Healthy eating plus physical fitness equals a positive lifestyle. It is a concept that has been talked about for years. Fruits and vegetables are an integral part of the equation and a corner stone for National Nutrition Month. Through a number of services, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) ensures that fresh, high-quality produce can reach each and every neighborhood.
USDA knows it is important to develop good eating habits early, so we work with schools to make sure our children fill their plates with quality, wholesome fruits and vegetables. For example, a Memorandum of Understanding between AMS, the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Service (FNCS) and local schools helps introduce fresh, locally-produced foods on school menus. To date, the Produce Safety University (PSU) has taught more than 400 school food service personnel how to safely handle and confidently purchase fresh produce.
The PSU training helps schools successfully meet an increasing demand for more fresh fruits and vegetables on their menus. It does this by teaching things like how to inspect the quality of shipments and store fresh produce. As we prepare to bring this training to an additional 200 people in 2014, we are proud to help schools increase their healthy food options.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also important to provide opportunities for our nation’s farmers to grow the food that we are proud to place on our children’s plates. Through programs like PSU, we strengthen our nation’s rural economies by providing additional outlets for our farmers’ quality products.
AMS provides guidance that helps our farmers meet produce requirements for the USDA Commodity Procurement Program and other bulk food purchasers. Recently, a group of small farmers in Tuskegee, Alabama, took advantage of services from our Specialty Crop Inspection Division, enabling them to attract a major big box retailer. As a result of training that covered topics like how to implement a food safety plan and prepare for a food safety audit, they are now better prepared to meet the requirements of this retailer and possibly others, expanding their financial opportunities.
To help others realize the same good fortune, we hold interactive webinars that provide the basics of some of our services and allow participants to ask our staff questions. Our most recent webinar, Preparing for a Food Safety Audit, introduced more than 200 people to our food safety audit services. Like many in the series, this webinar focused on creating opportunities for small and mid-size farmers and ranchers. Preparing for a Food Safety Audit was designed to help small farmers in the StrikeForce states continue to supply quality produce within their rural communities while also looking to reach new markets all over the country.
Whether it’s National Nutrition Month or any other time of the year, USDA is committed to offering services that expand access to quality, fresh fruits and vegetables. We encourage you to get your fill this month and visit our website to learn more about our services.