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USDA Rule Encourages Local Food for School Meals

A new federal rule will give preference in contract bidding for school meals to local farm products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week.

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The final rule, published in the Federal Register, is intended to break down barriers that have so far prevented or discouraged schools from using locally grown or raised agricultural products, and also give an economic boost to local farmers and ranchers, USDA said in a news release.

USDA is sending teams to select districts to work on farm-to-school issues, not only to look at locally sourced products but also nutrition-based studies and food literacy opportunities such as farm visits, gardening, cooking and composting instruction.

The new “buy local” rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 President Obama signed into law in December. Along with new nutrition standards, one of its key provisions is to bolster farm-to-school programs nationwide in purchasing food for the government-subsidized National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Child and Adult Care, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, and Summer Food Service programs.

The effort builds on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides for increases and flexibility for USDA programs to revitalize rural economies by supporting local food systems. The ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program is supposed to create economic opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities, and at the same time expand children’s access to healthy food.

USDA says it expects consumer demand for locally grown food in the U.S. to rise from an estimated $4 billion in 2002 to as much as $7 billion by 2012.

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