They looked like apples to the twenty-seven children who were waiting patiently in line for lunch as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) at Old Plank Estates in Butler, PA. But in fact, Freedom Farms, a local farmers market, brought a bushel of fresh picked nectarines for the children in honor of National Farmers Market Week. Lisa King from Freedom Farms explained to the children that, while nectarines may look like apples, they’re more like peaches without the “fuzz”. Giggling, with juice running off their chins, the children enjoyed the foreign fruit.
The USDA program is administered in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education. Old Plank Estates, a USDA Rural Development and Housing and Urban Development funded multi-family housing complex, is partnering with the Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center to provide the meals to the children. As an added bonus, Freedom Farms is a new partner in the program, offering to donate fruit each day and to help the children plant a garden at the complex next spring.
"This project is a great demonstration of partnerships between government agencies and community organizations working together to improve rural communities,” said Williams. The USDA's summer meals programs, including the SFSP and the National School Lunch Program's Seamless Summer Option, ensure that low-income children who rely on school meals can receive the nutritious food they need during the summer months, so they are healthy and ready to learn when they return to school in the fall. With the new partnership of the local farmers market, the children are learning more about local foods, supporting USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.
Last year, the summer meals programs saw a historic increase of 7 million more meals served compared to the previous summer, exceeding USDA's target of 5 million additional meals. This year USDA hopes to exceed 10 million more meals nationwide. The key factor to serving more children summer meals this year will be expanding the number of sites open for feeding children. In Pennsylvania this year, we have over 2,300 SFSP food distribution sites and hope to expand with additional community partners next summer.
USDA continues to work with First Lady, Michelle Obama, on the Let's Move! initiative, which is helping to promote healthy eating and physical activity and supports the health of American families. Through the combined efforts of USDA and its partners, the United States is beginning to see progress and improvements in the health of our Nation's children.