Urging school nutrition programs to buy locally-produced foods

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- School nutrition programs are being called on to increase annual statewide local food purchases to at least $22 million by 2022.

Virginia First Lady Pamela Northam and other state officials recently announced the goal that would connect schools to Virginia growers.

“Serving locally-grown food products in our schools is a great opportunity to connect our exceptional agricultural resources with Virginia greatest resources, our children,” she said. “Children benefit from wholesome and fresh food to nourish their growing brains and bodies while leaning the importance of agriculture and food production in their communities and across Virginia.”

Since 2014, local food purchases by schools in the Commonwealth have at least doubled to $15.4 million in 2017.

The Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have attributed much of the growth to the increasing popularity of farm-to-school programs.

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni says there are more than 500 schools with gardens in Virginia where students are growing food for their own cafeterias.

And Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring says farm-to-school programs are creating expanding markets for farmers in the Commonwealth.

“Farm-to-school program help students understand that food comes from farms, not grocery stores, and that their well-being is very much dependent on the vitality of our agricultural sector,” said VDACS Commissioner Jewel H. Bronaugh, who explains most students are three or four generations removed from family farm life.

There is an ongoing series of meetings being held across Virginia to help develop regional plans to reach the $22 million goal. These meetings are open to farmers, educators, school nutrition professionals, school administrators, community members, parents and students.

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