Institutional markets represent some of the most lucrative and dependable options for America’s family farmers and ranchers — unfortunately, they can also be among the most challenging to break into. The Kids Eat Local Act (H.R. 3220, S. 1817), introduced today by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), would help to break down barriers between school food purchasers and family farmers by simplifying local purchasing guidelines for school meal programs.
“Purchasing locally is a natural choice for our public schools, many of which already celebrate local and regional foods through farm to school, school gardens, and other similar programming,” said National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Senior Policy Specialist Wes King. “The Kids Eat Local Act will help to facilitate connections between schools and local producers by clarifying existing procurement rules and adding ‘locale’ as an allowed product specification. This legislation will be welcome news to farmers across the country, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet during these challenging economic times.”
Although the 2002 Farm Bill included a provision, that was later strengthened in the 2008 Farm Bill, to encourage institutions participating in child nutrition programs to purchase “locally produced foods for school meal programs, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate,” current law does not allow schools to explicitly require “local” or “regional” as a product specification in a food procurement request. Presently, the primary means by which schools can purchase and/or preference locally produced foods is the geographic preference option, through which they can give extra ranking points to vendors using locally procured product. Many school food service providers, however, have found the geographic preference option burdensome and confusing to implement.
By including the Kids Eat Local Act in the next Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization, schools would be given a new, easier-to-use local product specification option. This bill would allow schools to specify “locally grown,” “locally raised” or “locally caught” in their procurement language, and then make the award to the lowest bidder who can meet that product specification.
The addition of local product specification would substantially improve opportunities for local producers by providing more flexibility for school districts. The Kids Eat Local Act would also allow schools flexibility in determining the definition of “local” that best suits their needs.