Whether it’s trying on a new pair of shoes or eating a new item from your favorite restaurant, there’s always a feeling of excitement when you try something new. Here at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we get that same feeling when we are able to create new opportunities for our nation’s producers. That’s why we’re excited to announce that AMS and our sister agency—the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)—have launched a new pilot program for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables.
The new pilot program—established by the 2014 Farm Bill—is part of USDA’s continued commitment to create and expand opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers. The pilot will open doors for American producers, giving them an additional opportunity to supply quality, fresh fruits and vegetables to schools in up to eight states.
In addition to helping American producers, the program will allow schools to purchase unprocessed produce from eligible suppliers with entitlement funding, while leveraging pre-existing commercial distribution channels and existing school relationships with growers, produce wholesalers and distributors. And, although the pilot doesn’t limit the produce to just local purchases, it does offer an opportunity for schools to expand their use of locally-produced fruits and vegetables. With Farm to School Census results showing that 56% of school districts that bought local food would like to buy more in the future, the ability to purchase more local foods is an important aspect of the new program.
As with any great new menu item, USDA is ready to spread the word. FNS invited states to apply to participate in the pilot by Sept. 30, 2014. AMS is accepting applications for eligible vendors on a rolling basis, but we encourage people to begin the process as soon as possible so that their applications can be reviewed and approved well in advance.
Both agencies recently held conference calls—one for states and school food authorities and another for respective vendors looking to supply food. These conference calls are one of many ways that USDA will be transparent about the process and the opportunities that are available through the pilot program.
USDA remains committed to finding new ways for people to enjoy the quality products grown by our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers. We are also excited about the opportunities created by the pilot and the quality foods it will help bring to our nation’s school children. USDA will continue working with the produce industry and our nation’s schools to build on this successful partnership.