SACRAMENTO — Following a series of high-profile violations that resulted in negative media coverage for some local school districts, California schools have a renewed commitment to the Buy American Provisions of the National School Lunch Act. But how can schools be sure they’re complying with this law?
A new toolkit now available from a group of California farmers is designed to assist California schools do just that.
“We believe that California schools want to follow the law and support local farmers, but sometimes the laws requiring this can be confusing,” said Rajeev Davit, Vice-Chairman of the California Cling Peach Board (CCPB) and a farmer of California canned peaches. “Our goal is to help schools understand not just how to comply with the Buy American Provision of the National School Lunch Act (NSLA), but why it’s beneficial to do so.”
With assistance through a California Specialty Crop Block Grant award, California canned peach farmers have created a comprehensive toolkit aimed at California schools. The toolkit titled “Buy American. Everyone Wins” is chock full of information to help California school foodservice directors fully understand the Buy American Provision of the NSLA and what it takes to be in full compliance with this law.
The information is timely since last year the California state legislature began an enhanced monitoring program to ensure the state’s schools are following the requirements of this law. Procurement contract language, delivery invoices and physical warehouse inventory at schools are all now reviewed by the California Department of Education. If nondomestic product is present, written documentation must be available identifying specific reasons for not purchasing each individual domestic product.
“California canned peach farmers want to make it easy for schools to comply with the Buy American Provision,” emphasized Davit. “The intent of the Buy American Provision is to strengthen ties between schools and farmers. That is our goal as well.”
To help California schools in their efforts to comply with the law, the California Cling Peach Board’s Buy American Toolkit provides: background information about the law; its official language; a user-friendly guide to definitions within the law; and a checklist for compliance. The kit contains sample language for soliciting bids from supplies, formulating school district policies and a letter that can be sent to the other stakeholders in the school community including school boards, business officials and parent groups to explain why the provision is so important and gain their support.
Information contained in the kit was provided in large part by Dr. Katie Wilson, SNS, former United States Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and past Executive Director of the Institute of Child Nutrition, who is a well-respected authority on the school lunch program.
“School support of the Buy American provision helps develop strong relationships between American producers and school nutrition programs,” said Wilson. “This helps build local economies while serving students healthy and nutritious foods, the making of a winning combination.”
In addition to specifics about the Buy American Provision itself, CCPB’s Buy American Toolkit offers valuable advice about reading labels and how to identify canned fruit that may appear to be domestically grown, but really isn’t. The Toolkit contains images and product specs for canned fruit available from California’s two major canned fruit processors – Pacific Coast Producers and Del Monte – to help schools identify when they are purchasing domestically-produced fruit.
Importantly, the toolkit also offers important information on the benefits of purchasing canned fruit.
“Everyone wants to be part of the farm-to-fork movement by serving fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables,” said Wilson. “But it’s important to have a variety of choices so schools can meet the needs of all students and that they are able to easily store, handle and prepare healthy foods. That’s where canned peaches come in to offer important benefits.”
The toolkit calls out several of the benefits to purchasing canned peaches. To start with, canned fruit is easier to handle than fresh fruit; it stores longer; is shelf stable; is available year-round; is less expensive; has multiple uses; is easier to eat for all ages, reduces food waste, is healthy and nutritious and is grown using up-to-date food safety laws and packed in easily traceable packages.
“We sincerely hope California schools will find these materials useful,” peach farmer Davit concluded, adding that the Peach Board is developing an email list to distribute the toolkit. Interested schools can sign up to receive the kit here. The toolkit will be posted for download on the board’s website and the CCPB will be exhibiting at the upcoming California School Foodservice Nutrition Association Conference to be held in Long Beach November 8 through 11. Copies of the Toolkit will be available in printed and digital format in their booth at #424.
–California Cling Peaches
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