Washington, DC, July 21, 2014 - Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon today announced the release of a Request for Applications from states interested in participating in the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. Under the pilot, up to eight states across five regions will be granted flexibility in using a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to purchase locally-grown unprocessed fruits and vegetables for the National School Lunch Program.
The pilot project will provide State Distributing Agencies (SDAs) in selected states additional flexibility in the procurement of locally-grown unprocessed fruits and vegetables. School food authorities (SFAs) in selected states, or SDAs acting on behalf of participating SFAs, will be permitted to competitively solicit a USDA-approved vendor using USDA Foods National School Lunch Program entitlement funds. SDAs or SFAs will also be able to use pre-existing commercial distribution channels and relationships with growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors. Use of geographic preference, as allowed by FNS regulation, is permitted in the procurement of these products.
"Allowing pilot states to pursue procurement of local fruits and vegetables with their USDA Foods' dollars provides added flexibility," Concannon said. "It offers states an additional opportunity to bolster local farm economies while providing the children who participate in our school meals programs with healthy food from within their own communities. "
When schools invest food dollars into local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers. According to USDA's first-ever Farm to School Census, in school year 2011-2012, schools participating in farm to school activities purchased and served more than $385 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
The Food and Nutrition Service will conduct conference calls in August and September to answer questions and provide technical assistance with the application process to states that wish to apply. Interested SDAs must submit an application no later than Sept. 30, 2014 to be considered for selection beginning in School Year 2014-2015. For a copy of the request and more information about the pilot, please visit www.fns.usda.gov/usda-foods.
In addition to this pilot project, USDA also facilitates incorporating local food into school food programs via the Farm to School Grant Program. The grant program is funded by part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), which authorized and funded USDA to assist eligible entities, through grants and technical assistance, in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. Since its inception in 2013, the USDA's Farm to School grant program has funded 139 projects in 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.
Expanding market opportunities for local food, including in schools, is a cornerstone of the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the Department's policy, resources, and outreach efforts related to local and regional food systems. Secretary Vilsack has identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA's commitment to rural economic development, along with production agriculture (including expanding export markets and improving research), promoting conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities, and growing the biobased economy.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to NSLP, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), The Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the Summer Food Service Program which together comprise America's nutrition safety net.