Committee approves Vitelli bill to put more local food in Maine schools

Posted: April 29, 2019 | Senator Vitelli

On Monday, members of the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs voted 7-3 in support of legislation from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, to increase the amount of local food served in Maine schools.

The bill — LD 454 “An Act To Encourage the Purchase of Local Produce for Public Schools” — provides the funding and staffing needed to give local schools and nutrition directors the resources they need to purchase and serve locally grown foods. The majority of the committee members voted for an amendment that specified the staff person in the Department of Education who will help coordinate between producers and school districts will be an Education Specialist II position and the maximum matching funds each school could receive will be $1,000. The remaining members of the committee voted against the bill.

“There is strong agreement that bringing more local foods is good for everyone — our farmers, our local economies, and our students — and today’s vote is indicative of that,” said Sen. Vitelli. “We’ll be providing markets for local growers and producers; exposing our kids to a variety of new, fresh, healthy, and nutritious food; and connecting our students to their local farmers and a stronger understanding of where their food comes from before it appears on their lunch trays.”

LD 454 builds on a law passed by Sen. Vitelli in 2018 that established modest goals in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for the purchase and sale of local foods by public institutions. Public schools, however, were not included.

“Our School Nutrition Directors are already stretched beyond capacity,” said Justin Alfond of Full Plates Full Potential, an organization working to end child hunger in Maine. “The coordinator position is essential to making this program work.”

Local food is also healthier food, particularly for children’s growing bodies.

“When food, particularly fresh produce, is consumed within a short distance from the location at which it was produced, and a short time from harvest, that produce contains a higher nutrient density than similar foods from far away,” said Ryan Parker of FoodCorps at a recent public hearing. “As society has shifted away from local, nutrient-dense foods, and toward processed, low nutrient-density foods from far away, we’ve had to consume more and more calories to obtain the necessary nutrients. The consumption of more fresh, local fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to begin reversing this trend.”

The Maine School Boards Association; Maine School Superintendents Association; Maine Farm to School Network; the School Nutrition Directors from Falmouth Public Schools and MSAD 54 in Skowhegan; and a Mount Vernon farmer also testified in favor of LD 454 at the public hearing. No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

LD 454 will now be subject to votes in the Maine Senate and House in the coming weeks.