Over 600,000 low-income elementary students nationwide will be receiving fresh food in the 2011-2012 school year after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced March 23 that it will be expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The program received a funding increase of $48 million—a nearly 40 percent jump from the previous year—for a total of $158 million in funding. The program, which was established in 2008, supports local farms while also promoting healthy eating habits to impoverished students.
The funding will be provided to state agencies that will then select participating schools based on certain criteria. The program mandates that schools distribute healthy snacks at least two days per week and that each child receive between $50 and $75 of fresh produce over the year. Schools purchase the produce and are then reimbursed by their state education agency.
“The main goal is to target underprivileged students that don’t necessarily get exposed to fresh produce and increase their consumption,” says Alicia Dill, public health nutritionist with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
The grants correspond with national movements, as well. “This program does coincide with efforts from the federal government to improve the school health environment by providing healthy foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables,” said Leslie Lytle, a member of the Dannon Institute’s board of directors.
The program is not directly associated with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed last December to increase funding to school lunch and breakfast programs by $4.5 billion over 10 years, although both acts have parallel goals of improving nutrition for low- income students. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program also corresponds with national efforts to end childhood obesity.