WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Peter Welch, D-Vt. today introduced legislation that would improve child nutrition by expanding access to locally-grown, unprocessed fruits and vegetables for school meal programs.
“Getting kids fresh, healthy meals at school sets them up for success in the classroom,” said Jayapal. “The Local School Foods Expansion Act is a commonsense way to benefit both students and local farmers. The pilot program it would extend has been a major success in my home state of Washington, and I’m proud to support this effort expanding it to more communities nationwide. Regardless of zip code, nutritious meals should be available for our kids.”
“Every child should have access to healthy, fresh meals, no matter their ZIP code or their family’s income,” Wyden said. “A fresh nutritious meal is key to students’ academic success and overall well-being which is why I will fight hard to expand innovative and proven child nutrition programs in Oregon and nationwide.”
“Farm to school programs have helped schools in Ohio to connect their students with fresh and nutritious food grown by Ohio farmers,” said Brown. “With the Local School Food Expansion Act, we can expand access to locally grown foods in our school lunchrooms while connecting local farmers with new opportunities to grow their reach and strengthen their business.”
“Healthy, nutritious foods are essential for the wellbeing of our kids and the future of our communities,” said Welch. “This bill will help more kids access locally grown fruits and vegetables and connect our farmers with new markets in their communities. That’s a win for Vermont kids and for our farms. I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this important and much-needed legislation.”
The Local School Foods Expansion Act of 2023 directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a program for at least 14 participating states and school food authorities to buy locally-grown, fresh fruits and vegetables with existing National School Lunch Program funds.
The legislation would expand a successful pilot program Wyden and then-U.S. Representative Peter Welch included in the 2014 Farm Bill. That pilot program helped schools buy and serve a wider variety of fresh produce and ensured schools in participating states have more flexibility to source fresh foods from local vendors. However, the current pilot program is limited to only eight states— California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The Local School Foods Expansion Act of 2023 would establish a permanent program for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables. By making the project permanent, more states and school food authorities will have the flexibility to increase the availability of fresh, healthy foods in school lunches, while developing new relationships with local farmers, growers and producers.
The legislation was led by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden in the Senate and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal in the House.
“Oregon’s students, families, schools, and farmers all benefit when school meals contain local, nutrient-rich produce. The Local School Foods Expansion Act will be remembered as the basis of a new, 21st-century school meal system that deepens our investment in Oregon’s children and local producers,” said David Wieland, Policy Advocate, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.
“The Local School Foods Expansion Act is a critical piece of legislation that will support local farmers, improve student nutrition, and build a more resilient food system. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Wyden, Welch, Brown, and Congresswoman Jayapal this bill will nearly double the number of states that can participate in the Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, which affords schools the flexibility and opportunity to cultivate their own purchasing relationships with local producers. The bill will also provide technical assistance and training to help schools and farmers participate in the program, and it will prioritize small, local, and tribal farmers, who are often disproportionately impacted by systemic inequity. We applaud their leadership and urge Congress to pass this bill and help ensure that all children have access to the healthy, local foods they need to thrive,” said Sunny Baker, Senior Director of Programs and Policy, National Farm to School Network.
“Schools are offering nutritious meals daily to students nationwide and the Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable program has provided an opportunity for more locally grown produce to be incorporated into those meals. We’ve seen this program’s success in building relationships between local growers and schools that go beyond the pilot, and NSAC applauds Senators Wyden, Welch, Brown and Representative Jayapal’s efforts to expand its impact. The Local School Foods Expansion Act will provide more locally grown produce in schools, build the capacity of small and underserved producers, and ensure access to traditional foods for Tribal communities,” said Hannah Quigley, Policy Specialist, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
The text of the bill is here.
A summary is here.
A web version of this release is here.