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Texas school districts seeking more locally-produced food

AUSTIN -- The Texas Department of Agriculture hopes to continue expanding its Farm Fresh initiative, bringing locally sourced food to school meals, an area highlighted at the 2-day Business of Numbers and Nutrition Conference in Austin.

"We now have over 1.7 million school kids getting fresh, locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy, so we thought we'd bring all of our partners together in a collaboration," Commissioner Sid Miller said.

Producers met with nutritionists from across the state to learn about ways to provide students with more locally grown food. Dani Sheffield, executive director of child nutrition services at Aldine ISD, said her district educates the community on its efforts.

"In my opinion, that's becoming more important than the food because I believe nutrition cannot be forced," she said. "It has to be learned."

It's a partnership that helps both sides of the equation.

"It's really important for the schools, because the child obviously gets nutritious vegetables, but it's obviously important for the people that produce vegetables and other products to have the schools as a resource of revenue for them," said Michael Mosley, with Johnson's Backyard Garden in Austin.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working in conjunction with the Texas Department of Agriculture on the Farm Fresh program.

"We want to make sure all children in the state of Texas have access to food that's grown right in their backyard," Eddie Longoria with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. "In Texas, that's the entire state of Texas. That can be anything that grows in the ground to something that's an animal that we eat. It's all beef, pork, poultry, anything you can possibly think of."

About 40 percent of Texas schools are involved in the initiative so far. Miller says this is the first time Farm Fresh is a part of the summer meal program.

"It can be churches, it can be YMCAs," he said. "It may be all sorts of people partnering with us."

The Texas Department of Agriculture plans to dedicate the month of October to promote the Farm Fresh program. Last year, that effort led to schools buying $5 million worth of local food, according to Miller.


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