Wednesday, August 12, 2015

USDA program brings more locally grown foods into schools

WSDA Farm to School      

Washington is one of eight states selected to participate in the USDA Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables.  The Pilot, mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill, enables schools to use their USDA entitlement dollars to buy more locally-grown, minimally processed produce. In recent years, schools could only use this money to buy fresh produce from a single designated contractor.

The Pilot Project allows them to use their USDA Foods budget to buy from a wider variety of vendors, encouraging schools to buy from regional farms and distributors, and allowing schools flexibility in the food they offer their students. 

Under the Pilot, schools can purchase fruits and vegetables that are “unprocessed” or “minimally” processed. Sliced, diced, chopped, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are acceptable. Heated-treated processing such as canning or pickling is not allowed. Schools can still buy these products with their other funds, just not through the pilot.
WSDA Farm to School table at the Washington State 
Nutrition Association Conference

Already, Washington schools have set aside more than $1 million of this USDA funding for purchases made possible by the Pilot Project. WSDA is working to recruit and support farms, distributors, and processors to become approved vendors and to help schools buy through the pilot.

Every year, school nutrition directors and food service staff from across the state gather at the Washington State Nutrition Association Conference for education and meetings. I attended the conference on July 27, along with Tricia Kovacs, Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School manager. We were there to join Jim Hemmen and Donna Parsons from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to educate schools about how to participate in the Pilot Project and what to expect. We found a lot of interest in the pilot project, but also a lot of questions on the nuts and bolts of buying food from local farmers.

The good news is that participation is relatively easy for schools, since USDA approves the vendors and pays for the food, and standard procurement rules and practices apply. There are 32 school districts currently participating and sign-up is open through December 2015. 

Schools interested should contact Jim Hemmen, Child Nutrition Services, OSPI, (360)-725-6209 or for more information.

If schools need help with buying local, see A School’s Guide to Purchasing Washington-grown Food, developed by WSDA’s Farm to School team and partners from Public Health – Seattle & King County, Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network and Washington Environmental Council. Funds came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

See our Farm to School Toolkit or email us at for more information.