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Is change (ie. local produce) really coming to NYC public school cafeterias?

It’s kind of hard to believe this story because it (gasp!) makes almost too much sense. Local produce and better lunches coming to NYC public schools? Be still our beating hearts!

Lisa Fickenscher writes in Crain’s New York Business that the Department of Educations’s current food distribution contracts are coming due, and the school system, politicians, and local farmers – under the rubric of the city’s new SchoolFood program, are working together to try and get more local farmers signed on for the next round.

Is this even possible? Thanks to some major rethinking from the D.O.E., yes.

From Crain’s:

“The DOE is pressuring its distributors, which have focused primarily on buying the cheapest available food that meet certain requirements, to expand their priorities to include purchasing the freshest products. It may even choose one distributor to procure only produce. In the current arrangement, four distributors buy and deliver all the food—from carrots to pizza to juice boxes—served in the city’s schools.”

Tagline? Check. Theme song? 'White Rabbit' perhaps?

Placing health above convenience and cost? Really!? Apparently, yes, and the changes are already happening. According to Fickenscher, more than a third of last year’s D.O.E. produce and dairy budget went to producers within 250 miles of NYC.

If these efforts keep up and the DOE’s SchoolFood program goes even more local, it will be a major win for kids’ health and for the economic health of our local food system. The contracts that are about to expire are worth $142 million. Using some of that to buy fresh food from local farmers makes all kinds of sense for both students and the regional farm economy…which, unfortunately, is why it’s so hard to believe. Hey – this sounds so good that we’re going to go pinch ourselves to see if we wake up.

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