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commodity procurement program

USDA's Commitment to Quality Foods

Across the country, schools are back in session. Here at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), our inspectors and procurement specialists work hard to make sure that quality, domestically-produced foods are delivered to students and other recipients for our federal food purchasing programs. As students are getting used to their new schedules, we would like to highlight how our own little field trip shed some light on a typical day for some of our employees.

A team of AMS employees recently traveled to Knouse Foods, a grower-owned cooperative that supplies apple and cranberry products for federal food purchasing programs. The employees saw first-hand how USDA inspectors help Knouse and other companies verify the quality of their products. As the apple sauce traveled through the facility, USDA inspectors pulled random samples to make sure that they met product quality and condition requirements. All USDA Foods are required to be inspected, and in this case, inspectors pulled samples of apple sauce to evaluate traits like its color, flavor, and consistency. As an independent third-party, the inspections help suppliers meet USDA Foods requirements but they also can help them meet requirements from other buyers.

Talking All Things Produce at the United Fresh Convention & Expo

The saying goes that change is the only thing that is constant. That certainly is the case in the produce industry where businesses are always looking to streamline processes and introduce new products to the market. Since my agency -- the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) -- provides services that facilitate marketing opportunities for the industry, it is imperative for us to be nimble and constantly look for ways to strengthen our connection with industry leaders. One of the ways we do this is by attending conferences like last week’s United Fresh Convention & Expo in Chicago, Ill.

Meeting to Make a Difference in USDA's Food Purchasing Programs

When you’re a contract specialist with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), you’re part of a Commodity Procurement team that purchases 1.7 billion pounds of commodities a year to support domestic agriculture. You’re part of a network- which also includes the Food and Nutrition Service, the Farm Service Agency, and hundreds of American agricultural producers, processors, and suppliers- which reaches far and wide to send quality, wholesome, nutritious products that feed students and other recipients in federal food and nutrition assistance programs.

While the daily activities of contract management mean I am in constant contact with many people within this network, it’s still beneficial to get out and connect with new and existing stakeholders and promote the dual mission of these purchase programs. I recently had the privilege of making some solid connections at the 2014 AMS Annual Industry Meeting for Contractors and Suppliers in USDA’s Commodity Purchase Programs.

Successful Meeting Helps Take Produce Marketing Efforts to Next Level

The fruit and vegetable industry is an integral part of our country. Besides helping increase access to healthy foods, the industry generates $40 billion in sales and empowers communities by creating jobs and stimulating economies. While it’s great to notice the strength of the produce industry, it is important to remember that it is the result of careful research and planning. I had the chance to watch the industry rekindle this energy as I visited with leaders from each of our marketing order boards and committees during a management conference last week.

There were some great takeaways from the meeting. We heard an update about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor. He ensured us that FDA is looking to collaborate with partners like USDA to help the industry comply with the FSMA regulations when they become final. We also heard from our Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller, who encouraged everyone to take advantage of new opportunities to sell food to USDA. Thanks to new National School Lunch standards, my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchased 20 percent more fruits and veggies in 2013 than in the previous year.

Did YOU Know that the USDA Emergency Food Assistance Program Helps Families Affected by Disasters?

September is National Preparedness Month, a time to evaluate the many ways that we can prepare our families and communities before, during, and after a disaster or emergency. Whether they come in the form of a hurricane, earthquake or drought, being prepared is the best defense against long-term, negative impacts. One of the ways USDA supports disaster victims is by supplying food for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). These purchases not only help those unfortunate enough to be affected by the disaster, they also put to use the abundance of foods produced by American farmers and processors.

Through our Commodity Procurement Program, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) makes purchases for household federal food programs like TEFAP. Some of the food that supplies this program, which is administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), comes from the AMS bonus buy program.

Celebrating the Blueberry - A Fruit and an Industry That Really Packs a Punch

Blueberries are often highly sought after because of their long list of health benefits and their sweet taste. Whether purchased fresh, frozen, or pureed, the blueberry has long been a staple in the diets of many people. Every July, the entire nation celebrates Blueberry Month by coming up with creative recipes and other unique ways to get their fill. Here at USDA, every month is Blueberry Month. One of the ways that we show our appreciation for our nation’s blueberry producers and processors is by creating more opportunities for people to enjoy this delicious fruit.

Indigenous to North America, the history of blueberries can be traced all the way back to Native Americans, who added them to soups, stews, and even meats. Highbush or cultivated blueberries are grown on large bushes that are planted in rows. These blueberries are often sent to the fresh market. Lowbush or wild blueberries produce smaller sized berries and are pruned every couple of years. The majority of lowbush blueberries are processed into items like jams, jellies and baked goods.

The Win-Win Situation of Selling Food to USDA

USDA’s purchase programs were created to support our nation’s farmers through the purchase of domestic products and to increase Americans’ access to nutritious food.  Many businesses who sell to USDA find that the programs also create other opportunities for growth.

Companies like Wawona Frozen Foods have used the Commodity Purchase Program, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), as a reliable outlet for their products.  The consistent opportunities offered through government contracting allowed them to eventually expand into commercial foodservice and retail markets.  For nearly 20 years, Wawona competitively bid for contracts and provided quality, nutritious foods to USDA programs. As a dependable USDA vendor, they supply more than 50 million frozen fruit cups to the National School Lunch Program each year.

Producing Positive Results During National Nutrition Month

Healthy eating plus physical fitness equals a positive lifestyle. It is a concept that has been talked about for years. Fruits and vegetables are an integral part of the equation and a corner stone for National Nutrition Month. Through a number of services, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) ensures that fresh, high-quality produce can reach each and every neighborhood.

USDA knows it is important to develop good eating habits early, so we work with schools to make sure our children fill their plates with quality, wholesome fruits and vegetables. For example, a Memorandum of Understanding between AMS, the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Service (FNCS) and local schools helps introduce fresh, locally-produced foods on school menus. To date, the Produce Safety University (PSU) has taught more than 400 school food service personnel how to safely handle and confidently purchase fresh produce.

Bringing New Markets to Puerto Rico's Producers

In any business venture, the key to reaching a new market is starting with accurate and comprehensive information. For American agricultural producers and suppliers looking at USDA feeding programs as a potential market, having a clear understanding of the rules, regulations and requirements is the best start on the path to success. USDA encourages new businesses to participate by providing information through our websites, publications, and conferences. Recently, we attended Puerto Rico’s 2013 Market Expansion Conference to encourage new businesses to consider our programs.

My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is part of a team of seven USDA agencies that attended this conference to strengthen Puerto Rico’s agriculture sector.