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Posts tagged: Farm to School

On the Road to the School Nutrition Association Conference

Next week, I, along with dozens of staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have the pleasure of joining thousands of school nutrition professionals, members of the public health community, and food industry representatives in Boston at the 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association (SNA).  This annual event provides an opportunity for stakeholders in the school nutrition community to network, gain ideas, and learn from one another.

As a past president of SNA myself, I look forward to this meeting each year.  Being surrounded by dedicated nutrition professionals who all want to make sure we are providing the best possible support to our nation’s children, and hearing about all the creative approaches schools are using to successfully serve healthy school meals is quite a treat.  I am excited to be able to meet with members of the community one-on-one, and hear firsthand about their successes, as well as their challenges.  I also look forward to speaking to the larger audience during the second general session on Tuesday.  My USDA colleagues will be on-hand throughout the conference to gather more feedback and provide additional information, technical assistance and other support to school nutrition professionals. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Local Markets, Local Growth

Many consumers want to “buy local” and support their local economy with their purchases. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture results indicate that nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. Today, local food is a more than $7 billion industry and growing, according to industry estimates. The excitement around this market is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life. Read more »

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 »