More schools committing to buying locally produced foods

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The number of school districts committing to purchasing local fruits and vegetables has increased to 134 districts in 24 counties across the state, according to the Office of General Services, which oversees a federal pilot program that provides funding.

OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito announced that the participating school districts have committed to spending at least $2.1 million in USDA funds toward the federal agency’s Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables during the 2016-2017 school year.

This represents a 320 percent increase over the $500,000 commitment by schools in the current school year and a drastic increase over the $10,000 allocated midway through the 2014-2015 school year, when just six school districts agreed to test the program.

The pilot program allows schools in selected states, such as New York, to use some of their USDA allocation to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables directly from the vendors. Another benefit of the program is that it gives schools using USDA funds the flexibility to order food from their vendors when and how they need it instead of having to order it months ahead of time.

“As we plan for the third year of the pilot, we are excited to see a growing commitment by schools throughout the state to this program and the creation of new relationships between them and the growers, distributors and sellers of produce.”

The amount of USDA funds school districts receive is based on the number of lunches they serve.

There are currently 18 vendors on the USDA-approved vendor list that are eligible to participate in the pilot in New York state. Those vendors include farmers, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors.

With the hope that the USDA will turn the pilot into a permanent program, OGS has worked with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the USDA, school districts, and representatives of the state’s agricultural industry to ensure the pilot’s success. Efforts are ongoing to grow interest in the pilot and get more schools and food vendors to participate.

The 134 school districts scheduled to participate in the pilot during the 2016-2017 school year are located in Alleghany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Nassau, Niagara, Ontario, Orange, Orleans, Oswego, Rensselaer, Rockland, Seneca, Suffolk, Sullivan, Tioga, Ulster, Wayne, Westchester, Wyoming, and Yates counties.