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How the Little Wild Blueberry Could Benefit Big Time From a Pilot Program in the Farm Bill

At the Calais Elementary School (about as far East as you can possibly go in Maine), Kim McCadden has run the local U.S. Department of Agriculture Fresh Fruit and Vegetable school program for five years serving 300 students daily. The program is designed to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for daily snacks to low-income students. McCadden serves fruit three days a week and vegetables with a dip two days a week. She believes the program has gone a long way toward introducing healthy choices to her students. “It provides good nutrition and establishes a pattern of consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables daily,” she says. “Plus, the children love the snacks.”

Unfortunately, while McCadden purchases local fresh produce from farmers during the growing season, by mid-winter the majority of the produce purchased is from overseas.  “This program fills a huge nutritional and educational need in our school, but I do not think it’s right that we cannot serve local produce such as fresh frozen Maine Wild Blueberries throughout the school year,” she says.
Well, we agree!
Fortunately, work is underway at the federal level to make changes to the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for schools, which could mean good news for Wild Blueberry growers and for Maine children. The recently passed Farm Bill, gives the USDA 60 days to identify five states that can demonstrate how minimally processed food, including frozen fruits and vegetables, could be a healthier and lower cost option to serve students participating in USDA Program for schools.  Well, 30 days have passed and we’re hoping that Maine’s in the final running for the pilot program. If so, it could mean a big boost for our tiny antioxidant-packed super-fruit.  
Essentially, the program could have significant upside on a variety of fronts. First, our local Wild Blueberry growers could secure more local markets for their product meaning Maine berries would travel less distance from farm to table. Second, it could introduce Maine children to more locally grown food.  Third, fresh frozen Wild Blueberries are significantly cheaper than imported fresh berries saving Maine school districts money. And finally, the USDA’s own research confirms that frozen fruits have the same or greater nutritional value as their fresh counterparts, so this program would pack a nutritional punch as well.

To learn more about this pilot program in the farm bill, read this article in the Bangor Daily News.

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