Gov. Mills signs into law Sen. Vitelli bill to help schools purchase more food from local farms and producers
AUGUSTA — On July 8, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill from Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic. LD 636, “An Act To Encourage the Purchase of Local Foods for Public Schools,” will help public schools purchase more fresh, healthy food from local farms and producers.
“Making sure children have access to healthy food is vital to their growth, ability to focus in school and overall wellness. Helping schools connect with local growers and food producers means they can ensure the meals they serve are nutritious and fresh,” said Sen. Vitelli. “The changes made in this new bill will help schools connect more easily with local farms, which is a win for school districts and students, as well as local farmers and growers, who will gain a new avenue for selling their products.”
LD 636 would address barriers within the existing Local Produce Fund by expanding the program to allow schools to purchase more local foods via other sources, instead of only directly from farms. It would increase the cap on reimbursement from the Department of Education to encourage more local purchasing using existing funds. It would also expand the program beyond produce to support the purchase of other local foods including meat, fish, tofu, eggs, and value-added dairy products like yogurt.
“School districts face many challenges in sourcing local food directly from farmers, and reported that they would be more likely to purchase locally if they could also do so from their contracted food service distributor,” said Anna Korsen with Full Plates Full Potential in testimony supporting the bill. “School nutrition programs also reported that expanding the products that can be purchased and reimbursed through the fund beyond only produce to include value-added dairy and protein would make it more likely that they would use the fund, since many schools already purchase these products at great cost to their program and would benefit from the reimbursement. Additionally, having access to local produce that has been peeled, chopped, and frozen would help expand school nutrition staff’s capacity to serve local foods.”
“The challenges of increasing local food in schools include cost and logistical challenges such as coordination with farms, staffing lunchrooms, and processing raw ingredients into school meals,” said Amy Gallant of the Good Shepherd Food Bank. “Despite these challenges, providing schools with locally procured food remains a high priority for many districts, and this bill is a step in the right direction.”
As an emergency measure, the law goes into effect immediately.