DeLauro, Coalition of Advocates Announce Bill to Increase USDA Fresh Produce Purchases
Legislation empowers farmers and community organizations to serve low-income families and strengthen local food systems
WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) today introduced the Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act, legislation to increase and improve the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables. The bill would require USDA to partner with growers, distributors, and food hubs to provide fresh, U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables to community organizations like schools, local food pantries, and youth organizations while prioritizing socially disadvantaged farmers and entities, regional food inequities, and local and regional food systems.
“Along with creating the greatest public health and economic crisis in a generation, the COVID pandemic exploited our country’s nutrition crisis and highlighted the need to build resiliency in local and regional food systems,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “Throughout 2020, USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program succeeded in connecting healthy fruits and vegetables from our nation’s farmers to hungry families who needed it the most. I saw gratitude on the faces of so many families as I helped distribute boxes from Cecarelli's Harrison Hill Farm at Common Ground High School in my district. Many of them would go on to say that never before had they had access to such high-quality, fresh produce.”
“That is why I was disappointed by Secretary Vilsack’s decision to end the program,” continued Congresswoman DeLauro. “In my view, the program should have been strengthened and continued as a way to get healthier foods to families and as an investment in our local producers and specialty crop growers, who traditionally fall outside of USDA’s commodity supports. The bill would abandon USDA’s low-cost bid model, and instead, require priority be given to local food systems and regional inequities. This bill is an important first step in leveraging USDA food purchasing to drive important reforms across our food system.”
Just last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center released a report calling on USDA and Congress to “establish a greater focus on procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables in USDA Food Distribution Programs” as a way to increase diet quality and meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
DeLauro’s announcement comes in conjunction with the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference.
“We know that demand is high for fresh fruits and vegetables at emergency feeding sites around the country, yet USDA’s procurement infrastructure is not built to purchase and distribute a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Tom Stenzel, President & CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association. “We thank Representative DeLauro for recognizing the extraordinary opportunity to address nutrition insecurity by tapping the existing fresh produce supply chain to meet these community needs.”
Along with United Fresh, the Fresh Produce Procurement Act is supported by a broad coalition of agriculture, nutrition and public health, as well as community serving organizations that include Boys & Girls Club of America, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the American Heart Association, Save the Children, The Common Market, National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Community Action Partnership of Orange County, CA, and the Des Moines Area Religious Council Food Pantry.
"Even prior to the pandemic, local Boys & Girls Clubs across the country operated on the frontlines, helping address the impacts of food insecurities in communities. During COVID-19, we’ve seen this issue significantly intensify, making it even harder for kids and families in America to thrive," said Jim Clark, President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "Each day, I am in awe of the innovative ways Boys & Girls Clubs and other youth-serving organizations have stepped up to distribute food, providing access to nutritious meals and fresh produce. We applaud Congresswoman DeLauro once again, for championing critical anti-hunger initiatives through the Fresh Produce Procurement Act of 2021. Our Clubs stand ready and committed to do whatever it takes to ensure youth have their essential needs met, so they can focus on school, developing new skills, and having fun."
"A silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has highlighted the resilience and capacity of community-based food systems to respond to emergencies in innovative ways,” said Wes King, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “For years, small farmers and advocates have emphasized the role that community-based food systems play in providing those in need with access to healthy and culturally appropriate fresh fruits and vegetables. The Fresh Produce Procurement Reform Act of 2021 seeks to incorporate this reality and the lessons learned through USDA pandemic response efforts into ongoing efforts at the department to address nutrition and food insecurity. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for introducing this timely legislation and looks forward to working with her and Congress to advance this important proposal."
“We are pleased to support Congresswoman DeLauro in her work to improve access to nutritious foods for children and families in rural areas of America,” said Trevor Moe, Senior Director at Save the Children. “87% of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are rural. Current nutrition programs underserve rural America. This bill is a step toward more nutritious food systems that rural families need.”
"Relying on local supply chains to support emergency feeding programs presents an opportunity to center quality, cultural relevance, and nutrition — facets not often associated with emergency feeding responses," said Haile Johnston, co-founder of The Common Market, a nonprofit regional food distributor responsible for delivering nearly 1 million local food boxes to communities across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions in response to COVID-19 last year. "Offering fresh, nutrient-dense, and culturally appropriate foods is critical to an equitable emergency response effort, providing stability and dignity for recipients during a time of great uncertainty and loss."
“In our community, unemployment is still more than twice the pre-pandemic level, two million people in our state recently lost all unemployment benefits, the eviction moratorium will soon expire, personal debt is at an all-time high, and the inflationary cost of food is impacting low-income families most dramatically,” said Mark Lowry, Director of Community Action Partnership of Orange County, CA. “Although the demand for food assistance remains high, attention directed toward meeting this need has faded. Right-sized support from the federal government, our county government, and local cites early in our COVID disaster response has largely evaporated. We need to repeat that COVID is not over and the financial impacts of COVID are certainly not over. Congresswoman DeLauro has long been a champion of the families who we serve, and we applaud her leadership in working to secure additional fresh fruits and vegetables to satisfy the nutritional needs of vulnerable families across America.”
“Fresh produce remains one of, if not the highest demand product in our food pantry network,” said Matt Unger, CEO of the Des Moines Area Religious Council Food Pantry. “While a lot of programming has helped folks meet their nutrition needs through the pandemic, several of those programs have ended or are coming to an end. Unfortunately, all the issues that led to the food insecurity problem we face nationally before the pandemic still exist. As those facing food insecurity aim to meet their nutrition needs, we know barriers to accessing fresh produce are among the most difficult they face, making a program like this, which does not exist today, a critical avenue of support.”