USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack praises Greeley Evans District 6 for healthy and locally grown school meals
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the seventh person in the line of succession to the president and the second longest serving USDA secretary ever, visited Greeley Evans School District 6 this week. Vilsack visited Maplewood Elementary School on Wednesday to not only learn about the school's healthy lunch plans, but to also announce a federal funding initiative to increase access to locally grown healthy foods in schools.
"It is important for me to be here," Vilsack said. "These kids are learning a lot in addition to having good meals. They are learning a tremendous amount of nutrition."
The students at Maplewood have their own school garden, they also consume locally grown foods that are purchased from nearby farms by the district. During Vilsack's visit he was not only shown what students learn about when it comes to healthy eating options and where they come from, but he also saw how the cafeteria and food services teams work throughout the district to offer culturally diverse foods that are both healthy and nutritious.
"The importance of proper nutrition and the key link it has to young people's performance in school and their overall health," Vilsack said.
Vilsack also announced the federal government will be handing out tens of millions of dollars around the nation to fund school eating programs and more opportunities to purchase locally grown produce from each community throughout the country.
The USDA will be helping distribute $50 million to programs that help connect farmers to local schools. An additional $10 million would be distributed to schools to expand their nutrition education.
"We struggled with student achievement a decade or so ago, and it is our job to move our schools in the right direction. To be able to do that kids cannot be hungry," said Dr. Deirdre Pilch, Superintendent of Greeley Evans District 6.
Colorado is one of four states that has committed to taxing the wealthy in order to fund universal free lunch. Vilsack was asked why he selected Colorado to announce this national funding push when voters in Colorado already found their own way to funding meals for all.
Vilsack said Colorado was an example of where they would like to see the rest of the nation go toward, and added he was impressed by Maplewood Elementary School's lead in prioritizing healthy eating.
With the additional funding made available by the federal government, the district in Greeley and Evans can then accept funding from there alleviating pressures on Colorado tax payers to pay those bills.
Vilsack and the district also welcomed a local farmer who sells his produce to the school each school year. The farmer lives only three miles away from Maplewood, something Vilsack said was a great community partnership that helped keep funding in local pockets as well.
"The peace of mind that this provides to the farming community, where they know in advance a percentage or all of what they can grow in a year is presold. What a tremendous opportunity it is to link farmers and schools together," Vilsack said.
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