Measure Would Promote Agriculture, Encourage Healthy, Locally-Grown Food in Schools
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan which would designate the last week of September as “Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week,” in order to promote the importance of agriculture in New Jersey and encourage schools to make fresh, locally-grown foods available to students was signed into law over the weekend by Governor Christie.
“Given New Jersey’s rich agricultural heritage, it’s important that we highlight the importance of farms in the Garden State in order to preserve open space and provide nutritious, fresh, locally-grown food,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “With New Jersey approaching build-out, and encroaching development threatening to swallow up the last few remaining parcels of unspoiled land, today’s farms are an important reminder of our State’s agrarian past, and are an essential part of our economy. This new law will ensure that we take time each year to remember the importance and value of our State’s agricultural industry.”
The bill, S-2125, directs the State Department of Agriculture, in coordination with the Department of Education, New Jersey farmers, the New Jersey Farm to School Network, local schools and school food service providers to establish the “Jersey Fresh Farm to School Week” program. “Farm to School Week” will include promotional events to underscore the importance of agriculture not just to public school students, but to community groups and the public at large.
The bill directs the Department of Agriculture to develop programs and events to highlight the importance of agriculture to children, through school breakfast, lunch and snack programs and in the classroom; to community groups, churches and service organizations; and to the public at large at farms and community farmers markets. The Department of Agriculture will also be required to adopt rules and regulations that encourage schools to expand and improve kitchen facilities to allow for producing meals that incorporate fresh, locally-grown produce, as well as develop pricing guidelines for New Jersey-grown food. Finally, the Department of Agriculture will be required to develop, in conjunction with the Department of Education, school curricula with information about New Jersey agriculture, and provide farmers, distributors and schools the opportunity to create purchasing networks to get locally-grown food into public schools in New Jersey.
“Not only does this bill promote public awareness and appreciation for the role of agriculture in our State, but it serves as a boost to our agricultural economy by creating partnerships between farmers and schools to get nutritious, locally-grown food in our schools,” said Senator Whelan. “Moving forward, I believe this program will serve as a valuable tool to create new markets for Jersey Fresh produce, and to make sure our kids are eating healthy at school.”
The bill received final legislative approval in the Senate in December.