School lunch

It’s been a bad season for farmers to say the least, but there may be a decent bit of news in the works that could benefit them — and their children — for years to come.

U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) recently introduced the Kids Eat Local Act, which, according to a statement from Brown’s office, is aimed at helping increase schools’ access to locally grown foods by providing flexibility around the use of geographic preference in the National School Lunch Program.

According to the statement, if passed, the legislation would make it easier for schools to source “locally grown, locally raised and locally caught” food and farm products for their meal programs.

The National School Lunch Program serves about 30 million children nationwide each day. A 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that schools purchased nearly $780 million a year in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers.

Current law does not allow schools to ask for “local” as a product specification in food procurement requests and while schools are allowed to use a geographic preference option, Brown’s office says that system has “proven to be confusing and burdensome to school food service providers, and is therefore underutilized.”

“Ohio farmers grow some of the best produce in the country,” said Brown. “This legislation will increase locally grown foods in our school lunchrooms while strengthening our farms and rural communities.”

“Local food is fresh, healthy and supports communities,” Collins added. “Current law, however, makes it difficult for schools to purchase ‘locally grown,’ ‘locally raised’ or ‘locally caught’ food to serve to their students. Our common sense legislation would provide greater flexibility for schools; increase students’ access to fresh, local food; and create new markets for our agricultural families, farmers and fishermen.”

The Kids Eat Local Act is supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, FoodCorps, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Farm to School Network, the National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Slow Food USA.

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