Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that, as authorized by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the 2008 Farm Bill), USDA will expand assistance to state agencies for schools operating USDA's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) in the 2011/2012 school year.
"Improving the health and nutrition of our kids is a national imperative and by providing schools with fresh fruits and vegetables that expand their healthy options, we are helping our kids to have a brighter, healthier future," says Vilsack. "Every time our kids eat a piece of fruit or a vegetable, they are learning healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime."
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, authorized and funded under Section 19 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and expanded in recent years as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill, operates in selected low-income elementary schools in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This year, USDA plans to provide $158 million in assistance to state agencies. States then select schools to participate based on criteria in the law, including the requirement that each student receives between $50 and $75 worth of fresh produce over the school year.
"The program is highly successful in introducing schoolchildren to a variety of produce they otherwise might not have the opportunity to try," says Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. "I am pleasantly surprised when children tell me it was their first time trying a particular fruit or vegetable. Fortunately children are learning fruits and vegetables are healthy choices and tasty alternatives to snacks high in fat, sugar, or salt."
In January, USDA published a proposed rule to update the nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The standards will significantly increase fruit and vegetables provided at lunch and for the first time, both fruits and vegetables will be served daily.
Depending on enrollment and the allotment spent on each child, USDA estimates the expanded assistance could help schools serve additional 600,000 to 950,000 students in school year 2011-2012.