Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program helps Pioneer school district cut lunch deficit

  • Faith Rathbun, a sophomore at Pioneer Valley Regional School, gets a plate of salad and fruit sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Students at Pioneer Valley Regional School get fresh produce sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Students at Pioneer Valley Regional School get fresh produce sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Wade Williams, a junior at Pioneer Valley Regional School, gets fresh fruit sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Faith Rathbun, a sophomore at Pioneer Valley Regional School, gets a plate of salad and fruit sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/6/2016 2:52:29 PM

NORTHFIELD – As Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s lunch fund deficit tops $201,000, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program operated by the Department of Defense is helping the district save money.

The program, which began as a pilot during the 1994-1995 school year, allows schools to use U.S. Department of Agriculture dollars to buy fresh produce.

Though it began in eight states, today schools in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam participate in the program, according to the USDA. As of fiscal year 2010, spending had reached $66 million.

Pioneer Valley Regional School District Assistant Superintendent Gail Healy, who is also the district’s food service director, said she heard about and applied to participate in the program before the 2014-2015 school year, hoping to minimize the amount of produce the district has to purchase from companies.

“It certainly helps with the cost,” Healy said. “It brings down what we would have to spend in regards to fresh fruit and vegetables.”

During its first year participating, Healy said the district received $2,748 worth of food which was split between Northfield Elementary School and Pioneer Valley Regional School. It received $3,500 worth of food in school year 2015-2016, and now, in its third year, will receive $5,100 worth of food.

Now, the food is distributed between Pioneer, Northfield Elementary School and Bernardston Elementary School, Healy said. As Northfield and Bernardston elementary schools are responsible for cooking lunch for Warwick Community School and Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, respectively, all schools have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Healy said the schools most often get apples, oranges, pears, grapes, strawberries, broccoli and baby carrots. Additionally, the schools regularly order a salad mixture of Romaine lettuce, along with other salad vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and onions.

The food is delivered by A.T. Siravo out of Rhode Island each Wednesday starting in October, Healy said. Deliveries continue until April or until the district has used up its allotted funds. A week in advance, cafeteria managers tell Healy what food they need, and she places an order through an online portal.

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, along with combining school sites where food is prepared, Healy said, have helped the district gradually save money in the face of its $201,000 lunch fund deficit. The $5,100 worth of food allotted to the district this school year helps cut back the deficit by 2.5 percent.

“All the things that we’ve tried to do to slow down that deficit certainly help,” she said.

Having fresh fruits and vegetables is well-received by many students, like Pioneer eighth graders Arwen Hansell and Autumn Harris.

“The food is good quality,” Harris said. “It’s nice to have something that’s fresh.”

In particular, Harris said she enjoys the baby carrots, celery and especially the salad bar, which she said is a great alternative for students who aren’t interested in the day’s lunch option and for students who are vegetarian or vegan.

“It’s nice to have a balanced meal,” Hansell added. “It makes you feel good about what you had for lunch.”




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