Adam Putnam Ready to Deliver Farm-Fresh Florida Food to Schoolchildren
Around the State
Putnam says the fact that his department, rather than the Department of Education, is now in charge of lunches will provide a double benefit: It will help provide better sources of nutrition to Florida's schoolchildren and support local farms, too.
Schools play a vital role in shaping and improving children's eating habits, say nutrition experts. Hundreds of schools in Florida provide one or two meals daily to millions of children. Sadly, for some of those children, the meals they get at school are their only meals.
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act (SB 1312) into law. The bill was sponsored by Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, in the Senate.
The Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act will permit the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to educate students on health and nutrition. "We’re going to help Florida’s children build healthier eating habits. And we’re going to take on the challenges of the childhood obesity epidemic," Putnam said in a statement on the signing of the Healthy Schools act.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, this new act will encourage school districts to demonstrate a preference for competitively priced organic food products. It will improve children's access to nutritious food, especially for lower-income students who are reliant on the school lunch program.
"If we are successful, and we certainly intend to be successful, (children) will see higher numbers of servings of fresh fruits and vegetables from Florida," said Putnam. "Over time, I would like to build an infrastructure where you're seeing a lot more fresh salad bars in the school system, particularly for the older grades."
The Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act is similar to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Farmers' Market Salad Bar, launched in 1999.
In 1998, a public health research team led by Drs. Wendy Slusser and Charlotte Newman found that among students at 14 low-income elementary schools in LAUSD, 40 percent of the students were obese. Their research resulted in the first launch of fresh produce from local farmers to schools.
In Florida, Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest school district in the country, initiated a Farm to School pilot program in 2009. The Miami-Dade County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Department has been serving Florida-grown fruits and vegetables through the school meal program ever since.
"We are purchasing locally grown produce for this pilot program as well as for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program that provides a snack three times per week and for the districtwide menu when the produce is available in the quantities we need and the cost is affordable," said Carol Chong, director of food and menu management at the Department of Food and Nutrition for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
"The hope is to positively impact the economic status of our community by increasing the need for fresh, locally grown produce, because this would increase and sustain employment," she explained about the benefits of the Farm to School program in Miami. "Some of our students' families would be positively impacted as well, as they attend schools located in the growing areas."
Miami-Dade County could represent a microcosm of what the Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act will mean to Florida.
"Short-term, we believe that we can improve the nutritional quality and value of the meals we serve our kids in schools. By doing that, we are exposing them to fresh fruits and vegetables and developing healthy eating habits that will stay with them throughout their lives," said Putnam. "Over the long haul, bend that cost curve on health-care because of the high percentage of expense that comes from managing obesity-related illness.
Putnam also stated, "What we're focusing on is on the positive side. We're improving access, options and choices to fresh products and evaluating exactly where we stand."
Reach Marcus Joseph, a Sunshine State News intern, at marcus@sunshinestatenews, or at (850) 727-0859.