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Posts tagged: Farm to School

California Food for California Kids, Especially on Thursdays

California school food service directors cook and then sample new recipes that incorporate California products. (Photo courtesy of Center for Ecoliteracy)

California school food service directors cook and then sample new recipes that incorporate California products. (Photo courtesy of Center for Ecoliteracy)

I collect aprons like other people collect coins. There are dozens hanging in my kitchen, so many I suspect several have never actually been used. So it was with some self-consciousness that I accepted yet another apron last fall from the Center for Ecoliteracy.

The Center was handing out hundreds of aprons to California school food service directors along with recipes for healthy school meals. At the Palm Springs Convention Center, tables were lined with ingredients, tools of the trade such as mixing bowls and measuring cups, and two burner stoves. Our task was to locate our group and get cooking; we’d be making lunch not for hungry children but for hungry conference attendees at the California Food for California Kids conference. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Farm Bill Supports Specialty Crop Growers, Improves Access to Healthy Food

The 2014 Farm Bill has already set in motion and accomplished so much for our country. With historic support for specialty crop producers across the country, the bill will touch every one of our lives through one of the most basic of human needs: food.

Specialty crops make up the bulk of what we eat—all of our fruits and vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits—as well as things like cut flowers and nursery crops. They are half of MyPlate at every meal, and the daily source for most of our vitamins and nutrients. For many in rural America, these crops not only provide nutrition, they are also a primary source of income.

For nearly a decade, USDA supported specialty crop growers across the country through the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) program. These grants enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen rural economies. Read more »

Local Combines with American Grown

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. Read more »

Produce Safety University: Supporting a Healthier Next Generation through School Food Safety!

PSU students interact with a local farmer during one of the program’s field trips.

PSU students interact with a local farmer during one of the program’s field trips.

Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children.  To reinforce that value, USDA is constantly working to ensure that kids are only being served safe, high quality meals.   That’s why we launched Produce Safety University (PSU) in 2010, to address the food safety issues related to fresh produce, particularly as it pertains to school food service.

A joint venture between USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service, PSU conducts five week-long classes each year to instruct school nutrition professionals and State Agency program directors.  The sessions focus on facts about the produce industry, produce safety, and produce use in school foodservice.  Last week we wrapped up our first session of 2014, at this highly informative event in Fredericksburg, Va. Read more »

Farm to School Grants Offer New Opportunities to Serve Healthy Local Foods in School Meals

On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)

On March 7, 2014, students at J.C. Nalle Elementary School sampled three different kinds of spinach. After the taste test, they cast their vote to decide which type they like best. The winner? Spinach salad! (Photo courtesy of D.C. Central Kitchen)

It’s not every day that I get the opportunity to hang out with a group of cool elementary school students.  Which is why I was so excited for the chance to spend a few hours at J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C. You see, it was “Fresh Feature Friday” and D.C. Central Kitchen was coordinating a taste test to see which type of spinach the students like best. “Fresh Feature Friday” is their way of getting kids to try healthy new foods while improving student nutrition and decreasing school food waste.

D.C. Central kitchen manages the school meals program at J.C. Nalle and has been involved with serving healthy school meals for years. In fact, in 2013, the USDA Farm to School Program awarded funds to D.C. Central Kitchen to develop a year round farm to school program. The funds helped purchase school kitchen equipment to process and serve local foods, train staff to prepare school meals using local foods, and develop key partnerships with D.C. Public Schools, the D.C. Farm to School Network, and several regional farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Growing Opportunity for Small and Mid-Sized Farmers and Ranchers

The recent Census of Agriculture shows that there is tremendous potential for growth among the smaller producers that make up the middle of American agriculture, but they need our support to get there.

That can mean a lot of different things. Some small and mid-sized farms and ranches are happy just the way they are, and simply need stability to help them keep afloat during tough times. Others want to grow and expand, but don’t know how to access support that meets their specific needs.

Recognizing these challenges, we have launched a new package of education, credit, technical assistance, and marketing tools and resources geared specifically to small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers. Read more »