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For Immediate Release: July 19, 2010
Contact: Lynne Richmond
(609) 633-2954

(TRENTON) – The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, has been awarded $51,215 to create new food items derived from New Jersey agricultural products for use in the National School Lunch Program.

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the grant as part of more than $1.3 million in matching grants to 18 states, provided under the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP).  These grants are focused on developing innovative ways to benefit our agricultural sector.

“This grant continues the Department’s efforts toward connecting our farmers with schools,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher.  “The Department and Food Innovation Center will work together to take our farmers’ bounty, develop it into single-serving, innovative items, that meet the nutritional and cost requirements necessary to be utilized in school meals.  This project will address the important issue of child nutrition while also improving markets for locally produced agricultural products.”

Portion-controlled products that might be developed include:  fresh-cut fruit snacks; fresh-cut vegetable snacks; and healthy beverages, soups, entrees and desserts, all using fruits and vegetables from New Jersey farms.

These products will be developed to: meet nutritional and portion control requirements; be tasty and appealing to the students; convenient for school cafeteria personnel; meet cost requirements for schools that also enable profitability by New Jersey farmers; to meet shelf life requirements that allow for distribution of these products derived from seasonally-harvested fruits and vegetables throughout the school year; and evaluate the potential suitability of value-added produce items for vending machine distribution in schools.

For the current fiscal year 2010, New Jersey received through the School Lunch Commodity Distribution Program $20 million in funds and 30 million pounds of surplus agricultural commodities for distribution to more than 700 participating school districts throughout the state.  A wide variety of foods were available, ranging from frozen beef and chicken, canned, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables and grain, oil and peanut products.

A significant market opportunity exists if the seasonal availability of New Jersey agricultural products to the school meal programs could be expanded.  Annually, more than 800,000 pounds of locally grown fruits and vegetables were distributed to schools under a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Defense.  Due to the September through June school year it would be difficult to expand upon those quantities.

The Department of Agriculture will work with Rutgers Food Innovation Center to implement the grant.  The project is expected to begin after October of this year and should be completed by the end of 2011.