(02/09/23) DENHAM SPRINGS, La. — The Louisiana Farm to School Program is designed to get locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to school cafeterias, but a number of barriers have been slowing down the process.
Louisiana has received a $3.3 million Local Food for Schools grant to ramp up the process. The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service and is administered by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
Jenny Moffit, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, held a listening session Feb. 3 for stakeholders at Southside Junior High School in Livingston Parish to discuss ways the grant can help close the gap that is impeding farmers from selling directly to the schools.
“My purpose for being here today was to hear from producers, from schools and from community members on ways to increase the market for farmers to local schools and for local schools to buy from local farmers,” she said.
Moffit said the Local Foods Purchase Assistance Program and the Local Foods for Schools Program have a combined budget of $1.3 billion. The programs cover the entire country, including tribes and territories.
LSU AgCenter horticulture professor Carl Motsenbocker said the meeting was a beneficial opportunity to share experiences in Louisiana in procuring local food for school meals and speak about challenges in food deliveries for school districts.
Mack Williams, administrator of the food distribution program for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said his agency is the conduit that funnels the funds from the school districts to the farmers.
“We do this in conjunction with the LSU AgCenter and our other partners,” he said. “What this does is create new markets for small farmers so they don’t have to seek retail or farmers markets.”
Williams said his mission is to move products for the farmers and to subsidize the school lunch program.
Lester Williams, a vegetable grower from Batchelor, said he is very interested in providing vegetables to the schools.
“It’s good that they are bringing the little guy in because we can fill in wherever we are needed,” he said.
Dawn Camardelle, a fourth-generation farmer with Star Nursery in Belle Chasse, said her primary interest is Louisiana satsumas.
“We used to do truck farming but got away from it because the vegetables are just too perishable,” she said. “We are mainly focused on satsumas because they have a little better shelf life, and we are looking at producing juice at the local level.”
Both growers are involved in the Louisiana Farm to School Program and see this type of meeting as a win for buyers and sellers.
“I feel the future of local food in schools is bright. Purchasing local helps to build relationships in the communities we serve and has economic benefits all around,” said Jacquelin Richard, Calcasieu Parish School Nutrition Program director.
Crystal Besse, Louisiana Farm to School Program director, said the farmers she invited to the meeting are already selling to schools, and the school nutrition directors are sourcing local whenever possible. The meeting brought the stakeholders together to discuss some of the barriers they are experiencing.
“We know that a lot of the barriers in Louisiana will be centered around distribution,” she said. “It’s really a learning curve for everyone involved, but this funding will inspire change.”
Jenny Deroche, nutrition coordinator for the School Food and Nutrition Service of New Orleans, Inc., said she purchases local when possible.
“The potential of the Local Foods for School funding will give us the opportunity to provide the freshest and best quality food that the state can offer,” she said. “Many famous restaurants pride themselves on local sourcing, and our students deserve restaurant-quality food.”
Sommer Purvis, supervisor of Child Nutrition Programs for Livingston Parish Public Schools, said the Local Foods for Schools funding would benefit the schools, the students and the communities.
“Local Foods for Schools funding would provide school districts the needed resources to procure and purchase local products for school meal programs,” she said. “Using local farmers and producers would allow child nutrition programs to enhance menus and nutrition education opportunities for students while investing in our local economy.”
According to the 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Census, more than 55% of Louisiana school districts participate in farm-to-school programming, impacting roughly 505,811 students.
LSU AgCenter staff and other stakeholders of the Louisiana Farm to School Program attended a listening session with Jenny Moffit, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, Feb. 3 in Denham Springs. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Mack Williams, administrator of the food distribution program for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, discusses ways to get more local farmers involved in farm-to-school programs during a listening session with Jenny Moffit, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, Feb. 3 in Denham Springs. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
Jenny Moffit, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, discusses the Louisiana Farm to School Program with LSU AgCenter horticulture professor Carl Motsenbocker during a listening session Feb. 3 in Denham Springs. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter