A package of bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Sgt. Bob Andrzejczak, Celeste Riley and Gilbert “Whip” Wilson to financially support the New Jersey “Farm to School” program and promote healthier food options gained unanimous final legislative approval from the General Assembly on Thursday.
“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.”
The New Jersey Farm to School program, which was developed by the Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the Department of Education, is designed to provide agricultural products to school food service departments to improve student nutrition, provide health and nutrition education opportunities that will last a lifetime and support local farmers.
The bills approved today will help further the program’s mission:
· A-2641 (Andrzejczak/Wilson) would permit taxpayers to make voluntary contributions via their tax returns to support farm to school and school gardens initiatives in the Farm to School program.
· A-2642 (Andrzejczak/Riley) would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to solicit and accept private and public monetary contributions to help fund the Farm to School program.
· A-2644 (Andrzejczak/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.
“Budgetary cuts have forced many to do more with less,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “Any financial support that the Farm to School program is able to secure from private sources will surely be welcomed.”
“The Department of Agriculture website would create a one-stop shop where farmers can go and connect with schools in need of certain products,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “It helps facilitate the exchange and benefits both.”
The bills approved today are part of a larger five-bill package, two of which have already been approved and await action by the Governor:
· A-156 (Andrzejczak/Riley) would require the Department of Agriculture to post on its website a hyperlink directing users to the NJ Farm to School website and include on the NJ Farm to School website 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.
· A-2643 (Riley/Wilson/Andrzejczak) 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.
The remaining bills approved today now head to the Governor’s desk.