Shumlin Plan Would Use Federal Aid To Buy Local Food

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(Host) The Shumlin Administration thinks it has a plan to sharply reduce childhood hunger in the state.

The Administration is seeking a waiver from the federal government to give food agencies much more flexibility to purchase locally grown products for their programs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The Shumlin plan represents a major change in the way that federal commodity programs provide food products to local groups.

Right now, the USDA purchases various products and sends them to schools and local food organizations throughout the country.

Last year, Vermont groups received about $2 million in commodity products.

Shumlin wants to replace the USDA program with vouchers so that Vermont organizations can purchase locally grown food. He says it’s good for the local growers and good for the students:

(Shumlin) "Let’s change the way we distribute food to our schools, let’s change the way we feed our children, let’s have locally grown food getting into our children’s meals every day and let’s make sure that no child goes hungry in Vermont and hopefully in America."

(Kinzel) John Sayles is the director of the Vermont FoodBank. He says the proposal is one way to help deal with a growing need for food in the state:

(Sayles) "Hunger is still increasing in Vermont and across the country and there’s no reason for that…we can end hunger in Vermont, we can end hunger in this country. There’s plenty of food, there’s plenty of money…the only thing we don’t have is the will to bring all those pieces together and really feed people."

(Kinzel) Anore Horton is the child nutrition manager at Hunger Free Vermont. She thinks the voucher program has a number of benefits:

(Horton) "Providing the option of vouchers will allow our schools greater flexibility in what they serve, how much they buy and when they buy it.  Allowing schools to purchase locally will greatly expand the relationship our schools have with local farms and it will support students’ learning about the source of their food."

(Kinzel) Bob Clifford is the food service director at the Chittenden Central Supervisory district. He thinks the voucher plan makes a lot of sense:

(Clifford) "… Being able to buy food as needed, instead of storing it in freezers and walk-in coolers throughout the country, not to be used for 6 months to a year. It’s a system that was set up in the 1930s. It’s antiquated, it’s inefficient and it’s ineffective."

(Kinzel) Governor Shumlin says he plans to raise this issue at this weekend’s meeting of the National Governor’s Association to see if he can persuade other governors to support this approach.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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