USDA Under Secretaries Cook Lunches in Virginia School During National Nutrition Month
USDA is looking for solutions to help local schools serve nutritious meals to students amid supply chain challenges brought on by the pandemic. Deputy Under Secretary Stacy Dean says pandemic flexibility and funding should be extended by Congress for another year.
“Congress gave us some flexibility to let the schools adapt meaning early on in the pandemic, not doing congregate feeding letting kids bring meals back to the classroom, which wouldn’t normally be permissible but also additional resources so that with rising food costs and just unpredictable expenses, or gas or labor that just a little bit more money to make a great program like this more successful during challenging times.”
Sandy Curwood, Virginia Department of Education Nutrition Director, agreed that funding should be extended and says the state has an initiative called ‘Virginia Food For Virginia Kids’ which is using federal funds to reinvest in local farms and food hubs.
“It’s not only an initiative to really improve meal quality, but to deal with some of the supply chain issues because clearly, the less miles traveled, the better it is to have that food available for our kids and that also reinvest in the farmers that can continue to do their good work. It’s a workforce development because then we can really increase you know, the number of jobs folks have not only jobs in school nutrition but on the farm.”
During the visit, Virginia Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton helped USDA leaders and school staff make enchiladas using locally raised chicken.
“It’s so important that we have a lot of local food sourcing, I mean, that really, really helps with its supply chain issues. And that’s one of the things that you’ve seen here in Prince William County is because they get so much of their food locally. They have not experienced the same level of supply chain disruptions that a lot of our other schools have.”
USDA is also working on more resources to help farmers connect with schools, according to Deputy Under Secretary Mae Wu.
“As the Secretary talks about wanting to build more and better markets, it’s really the kinds of technical assistance that we can provide to help farmers maybe aggregate more together so they can provide that kind of volume. And then just to help them through like all of the needs to become a vendor and things like that. So, there’s a lot of things that are still coming so we have a lot more that we’re doing that would you know create kind of help us build out that middle of the supply chain.”
Last month, USDA issued transitional nutrition standards to give schools a clear path forwards as they move from emergency pandemic measures towards more nutritious meals.