Florida Agriculture Department To Oversee School Lunches
By Ed Pierce // April 12, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – Florida has become just the third state in America to give oversight of school menus to the state department of agriculture.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced the change, joining Texas and New Jersey as states who have taken control of school lunches away from the department of education.
In an effort to include more Florida produce in the preparation of school meals, Putnam led an initiative to transfer control of the school lunch programs.
In a news release, Putnam said he hopes this leads to a radical modification of school cuisine.
“By directing more fresh fruits and vegetables to our schools, we will help pave the way for healthier eating habits and active lifestyles among our youngest residents, creating a better and brighter Florida for generations to come,” he said.
Florida received a three-year waiver from the USDA to permit the state agriculture department to assume control of school menus after a bill creating the new set-up sailed through the state legislature this winter.
In granting the waiver, the USDA pledged to review oversight of the program throughout the entire three-year of the waiver.
When it comes to growing fruits and vegetables for markets, Florida tops all states in the production of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, sugarcane, squash, watermelons, sweet corn, snap beans and tomatoes.
The state also ranks second in America in the production of strawberries, bell peppers and cucumbers.
In Brevard County alone, edible products grown locally accounted for more than $47 million in sales in 2010, the last year sales figures were available for tracking.
Originally public school lunch programs were based upon offering high-caloric foods to help eradicate malnutrition.
But over the years, childhood obesity has become epidemic and an uptick in kids with vitamin deficiencies has been reported.
And yet as health risks rise for children, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that less than 25 percent of students nationally eat fruits and vegetables five or more times a day,
Putnam’s goal is to consolidate supervision of school lunch programs and create healthier menus for students using products grown in the state,
“As the agency responsible for ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of Florida’s food supply, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the most experienced and best positioned to manage Florida’s school food and nutrition programs,” Putnam said. “In a state where fresh fruits and vegetables are in abundance, there is an opportunity for us to offer more high-quality, nutritious foods to schools and public assistance programs. Through school food and nutrition programs, we will seek to expand access to these healthy eating options.”