Bill sent to governor would encourage schools to buy local food



Both houses of the Legislature have passed a bill that would make it easier for school districts to buy local food for their lunch programs.

Specifically, the bill amends general municipal law to allow school districts to purchase food from small producer and grower associations or to make purchases of less than $25,000 without applying for permission from the commissioner of education.

The goal of the bill (S.6731/A.6182), sponsored by Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst, and Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Theresa, is to make it easier to provide healthier and fresher food to students.

In 2013, New York state-backed the development of food hubs, which encourage farmers to work together cooperatively to grow and produce food to lower production and distribution costs. The bill recently passed by the Legislature fosters the development of smaller farms by allowing these collaborating family farm operations to sell to local school districts by making the process clearer and more efficient.

The bill has already been delivered to the governor to be signed or vetoed. The new law would take effect immediately.

A similar bill (A.5445) sponsored by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, would require that school districts, when purchasing food products, give preference to products grown, produced or harvested in New York state and also requires that preference is given to foods processed in facilities located in New York.

To help promote local products, the current purchasing requirements would be waived if the cost of the food product is not reasonably competitive or if the products are not available in sufficient quantity.

By requiring schools to procure food locally, or from within the state, they will be providing healthy diets with access to farm-fresh produce while contributing to the local and statewide economy.

There is no Senate version of that bill, which has three co-sponsors and resides in the Assembly Education Committee.