Let’s start by saying there’s nothing wrong with more students across the country eating Maine blueberries. They’re nutritious, delicious, and certainly plentiful.

But when they are shipped across country, or consumed out of season, there is one thing they are not — fresh. That’s not a judgment, but a fact, and because they are not fresh, they are not eligible for the federal Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program.

Unless Rep. Bruce Poliquin gets his way.

The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program has a single narrow goal — to introduce fresh fruits and vegetables to students who otherwise wouldn’t get much of either. Started as a pilot 15 years ago and now available in more than 7,500 schools across all 50 states, it helps low-income schools provide fresh produce as a between-meals snack, and it has been a success.

However, Poliquin has reintroduced a bill that would allow into the program frozen, canned, dried or pureed fruits and vegetables. Those are just as healthy as their fresh counterparts, Poliquin argues, and allowing other forms would make things easier on school food directors.

The congressman is right on both accounts, but that doesn’t mean the bill, which failed two years ago, should pass.


Certainly, few kids eat enough fruits and vegetables of any kind. However, fewer still have access to the fresh variety, particularly in the low-income school districts the federal program targets.

What’s more, the experience of eating corn on the cob, freshly picked strawberries or a carrot that was in the ground last week is a singular one. It’s different than eating a box of raisins or a jar of applesauce — it makes more of an impression on an impressionable mind, and makes it more likely that students will keep eating fruits and vegetables into adulthood.

Now others want a crack at those impressionable minds. Producers know that when they sell their food to schools, they are not only making customers of school districts, but students too, and possibly for a long time to come.

That’s why Poliquin’s bill has bipartisan support — because food companies in other congressional districts want access to developing palates, and a piece of the $180 million spent annually by the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, just as Poliquin wants to help blueberry growers get their product into schools.

School lunch policy has always been susceptible to politics. In fact, the program originally allowed raisins in order to gain the vote of an influential California congressman.

But it’s not like the producers of frozen, canned, dried or pureed foods are being left out in the cold. The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program accounts only for about $180 million a year out of the more than $19 billion the U.S. Department of Agriculture spends on school nutrition — the rest is dominated by packaged food.


Even without Poliquin’s bill, Maine blueberries, almost all of which end up frozen, are grabbing an increasing piece of that pie. Now available at schools in more than 19 states, more Maine blueberries were sold in schools in April than in all of 2016.

But even with all the gains to school nutrition made during the Obama administration, students have little access to fruits and vegetables straight from the farm.

So keep selling the country on Maine blueberries, Rep. Poliquin. Make sure the Maine agricultural industry gets its portion of the billions of dollars spent under the USDA for school nutrition. Get blueberries into schools in all 50 states.

But leave the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program alone.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: