Quickly assembling tortilla wraps for hungry students is a hard job. I learned this first hand recently at Stone Spring Elementary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Mary Lou, Ott and Jean, the cafeteria staff responsible for preparing and serving school meals every day, took control of the kitchen, quickly assembling 300 turkey wraps while I clumsily tried to keep up.
But while I found the prep work to be challenging, I learned that products from USDA, such as the lean turkey in the wraps, make it easier for schools to buy local foods. USDA purchases over $1 billion of food from American farmers for school meal programs every year. Known as USDA Foods, these American grown products include fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, lean meats and poultry.
Because USDA buys these products for thousands of school districts at a time, we’re able to secure very competitive prices and make them available to schools at considerably better prices than what they might otherwise pay. Schools that get items from USDA Foods that would have cost much more on the open market, like low-fat cheese and meats, can use the cost savings to allocate more of their school food budget toward local purchases. The turkey wraps we made that day are a perfect example. We combined USDA Foods lower sodium cheese, turkey, and whole wheat tortillas with local, hydroponic Bibb lettuce from a grower just 10 miles from the school!
After prepping wraps for the elementary school I headed off to lunch at a local high school with Andrea Early, School Nutrition Director at Harrisonburg City Public Schools. I chose a salad, tomato soup, hummus, and a delicious, warm, fluffy roll with just a touch of sweetness. The roll was made from scratch that morning, using a combination of USDA Foods enriched flour and whole-wheat flour from Wade’s Mill, a mill about 50 miles away that has been churning out flour since the 1800’s.
Andrea stressed, “Maximizing my use of USDA Foods allows me to pay a bit more for local products. The products from USDA are a wonderful complement to our local buying.”
She makes it look easy. For more ideas about how schools can use USDA Foods to meet local purchasing goals and how the Department is fostering a healthier next generation, check out USDA Foods: A Resource for Buying Local.
To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for our Farm to School E-letter.