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The administrator of the federal government’s food and nutrition service visited two Evanston schools today to check out innovative efforts to put more fruits and vegetables from local farms on students’ food trays.

The USDA’s Audrey Rowe, on a visit to the lunchroom at Dewey Elementary School, said she’s looking for programs that could be replicated elsewhere and that she’s excited about what’s happening in Evanston to provide greater market access to local farmers while encouraging healthier eating habits for students .

School District 65 has launched new food carts that bring more fruit and vegetable offerings to elementary students and is working with a Chicago-based distributor — FarmLogix — that links small farmers to commercial-scale food buyers, including school districts.

Top: Audrey Rowe talks with Dewey students about their lunches. Above: A fruit and vegetable cart at Dewey.

FarmLogix founder Linda Mallers said the company now serves 300 family farmers in four midwest states, providing an online marketplace where they can post what they have available and buyers can put together a single large-scale purchase from multiple farms and pay through a single invoice.

Mallers said FarmLogix also has an agreement with Testa Produce that has Testa buy large quantities of end-of-season fruits and vegetables from local farmers, chop them up and freeze them to provide products that can be thawed and served to students during months when local fresh produce is unavailable.

Dewey students in the lunch room.

Rowe said District 65, which has its own kitchen facilities has a bit of an advantage over many other schools, which now use meals prepared by outside food service companies, and that she wanted to learn how the model could be adapted to that environment.

And she said she wanted to encourage more efforts, like ones at Evanston schools to put students in touch with food production through creation of school gardens.

Rowe, who was promoting the department’s new Farm to School program, also toured the kitchen and cafeteria at Evanston Township High School to talk with students about nutrition and school meals.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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