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“Often nutrition programs are disconnected from the agricultural policy discussion. What we’re trying to do is keep them connected—we want to shorten the length between farmers and schools.”

 
-Charles Kuperus
 
 
Farm and Food Voices
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NJ Secretary of Ag Charles Kuperus with AFT President Ralph GrossiGood for Farming, Good for New Jersey

Beginning in the fall of 2007, all public schools in the state of New Jersey conformed to new regulations that greatly reduce the fat and sugar content of foods consumed by school children. This has meant fewer soft drinks, fatty foods and high sugar choices in both vending machines and ala carte lines in the cafeteria.

Instead, schools have made more fresh fruits and vegetables and healthier snacks available while better nutritional education programs have been implemented. New Jersey’s Former Secretary of Agriculture, Charles Kuperus, led these changes.

“There were really three components there,” says Kuperus. “Eating right, more exercise and educating people about nutrition. That’s really what it boils down to.” Nutrition education is now part of every schools’ core curriculum.

Professional Background: Charles Kuperus grew up in New Jersey on his family’s dairy farm. Within three years after graduating from high school, he had started his own nursery and garden center. Before he became the state’s secretary of ag, Kuperus served as commissioner of the New Jersey State Planning Commission.

Farm and Food Focus:
Healthy diets, supporting local agriculture and farm to school programs.

Priority Initiatives:
“Healthy Choices, Healthy Kids,” which removes foods of minimal nutritional value from vending machines, ala carte lines, school stores and fundraisers on school property during school hours.

The new regulations seek to benefit agriculture by emphasizing, in the order of preference, local, regional and then national food sources for these healthier products. While crafting these new policies, the state sought to involve the food industry as well as agriculture in the process, which gave vendors and producers time to prepare for the changes.

Likewise, the state has implemented the same dietary guidelines for the several million dollars worth of food that will be purchased to feed the poor.

“We have been the point of the arrow of public policy leading an industry shift,” says Kuperus. “Industry has shifted slightly behind us but not far behind us. They’ve seen the trends in the marketplace.”

Major beverage companies have ramped up the number of 100 percent fruit juice drinks available, in addition to water and reduced fat milk products. One well-known snack cake company initially complained that the new regulations would significantly hurt their business, according to Kuperus. “Now they have a whole product line that meets the standards in New Jersey,” he says.

In addition, agriculture has researched value-added products that can be used year-round in schools, such as quick-frozen blueberries and sliced apples—nearly a third of which were sliced and grown in New Jersey and neighboring New York.

“Often nutrition programs are disconnected from the agricultural policy discussion,” says Kuperus. “What we've been trying to do is keep them connected—we want to shorten the length between farmers and schools.”

» Read more Farm and Food Voices

 
American Farmland Trust