USDA Proposes Taking Taters Off School Lunches, Farmers Oppose | News

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USDA Proposes Taking Taters Off School Lunches, Farmers Oppose
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- School lunches could soon be serving up a lot less of something - potatoes.

The USDA proposed guidelines nearly remove spuds from school lunch menus. "As a farmer, I'm disappointed," said Danny Johns, who owns Blue Sky Farms in Hastings and sits on the National Potato Council.  

He and other potato growers in Hastings said the move would hurt their bottom line. "Whenever a program like this is implemented, it affects growers in different ways," Johns said today.

He is not just concerned about how this would affect farmers but about how much it's going to cost taxpayers to implement the program.

"Potatoes are less than 5 cents a serving for a serving in the schools," Johns said. "Anything they put in place of it will be more expensive."

The USDA estimates it will cost $6.8 billion over five years to implement the changes, which aim to limit the amount of all starchy vegetables in school lunch to one cup per week,  including corn, lima beans, peas, and potatoes.

"I don't really understand that," said Kathleen Damiano, the food and nutrition manager at Timberlin Creek Elementary in St. Johns County.

Potatoes "have minerals, potassium, fiber, vitamin C. The kids love to have them, so I don't understand why they're ever looking at taking them off the menu," Damiano said.

She explained her school doesn't serve fried potatoes; many districts bake them as well and at Timberlin Creek, the baked potato bar is a hit.

The St. Johns County School District works with local farmers to bring in produce.

"Ninety percent of school-aged kids aren't getting enough vegetables," Johns noted. "So to take something they're already eating off the plate doesn't make sense." 

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