School districts, farmers working on plan
Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 8:12 pm
By: By The Associated Press
The Messenger 02.07.12
MEMPHIS (AP) — Farmers in West Tennessee are working on a plan to get local produce on lunch menus at Memphis City Schools by fall.
The school district has said it intends to spend $10 million for regional produce next year instead of getting its supply from the federal commodity program and commercial vendors.
David Levy of Willow Oaks Flower Farm in Brownsville told The Commercial Appeal that it’s a great opportunity for small farmers in the area (http://bit.ly/AgC7m3 ).
“I haven’t seen an opportunity like this in a long time,” he said. “If small farmers don’t step up, the mega farmers will.”
Farmers interested in participating met last month with state school nutrition experts to come up with a plan that could put regional produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, collard greens and maybe even strawberries on lunch trays.
Growers from as far away as the Florida Panhandle attended the meeting at the Central Nutrition Center, which included discussion about the benefits and obstacles of contracting with schools.
Farmers said they have wanted to contract with school lunch programs for a long time.
“They’ve been afraid of safety issues, the logistics and the liability,” said Sarah White, head of the state’s school nutrition program. “I think what they are seeing is this is much more of a reality than they thought.”
The deal-maker for Levy is the new head of MCS’ school lunch program. Tony Geraci, who was named to the position in October, is known for bringing local produce to the Baltimore Public Schools when he was director of food service there.
Another incentive is changes that were announced recently for the school nutrition program.
Beginning in July, students must be offered a half-cup of a fruit or vegetable as one of three choices. The change means school districts will double what they spend on produce.
Phyllis Hodges with the school nutrition program in the state Department of Education said there isn’t a firm plan yet on how the program will work.
“It’s possible a farmer could sell to one school or to all 190 in Memphis City Schools,” she said.
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com