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HomeNewsArchivesGetting Local Produce Into Schools Not That Easy, Officials Say

Getting Local Produce Into Schools Not That Easy, Officials Say

While V.I. schools buy some local produce, the V.I. Agriculture Department’s plans to increase school sales under the Legislature’s new Farm to School Act are on hold until arrangements can be worked out with the Education Department, farmers and officials told a Senate panel Monday.
Helped by the 2006 V.I. Sustainable Farming Act, the department has launched and expanded many services to farmers, Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen told the Labor and Agriculture Committee, meeting on St. Croix. Although there has been a small resurgence in agriculture the past several years, the goal of growing and selling large amounts of produce in the schools and to private distributors remains elusive, he and other witnesses testified.
"The school lunch program has been talked of as a ready market for local produce," said Dale Brown, president of the V.I. Farmer’s Cooperative. "But it is not as easy as we thought."
Federal lunch program funding means there must be contracts with suppliers and distributors, "which makes it difficult for any one farmer," Brown said.
Technically, any farmer can bid to supply the school system with a certain crop at a particular time, so there is a large potential for growth in sales to the schools, said Agriculture Marketing Director Daniel Stanley. But ironing out the details has been troublesome. Farmers are stymied right now because the relevant officials in the V.I. Department of Education haven’t worked out how procedures or funding will work, Petersen said.
"I will speak to [Education] Commissioner [LaVerne] Terry directly for assistance in resolving this," he said.
Sens. Michael Thurland, Usie Richards and Nereida "Nellie" O’Reilly were vocal in decrying the difficulty in selling to the schools.
"The school lunch problem is one person," said Thurland, suggesting an unnamed official in the Education Department’s lunch program was being uncooperative. No Education officials were at the Agriculture hearing to respond or comment.
O’Reilly said she was "disappointed" the V.I. Farmers Co-op did not have a way to sell to Education yet.
"Please make it a priority," she asked Petersen.
No votes were taken at the information gathering oversight hearing. Present were: Richards, O’Reilly, Sens. Sammuel Sanes and Craig Barshinger. Thurland, who is not a member of this committee, also attended.

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