JACKSON, Miss. — The Farm to School Program, placing Mississippi farm produce in local school cafeterias, has shown growth for the third consecutive year. 2004-05 school year purchases from Mississippi farmers was $416,650, a 45 percent increase from the previous year.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Lester Spell initiated the program in Mississippi in 2003 with the assistance of the Mississippi Department of Education. Through the program, enrolled farmers deliver pre-ordered produce at designated drop areas for payment. The produce is distributed to school districts in Mississippi for consumption in cafeterias.

“This program has provided a new and significant market for fruit and vegetable farmers in Mississippi,” Spell stated. “In only two years, Mississippi farmers have collected about $800,000, and students of Mississippi schools have benefitted by having tasty, nutritious vegetables grown right here in Mississippi.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the program is administered on the ground in Mississippi by Guy Feltenstein, director of fruits and vegetables at the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, and Gail Lynn, director of purchasing and food distribution at the Mississippi Department of Education.

In recent years and by way of the 2002 farm bill, the Department of Defense expanded its program to include schools in addition to military installations. The initiative of Spell allowed Mississippi to be one of the first states to participate in the program.

“The program has been a win-win situation for everyone,” said Lynn. “The farmers have a new market, and the children receive fresh, nutritional food.”