The state has created a program that encourages schools to feed students food from New Jersey farms. In doing so, the government is following in the footsteps of what advocates such as Dorothy Mullen, and companies like Nutri-Serve have already been attempting (U.S. 1, August 20).
The set of bills called the “farm-to-school” package, provides incentives to districts that buy fresh food from local farms.
Sponsored by senators Peter J. Barnes III and Jim Beach and signed by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the bills aim to provide healthier meals to students and support local farmers.
“The problem today is that not only are children reluctant to try new foods, but they don’t have access to them at home the same way they do with junk food and processed food,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex, sponsor of four of the bills in the package. “By enhancing our state’s farm to school program, we are providing children with more opportunities for healthy eating by getting lunches packed with fresh fruit and vegetables. Exposing our kids to fresh and healthy food will not only provide them with healthy eating habits that could last a lifetime, but will be teaching them about the importance of farming and sustainable development in our communities.”
“Unfortunately federal school guidelines allow items such as tomato paste on pizza to be considered a vegetable. But items such as ketchup or relish do not provide our school children with the nutrition that is found in fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Senator Beach, D-Camden and Burlington, a sponsor of S-1964 in the bill package. “By easing access for school districts to connect with local farmers to provide fresh from the farm food for our children, we can help to battle childhood obesity, get our kids healthy and create good eating habits.”
The package includes the following laws:
One bill requires the New Jersey Farm to School program to promote partnerships with schools and school districts and the farmers who provide them with fresh foods. The bill also requires the Department of Agriculture to promote the New Jersey Farm to School program on their website.
Another allows taxpayers to voluntarily contribute on their gross income tax return to the “New Jersey Farm to School and School Garden Fund.”
A third bill requires the Department of Agriculture to celebrate schools and school districts that successfully incorporate farm-to-school principles into their school meals and snacks through an annual “Best Farm to School Awards Program.” Consideration for the awards will include innovative use of farm produce and products in schools; outstanding and consistent high levels of nutritional balance; and an increase in students’ awareness of the contribution of farmers and farms to the quality of a school’s meals and snacks.
A fourth bill allows the Department of Agriculture to accept donations towards the Farm to School program.
The last bill directs the Department of Agriculture to create a website similar to an online help-wanted ad that would allow farmers to connect to schools, school districts, and food banks to sell produce or dairy products as part of the Farm to School program.