When the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program started in 1995, school districts in only eight states signed on with the partnership effort. By the end of fiscal 2019, the DOD Fresh program has grown to include districts nationwide, reaching record numbers of participants at the start of this school year.
The number of schools participating in the DOD Fresh program increased from 21,000 to 45,000 since the 2017 school year, said Patricia Scott, Subsistence Garrison Feeding Division chief said.
The program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture and Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support partnership effort supporting the USDA’s National School Lunch program, provides weekly deliveries of nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables to school children.
“Last week alone we supported 20,000 deliveries … our historic high for one week,” she said.
Joseph Hauser, Subsistence Produce and Market Fresh division chief, said his contracting team has a unique role in supporting the partnership which has outpaced orders for military support.
“When my team seeks vendors for an area, they solicit requirements for troops eating in [military] dining facilities as well as the schools,” he said. “The school program has grown so much that the dollar value and the number of contracts is higher than it is for troops.”
Thanks to the DOD Fresh program, each week children in 11,000 school districts across the country receive fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Partnering with the USDA to provide a variety of fresh produce to school-aged children through the DoD Fresh Program not only demonstrates DLA Troop Support’s commitment to provide quality food to the warfighter but extends to their children in schools across the country,” Army Brig. Gen. Gavin Lawrence, DLA Troop Support commander, said. “We are so grateful to support this effort and the great work that USDA is doing through this initiative.”
Kathleen Staley, USDA Program Integrity and Monitoring Branch chief, said the program has continued to grow as the schools’ demand for fresh fruits and vegetables increase.
“In 1995, when schools in the National School Lunch Program began to order and receive fresh produce [through DOD Fresh], the schools received produce worth $3.2 million,” she said. “In school year 2018-2019, over 45,000 schools in 48 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam ordered and received produce worth $272 million.”
Scott said that a significant portion of the program’s growth is attributable to word-of-mouth recommendations between school districts in regard to the value, timeliness and support provided by Subsistence and their USDA partners.
Alice Bennett, the director of nutrition services for the Sayre area school district in Northeast Pennsylvania, loves the DOD Fresh program.
“While we appreciate all the government commodities we are offered,” Bennett said. “The DOD items are those items we really choose to focus on in our lunch program.”