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Free State In Top Ten In Purchasing Local Foods

March 24th, 2016 by WCBC Radio

Maryland ranks among the top-ten states spending the most—23 percent of its school food budget—on local food products, according to the USDA’s recently released Farm to School Census. Together, Maryland schools spent $18 million on local food products during the 2013-14 school year—more than double the amount recorded in the previous census.

Ninety-five percent of the state’s school districts participated in the survey and 68 percent reported that they participate in Farm to School programs. The target survey included primarily public, private, and charter school districts which receive federal funding from the USDA Child Nutrition programs “It is very encouraging to see Maryland schools and Maryland farms working together and making progress,” said state Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “Farm to School programs provide nourishment to school children and boost our local ag economies. This is a great example of how we can all work together to invest in and strengthen our communities.”

The Farm to School Program encompasses all efforts to bring locally produced foods into school cafeterias, including hands-on learning activities such as farm visits and integrating food-related nutrition and agricultural lessons into the standards-based classroom curriculum. Staff from the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Program and the Maryland State Department of Education, work together throughout the year to link schools with local farms.

“For students, and for everyone else, fresh, local foods can turn a mundane meal into flavorful feast,” said Interim State Superintendent of Schools Jack R. Smith. “Maryland’s Farm to School movement enhances the quality and appeal of our nutritious school meals and educates students on the relationship between health and local agriculture.”
This year’s Farm to School Census contains data collected during the 2013-14 school year. This is the second such census conducted by the USDA to determine the program’s reach and activity level. The first census was conducted in 2011-2012.

Every school district participating in the program purchased local vegetables. Ninety-six percent purchased fruits; 59 percent purchased dairy; and 22 percent purchased meat/poultry. Every participating school district reported that it always served local products at lunch, 70 percent at breakfast, 33 percent at supper, 26 percent with snacks and 30 percent served through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program. Fifty-two percent of the districts surveyed plan to increase local food purchases in the future.

Nationwide, 42 percent of school districts reported having an existing farm to school program, with another 16 percent committed to launching one in the future. At the national level, schools purchased and served more than $790 million in local food—a 105 percent increase from the previous census.

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