(TRENTON) – A six-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Robert Andrzejczak, Celeste Riley and Gilber “Whip” Wilson to financially support the New Jersey “Farm to School” program and promote healthier food options was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
The object of the New Jersey Farm to School program is to provide agricultural products to school food service departments to serve healthy meals to improve student nutrition, provide health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime, and support local farmers. The program was developed by the Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the Department of Education.
These bills released today would help the program further its mission.
The first bill (A-156), sponsored by Andrzejczak and Riley, would require the Department of Agriculture to post a hyperlink directing users to the NJ Farm to School website on its website; and a copy of any written agreement for the purchase of fresh foods – entered into and successfully implemented by any school or school district in the state – on the NJ Farm to School website.
“New Jersey has a proud farming industry which we should utilize and promote to cultivate better eating habits among our children,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “The Farm to School program introduces children to healthier food options and supports local farms. This is more than enough reason to spread the word about the program and increase participation.”
“It is the state’s best interest to encourage more of these partnerships. Increasing the online presence of the Farm to School program through cross promotion is a simple and effective way to get more schools and farmers on board,” said Riley (D Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem).
The second bill (A-2641), sponsored by Andrzejczak and Wilson, would create the “New Jersey Farm to School and School Garden Fund”, and allow taxpayers to make voluntary contributions to the fund on their state gross income tax returns to support Farm to School program initiatives.
“There may be residents who would like to support the work of the Farm to School program, but may not know how,” said Andrzejczak. “This bill would give residents who recognize the importance of the program to the health of our students and the state’s farming industry, and want to contribute, with the opportunity to do so with a simple denotation on their state tax returns.”
“Most people are willing to donate to a good cause if the donation process is simple and straightforward,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill streamlines the donation process by giving residents the option to make a direct donation to the program right on their state tax returns.”
The third bill (A-2642), sponsored by Andrzejczak and Riley, would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to solicit and accept private and public monetary contributions to help fund the Farm to School program.
“All programs that rely on government funding are feeling the pinch,” said Andrzejczak. “This is one way to help Farm to School program secure the funding it needs to continue to do its work.”
“Budgetary cuts have forced many to do more with less,” said Riley. “Any financial support that the Farm to School program is able to secure from private sources will surely be welcomed.”
The fourth bill (A-2643), sponsored by Riley and Wilson, would direct the Department of Agriculture, in coordination with the Department of Education and any other agricultural or farming organization deemed appropriate by the Department of Agriculture, to establish an annual awards program to recognize schools or school districts with outstanding achievements in the incorporation of farm-to-school principles into their school meal and snack programs.
“This is another simple way to promote the benefits of the Farm to School program and encourage more schools to join in, while celebrating others for a job well done,” said Riley.
“We all like to be recognized for our work. This award can keep the momentum going for schools already in the Farm to School program, while encouraging others to join,” said Wilson.
The fifth bill (A-2644), sponsored by Andrzejczak and Wilson, would require the Department of Agriculture to develop a website to serve as a clearinghouse for farmers to provide produce and dairy products to school breakfast and lunch programs throughout the state. The website would be similar to existing “for sale by owner” websites, and provide a forum for farmers with produce and dairy products to connect with any school or school district with a need for these products for its school breakfast or lunch program.
“This would help drive business to our local farmers and provide our schools with fresh, New Jersey made produce and dairy products,” said Andrzejczak. “It’s a win-win.”
“This website would create a one-stop shop where farmers can go and connect with schools in need of certain products,” said Wilson. “It helps facilitate the exchange and benefits both.”
The six measure (AJR-56), sponsored by Andrzejczak and Riley, would designate the week after Mother’s Day as “School Garden Week in NJ” to recognize and promote the benefits of gardening in schools and further encourage students to eat fresh fruits and vegetables regularly. The joint resolution would also direct the governor to annually issue a proclamation calling upon school districts to observe “School Garden Day in NJ” with appropriate activities and programs, and to coordinate their activities and programs with those annually planned for “Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week.”
“This not only celebrates the state’s agricultural industry, but further drives the message to our children about the importance of healthier eating habits,” said Andrzejczak.
“This falls in line with the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative by introducing the merits of healthy eating to our children in a fun, interactive way,” said Riley.
The bills were released by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.