By: Mollie Van Lieu, Senior Director, Nutrition Policy, United Fresh Produce Association
As September looms over students’ heads (how is it August already?), so does the deadline for Congress to reauthorize the Farm Bill. While the massive bill garners attention mostly for its agricultural support and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), it also includes one of the more revered and successful child nutrition initiatives: the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). But this go-round, the heart of the program – the “fresh” component – is being threatened.
Long a priority of United Fresh Produce Association and United Fresh Start Foundation advocacy, FFVP provides funding for the nation’s lowest income schools to purchase a fresh fruit or vegetable snack for elementary school students two to five days a week. A core mission of the program is to introduce students to a variety of produce – and the result is that many students try varietals for the very first time!
The program is hugely successful and has grown in popularity since it began in 2002. Its evaluation shows that FFVP leads students to eat more fruits and vegetables, including outside of school, and to have a more positive attitude towards produce.
Despite its achievements and popularity among schools, students, and parents, its integrity is under attack from the processing industries who want to remove the “fresh” requirement and allow canned, dried, frozen and pureed products (often referred to as “all forms”). While all forms of fruits and vegetables have a place in the diet, there is no shortage of non-fresh produce in school meals. In fact, over 90% of USDA commodity produce purchases, which are available for school meals, are non-fresh products. FFVP is the only school feeding program that ensures students are exposed to a variety of fresh produce – the form most often lacking in their diets.
Unfortunately, the House version of the Farm Bill would allow “all forms” of fruits and vegetables in the program. The Senate version preserves the program as fresh only.
So where does that leave us? Both the House and Senate passed their respective bills in June. They now must reconcile the bills’ differences through a process known as “conference,” where representatives from each chamber negotiate to come up with a final bill. That bill is then passed by each chamber and sent to the White House for signature before the September 30th deadline. If it’s not passed, Congress will have to pass an extension.
We encourage you to contact your Members of Congress to emphasize your support for maintaining access to fresh produce for kids. Contact Mollie Van Lieu, Senior Director of Nutrition Policy, or visit our action network for more details. Let’s keep FFVP fresh!