V.I. public school children will be getting a bit more in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables at school thanks to a small grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, expanded in recent years as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill, operates in selected low-income elementary schools throughout the United States.
This year, USDA plans to provide $158 million in assistance to state agencies. States then select schools to participate based on legal criteria, including the requirement that each student receives between $50 and $75 worth of fresh produce over the school year, according to a USDA statement.
Among the territories, Puerto Rico gets the largest share of the funding, with nearly $1 million, while Guam will get $45,000, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, $27,000, according to USDA.
"The program is highly successful in introducing schoolchildren to a variety of produce they otherwise might not have the opportunity to try," said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in the USDA statement.
“The program works hand in hand with the recently enacted Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which proposes new meal requirements and raises standards toward making critical changes to school meals and improving the health and nutrition of the millions of children that participate in school meal programs every school day,” said Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry in a statement.
“These changes add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk to school meals,” Terry said, adding, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act further gives schools and communities new tools to meet the challenge of providing more nutritious food including increasing school lunch reimbursements and increasing technical assistance.”
According to Terry, the standards will significantly increase fruit and vegetables provided at lunch, and for the first time, both fruits and vegetables will be served daily.
Only a portion of the produce will be purchased locally, said Education Department Spokeswoman Juel Anderson Tuesday.
"We are working with the Department of Agriculture on an ongoing basis, and we hope to facilitate the purchase of fresh produce from local farmers for the school lunch program," said Anderson.
Cucumbers and watermelons are the most purchased local produce items, she said. "But the level of production isn’t where it could be," she said.
There is potential for more, but in the meantime, the school system will be purchasing much of the extra produce through its regular supply channels, she said.