Agriculture Commish Aims to Increase Fresh Food at Schools | Health

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Agriculture Commish Aims to Increase Fresh Food at Schools
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Donning gloves and an apron, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam was ready for action Monday.

He helped serve school lunch to students at Mill Creek Elementary in St. Johns County.

He also received a tour of the kitchen at the school.

The Department of Agriculture will take over the school lunch program from the Department of Education in January. Putnam said one goal is to serve more fresh food. 

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He admitted it might cost more and take more time to prepare.

"We're trying to find efficiencies in other places that frees up that menu budget and build a business model so that farmers or their processors are getting that fresh product in a form so it's easy for the cafeteria employees to handle and get out to the kids," Putnam explained.

Elizabeth Binninger, the food and nutrition director for St. Johns County Schools, said the county is already trying to implement some of the proposed changes from the USDA.  

Different school districts and schools have different guidelines.  In St. Johns County, fresh fruit is served every day. 

At Mill Creek Elementary, there's also a rule which says every kindergartner has to have fruit every day.

During Putnam's visit, Binninger bent the commissioner's ear regarding the USDA's proposed guidelines to limit potatoes, lima beans and corn to a total of one cup per week.

Binninger said she had received a call from a local potato farmer prior to Putnam's visit.

"I wanted to relay my concern that potatoes are an economic source for the schools. The potato also provides a good source of potassium and fiber," Binninger said.

Potatoes can certainly be fresh produce for school lunches in St. Johns County because Florida's potato capital is just miles away in Hastings.

Putnam told First Coast News, "When you look at all of the things grown in the state and in the nation... the USDA needs to be aware of the fact that a balance diet includes potatoes and other starches."

He added, "Potatoes are an important part of a well balanced diet and Florida grown potatoes have a welcome place in our Florida school system."

Indeed, Putnam served potatoes Monday: baked potato triangles which are similar to hashbrowns.

Meanwhile, he analyzed the seemingly routine but important process of preparing and serving a balanced meal for children.  

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