WASHINGTON — An additional 950,000 students could be snacking on free fruits and vegetables at school next year, bumping up the number to 4 million children nationwide, under grants announced March 23 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund its popular Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program.
The 2008 farm bill expanded funds for the fruit and vegetable snack program to $158 million for the 2011-12 school year from $49 million the first year. States grant funds to low-income elementary schools, where each student receives between $50 and $75 worth of fresh produce over the course of the school year.
“Improving the health and nutrition of our kids is a national imperative and by providing schools with fresh fruits and vegetables that expand their healthy options, we are helping our kids to have a brighter, healthier future,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a March 22 statement.
The produce industry has been a leading advocate for the program on Capitol Hill.
The $158 million means that the funds will reach a lot more students next year, according to Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association.
USDA announced the amount of money that will go to each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The grants range from $10.8 million for California schools to $27,167 in the Virgin Islands.
“Industry pays attention to that because it gives them an opportunity in each state,” Ms. DiSogra said. “Then they do marketing and sales outreach to the schools.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also praised USDA’s rollout of new funds.
“By making more fresh fruits and vegetables available in our schools, we will begin to address the obesity epidemic by helping eliminate the junk food in our schools, and providing kids with better food choices,” she said in announcing that her state would receive $2.4 million for the program. “These critical funds will help our kids get the nutritious foods they need to stay healthy and to grow, learn and succeed.”