Cantwell: New Farm Bill Provision Would Make School Meals Healthier

Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot could mean more peas, lentils, chickpeas in Seattle school lunches

SEATTLE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined school nutrition experts and farmers and urged Congress to act on the 2013 Farm Bill, which could help make school meals healthier and support Washington agriculture jobs. The Senate is currently debating the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954), which passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on May 14.

Speaking from Dearborn Park Elementary School in Seattle, Cantwell highlighted how her ‘Pulse School Pilot’ amendment in the Farm Bill could make school meals healthier by integrating ‘pulse crops’ into breakfasts and lunches. Pulse crops, which include peas, lentils and chickpeas, are an excellent, cost-effective source of fiber, potassium, protein, and other essential vitamins and nutrients. Dearborn Park Elementary serves pulse crops at nearly every lunch.

“The Farm Bill is a nutrition and jobs bill,” said Cantwell. “Every parent and teacher knows that kids need nutritious meals in order to learn and stay healthy. The Pulse School Pilot could help make school healthier by giving students more chickpeas and lentils at lunch. We need to pass a Farm Bill now to support healthier school lunches and agriculture jobs across the state.”

Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot amendment would provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches. This could include raw beans and lentils as well as foods made from pulse crops, such as hummus. Flours made from pulse crops could also be added to breads, tortillas and pastas to enhance their nutritional value.

At the conclusion of the Pulse School Pilot, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would determine the program’s effectiveness by measuring increases in student consumption of pulse crops, identifying pulse crops students prefer and determining how pulse crops change nutritional levels in school meals. The Pulse School Pilot is modeled after the successful 2008 Whole Grains Pilot program, which helped the USDA purchase five million pounds of whole grain pancakes and tortillas for schools.

Cantwell also highlighted her Pulse Health Initiative in the 2013 Farm Bill, which would support $25 million per year over five years in pulse crop health research grants to help increase public demand and drive job growth. The research would look into the health and nutrition benefits of pulse crops, including their ability to reduce obesity and associated chronic disease. The initiative would support technical expertise to help food companies use nutrient-dense pulse crops in their products as well as establish an educational program to encourage the consumption and production of pulse crops.

Washington state is the top chickpea producer in the nation – producing nearly half of the nation’s total – and third in the nation for pea and lentil production. Pulse crop production in the state supports thousands of jobs – including those in transportation, port facilities, equipment manufacturers, crop advisors, insurance, supplies and other services. Washington state has 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops. The value of pea, lentil and chickpea shipments handled via the Seattle/Tacoma Port District reached nearly $130 million in 2011 – up from roughly $5 million in 2001.

Chickpea acreage in Washington state has exploded from less than 10,000 acres in the year 2000 to nearly 80,000 acres in 2012. According to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Washington state’s acreage of dry peas, lentils and chickpeas increased 20 percent from 2010 to 2011. A main driver of increased demand for chickpeas in the last decade has been increased demand for hummus. Retail sales of hummus are projected to increase to $250 million in 2013, up from $192 million in 2007 and $5 million in 1997. This increase has supported thousands of jobs in Washington state, including at 22 processors in Eastern Washington.

Other key provisions in the Senate Farm Bill for the state of Washington include:

Specialty Crop Research: The bill would increase investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. These programs have been used at sites like Washington State University (WSU), one of the nation’s leading agricultural research institutions. WSU has received Specialty Crop Block Grant investments to develop new planting and harvesting methods for tree fruit to increase crop yields, protect workers and reduce labor costs. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.

Market Access Program: The Farm Bill would continue investment in export promotion programs like the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Access Development (FMD) program, which have helped increase overseas sales of Washington state agriculture products like apples, cherries and wine.

The Washington Apple Commission has used MAP to reach consumers and businesses in India. These efforts increased the number of Washington apples being sold there from a few thousand cartons to a record 3.3 million cartons worth over $61 million last season. MAP investments have also boosted exports of pears to markets like India, Russia and New Zealand from 380,000 boxes in 2008 to over 500,000 boxes in 2011. Cherry exports have also received MAP support that has produced a 41:1 return on every dollar spent.

Washington’s wine industry has also used MAP support to boost overseas sales. The Washington Wine Commission secured MAP investments that helped the commission bring around 65 international wine buyers to Washington state for tours, seminars and tasting. More than 15 countries are usually represented on this tour according to the Washington State Wine Commission. Participating wineries have developed export opportunities in Scandinavia, Canada and China.

Clean Plant Network: The Farm Bill would also fully invest in the Clean Plant Network at $60 million per year. The network provides pathogen-tested plant material for specialty crop growers to better protect their produce from disease and blight. Washington State University’s Prosser Research and Extension Center is the main Northwest center for the Network. The Prosser site sends clean plant material to thousands of grape and hop farmers in Washington state to help increase crop yields.

Cantwell has consistently supported these programs to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive. On July 8, 2012, Cantwell joined local farmers at a farmers’ market in Seattle to highlight the benefits of the Farm Bill for Washington state.

At today’s event in Seattle, Cantwell was joined by Richard Conlin, Seattle City Councilmember; Angela Sheffrey Bogan, Principal of Dearborn Elementary; Wendy Weyer, Director of Nutrition Services at Seattle Public Schools; and Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and chickpea farmer.