USDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals

USDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals
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Strong farm-to-school programs are increasing student participation in breakfast and lunch programs and reducing how much food ends up in the trash, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

According to the preliminary Farm to School Census data from the 2013-2014 school year released Tuesday, 75 percent of schools with farm-to-school programs reported seeing at least one positive benefit — either reduced plate waste, better acceptance of healthier meals, increased participation in school meal programs, lower school meal program costs or more support from parents and community members.

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The USDA said there are 42,000 schools with farm-to-school programs operating in conjunction with the National School Lunch Program and other school meal programs. 

“Farm to school partnerships have a proven track record of encouraging kids to try, like and eat more healthy foods and creating new market opportunities for the farmers that grow them," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a Tuesday news release.

The data also showed that schools purchased nearly $600 million worth of food locally in the 2013-2014 school year, a 55 percent increase over the 2011-2012 school year when the first Farm to School Census was conducted.

Vilsack said the data is another reason why Congress should act quickly and reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, adding that the law not only helps schools fund school meal programs but makes the meals healthier.