survey to better understand the school districts’ purchasing power — what they are buying in what quantities, pack size, and the distribution system. “We want to figure out what’s happening on the ground and how to make it consistent,” she explained.

That’s where growers can help, she said. Industry input is needed about what will work and what won’t.

Mike Stuart, FFVA president, pointed out that Putnam is not new to child nutrition. “It’s something he’s been working on a long time,” he said. “When he was in Congress, we spent a lot of time working with him on child nutrition reauthorization. He’s been a big supporter of the [USDA] Fruit and Vegetable Program,” which makes free fruit and vegetable snacks available to school children.

FFVA will look for ways to assist in growing this new market.

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
sprayer applying bactericides to citrus trees
Insect & Disease Update
January 24, 2017
New Product Called on to Defend Citrus From Scourge
Mycoshield is a bactericide approved to take aim at HLB-infected trees. Read More
Port Tampa Bay shipping channel
Citrus
January 24, 2017
Trump Withdraws U.S. From Trans-Pacific Partnership
Fresh produce export market to hit a wall with signing of executive order. Read More
Vegetables
January 23, 2017
The Northwest Has the Most Growers Under 55 Years Old
Survey respondents in the Northwest are more likely to grow organically, avoid genetically modified crops [GMOs], and more likely to Read More
Insect & Disease Update
January 23, 2017
California Lands $5 Million for Citrus Greening Research
The USDA grant will be used to create and identify possible solutions for a cure. Read More
Postbloom Fruit Drop symptoms on Florida ctirus
Insect & Disease Update
January 23, 2017
Florida Citrus Growers on Alert for Postbloom Fruit Drop
After the worst outbreak in years, growers should be wary of this disorder. Read More
More Vegetables
January 23, 2017
California Garlic Grower to Raise Minimum Wage 30% by Next Year
Christopher Ranch commits to $15 per hour minimum wages for all employees by 2018. Read More
GenNext Growers
January 21, 2017
$8.8M Available to Support Ag Programs at Hispanic-Serving Institutions
Grants designed to attract, retain students in agricultural fields. Read More
a trio of peaches
Fruits
January 20, 2017
Insecticide Label Expanded to Many Specialty Crops
Sivanto Prime from Bayer can now be used in foliar form on stone fruit and caneberries, and for soil use on leafy and brassica vegetables. Read More
Cucurbits
January 20, 2017
Renowned Researcher Margaret McGrath Receives Cornell’s Excellence in IPM Award 
A plant pathologist, McGrath’s expertise has helped both organic and conventional growers fight late blight, downy mildew, and others.  Read More
Grapes
January 20, 2017
Live Reports on the State of the Wine Industry
The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, by far the nation’s largest winegrape conference, is happening this week in Sacramento, CA. Read More
The Latest
Insect & Disease Update
January 24, 2017
New Product Called on to Defend Citrus F…
Mycoshield is a bactericide approved to take aim at HLB-infected trees. Read More
Citrus
January 24, 2017
Trump Withdraws U.S. From Trans-Pacific …
Fresh produce export market to hit a wall with signing of executive order. Read More
Vegetables
January 23, 2017
The Northwest Has the Most Growers Under…
Survey respondents in the Northwest are more likely to grow organically, avoid genetically modified crops [GMOs], and more likely to Read More
Insect & Disease Update
January 23, 2017
California Lands $5 Million for Citrus G…
The USDA grant will be used to create and identify possible solutions for a cure. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
January 23, 2017
Florida Citrus Growers on Alert for Post…
After the worst outbreak in years, growers should be wary of this disorder. Read More
More Vegetables
January 23, 2017
California Garlic Grower to Raise Minimu…
Christopher Ranch commits to $15 per hour minimum wages for all employees by 2018. Read More
GenNext Growers
January 21, 2017
$8.8M Available to Support Ag Programs a…
Grants designed to attract, retain students in agricultural fields. Read More
Fruits
January 20, 2017
Insecticide Label Expanded to Many Speci…
Sivanto Prime from Bayer can now be used in foliar form on stone fruit and caneberries, and for soil use on leafy and brassica vegetables. Read More
Cucurbits
January 20, 2017
Renowned Researcher Margaret McGrath Rec…
A plant pathologist, McGrath’s expertise has helped both organic and conventional growers fight late blight, downy mildew, and others.  Read More
Grapes
January 20, 2017
Live Reports on the State of the Wine In…
The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, by far the nation’s largest winegrape conference, is happening this week in Sacramento, CA. Read More
Farm Marketing
January 20, 2017
Direct Marketing Revenue Topped $8 Billi…
USDA has released its first-ever survey on direct marketing, and it shows that the local food industry is huge. Read More
Citrus
January 20, 2017
Farming Will Always Have a Place in Flor…
Growers are resilient and agriculture will survive in our state and elsewhere. It has to, if we want food on our plates. Read More
Disease Control
January 20, 2017
Don’t Let Stemphylium Leaf Spot St…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this vegetable disease. Read More
Disease Control
January 19, 2017
Clues Found to Block Late Blight’s…
With food security at stake, breakthrough in genetic research could help prevent more strains of the deadly pathogen from entering the U.S. Read More
Grapes
January 19, 2017
U.S. Challenges Canadian Trade Measures …
Trade enforcement action challenges British Columbia regulations that unfairly exclude U.S. wine from grocery store shelves. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
Trump Taps Sonny Perdue for Secretary of…
Ag leaders applaud pick to head up USDA. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New York Representatives Introduce Bill …
Legislators say the move aligns the program in the department to better fit the needs of agriculture businesses. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel …
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More