The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

May 8, 2011

School districts buy local products for meals

SUNBURY — Many Valley school districts are ahead of a USDA initiative aimed at encouraging the use of local farm products in school meals.

The idea will let schools give preference to locally grown and locally raised agricultural products as they purchase food for the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable and Summer Food Service programs.

The initiative is also intended to give a much-needed boost to local farmers and agricultural producers.

But Valley farms and companies already harvest business from area school districts.

Said Matt Mitchell, food service director in the Shikellamy School District: “We live here. We try to buy here.”

Buying produce locally benefits students by being “as fresh as it can possibly be,” Mitchell said. “We buy locally as much as we can for that reason. But we also want to support the local economy.”

The district buys produce from Martin’s in Shamokin Dam; bread products from Butter-Krust in Sunbury; and a variety of food products from Rinehart Food Service in Coal Township.

Kevin Oswald, food service director in the Selinsgrove Area School District, also purchases heavily from Valley farms and businesses.

“We buy all our produce from Martin’s and other foods from Rinehart,” he said.

But Oswald also buys apples from a Valley orchard — he declined to identify it — and potato chips from Middleswarth in Middleburg.

“There have not been any rules stating that we had to buy locally,” Oswald said. “It has always been our intention to do so. Now, USDA agrees with us. That’s gratifying.”

Like Oswald and Mitchell, Renee Frederick, food services director for the Warrior Run School District, buys as much as she can locally.

“We have such a great number of choices around here,” she said.

Frederick buys “99 percent of her produce from Whitenight Wholesale Produce in Riverside.”

She also buys from Butter-Krust and uses Feesers Food Distributors, of Harrisburg, for her other needs.

“I’ve been buying food for the district for 10 years,” she said. “And the one thing I’m absolutely certain of — eating fresh is better.”

Officials at the Nutrition Group, of Irwin, who operate the food service for the Line Mountain School District, did not return phone calls.

The push to buy locally is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed into law by President Obama and one of the key provisions to bolster farm-to school programs across the country. It also supports USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, which emphasizes the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

Meanwhile, Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau in Camp Hill, said: “Pennsylvania farmers are encouraged by programs that promote the purchase of locally grown fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products for school students. The diets of school students can vary widely, so we support programs that increase the access of healthy food items to our youth.

“We also back the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program,” he said, because it includes an educational component designed to teach students about farming and reconnects consumers with farmers to learn more about how food is produced and what it takes to get food to the public.

“We hope this program can buttress existing programs initiated by Pennsylvania Farm Bureau,” he said, which brings the message of agriculture to schools across Pennsylvania through six mobile agriculture education science labs and our Ag-in-the-Classroom programs.”

— Email comments to rdandes@dailyitem.com

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