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Secretary Fisher Highlights School Year Successes
For Immediate Release: May 17, 2011
Contact: Lynne Richmond 
(609) 633-2954

(TRENTON) – As schools across the state near summer break, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is pleased to report a banner year in school nutrition with another one on the horizon. 

“In the past year, we have seen participation in both the school lunch and breakfast programs continue to rise,” said Fisher.  “We also ramped up our Farm to School efforts and hope to connect more schools to our local farmers in the coming year, giving students access to more healthy, fresh, local produce.  The Department’s goal is to not only offer New Jersey students highly nutritious meals, but to educate them and their families to all make better food choices.  The work we do today could end up paying dividends for a lifetime for our state’s residents”

Fisher spoke to school food service professionals at the New Jersey School Nutrition Association annual conference in Edison on Friday, May 13.  During his remarks he acknowledged that daily participation for school lunch this year is more than 685,000 students, a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year.  For school breakfast, almost 174,000 students participated for a 3.8 percent increase. 

“Doing well in school and eating properly have been linked in many studies,” said Acting Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf.  “An American School Health Association report showed that students with an iron deficiency had short attention spans, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and irritability.  We are happy to partner with the Department of Agriculture to ensure that students have access to healthy foods.”

Secretary Fisher outlined some of the Department’s accomplishments over the past year that supported, promoted and enhanced school nutrition programs.

Legislation signed into law by Governor Christie earlier this year created Farm to School Week in New Jersey the last week in September.  The Department will organize events that week designed to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption and bring more local produce into schools.

As part of the farm to school effort, the Department, the School Nutrition Association, New Jersey Farm Bureau and the New Jersey Farm to School Network are hosting three farm tours over the course of the next month for school food service personnel to help them understand New Jersey agriculture better.

This school year, the Department continued its relationship with the New York Jets for the Eat Right, Move More program, now in its 5th year.  The grand prize winner, Netcong Elementary School, received a $5,000 check for a kitchen makeover, a visit from Jets player D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and representatives were honored at a Jets game.  Four other winning schools will get Jets player visits.  

In March, the Department promoted school breakfast during National School Breakfast Week with a visit to a West New York elementary school, joined by the new Regional Administrator for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, Pat Dombroski.  The Department also worked with Food and Nutrition Service and the New Jersey Department of Education to honor several schools that attained the USDA’s Healthy U.S. School Challenge Award for their commitment to healthy eating. 

The USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is being expanded to 143 schools for next school year.  New Jersey received a 48 percent increase in funding to add 42 additional schools to the program that provides students with access to fresh produce during the school day. 

By the end of this calendar year, Rutgers Food Innovation Center is expected to complete a project to create new, portion-controlled food items derived from New Jersey agricultural products for use in school meals programs.  The Department received a $51,000 grant for this project from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the goal of creating items that are tasty and appealing to young people.

As part of a $340,000 Team Nutrition Training Grant awarded to the Department, the Department in April awarded nine schools $7,500 mini grants to plant school gardens, enhance programs to help students eat more fruits and vegetables, learn about good nutrition and promote locally grown produce. 

Last June, the Department awarded $463,000 in USDA Food Service Equipment grants for schools to purchase, renovate or replace kitchen equipment used to prepare school meals.  These grants helped schools buy freezers, ovens, warming table and many other items.