(TRENTON) — Democratic Assembly members John F. McKeon, John J. Burzichelli and Annette Quijano welcomed the third “Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week,” which runs through September 27, as a result of a measure they sponsored and was signed into law in January 2011.
Under the measure (formerly A-2854), events are held throughout the state during the last week in September to promote the value and importance of New Jersey’s agriculture and fresh farm food for children and to encourage schools to purchase Jersey Fresh from local farmers to incorporate in school meals.
“New Jersey has a rich range of more than 100 kinds of local produce and is one of the nation’s top-ten producers of 11 fruits and vegetables including cranberries, bell peppers, spinach, blueberries, peaches, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, apples, to sweet corn and snap beans,” McKeon (D-Essex) said.
“By educating children about our state’s diverse and delicious agricultural fare and the nutritional value of local and safe produce, Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week helps them cultivate healthier food choices while encouraging schools to support local farmers by incorporating Jersey Fresh in school meals,” McKeon added.
Jersey Fresh is a major contributor to New Jersey’s Food and Agriculture industry, which is the third largest in the state, next to pharmaceuticals and tourism.
“By encouraging our schools to purchase local fare, we help farmers stay on their land and provide a boost to New Jersey’s estimated $1.12 billion agricultural industry,” Burzichelli (D-Salem\Cumberland\Gloucester) said. “The measure we sponsored also helps tens of thousands of New Jersey residents whose livelihoods depend on the more than 10,300 farms in our state.”
“As we grow our state’s economy on the path to economic recovery, Jersey Fresh needs to continue to be an important focus,” Quijano (D-Union) said. “The Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week measure harvests growing support for our farming community by encouraging schools to purchase local produce while promoting healthier food choices for our children.”
The measure also calls for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to create a bidding matrix that will encourage schools to purchase Jersey Fresh by providing price preferentials for local agricultural and farm products.
The Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week enhances the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s estimated $3.9 million Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program for the 2013 to 2014 school year to help raise the awareness of Jersey Fresh among school students and encourage them to sample and eat the healthy and diverse products produced in the state.
Starting in September, 144 schools selected by the state’s Agriculture Department and located in 14 New Jersey counties with almost 76,000 students, will be offering fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis free to students each week.
McKeon welcomed this initiative by the federal government and commended the state Department of Agriculture headed by Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher for the department’s innovative and aggressive programs to promote Jersey Fresh.
He also applauded the Jersey Fresh Farm to School Network headed by Beth Feehan for its long-standing commitment to promoting the state’s agricultural fare and for supporting policies to improve school meals.
Studies show a high return on the investment in promoting Jersey Fresh.
According to a Rutgers University report, the $1.1 million spent in 2000 to promote local fare had an economic impact of $63.2 million. This included increased cash receipts of $36.6 million for fruits and vegetables and an additional $26.6 million in economic activity. It also generated an increase in state and local tax revenue by $2.2 million for that year.
In October, schools throughout the nation will observe Farm to School Month as a result of legislation sponsored by Congressman Rush Holt.