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PHOTOS: Rep. Pingree, Governor Mills welcomes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to Maine and highlights success of Maine’s Free School Lunch Program

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Governor Janet Mills hosted United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today in Gorham, Maine to highlight the meal program State Free Schools, which guarantees free and universal access to school meals. During a tour of Gorham Middle School, Vilsack, Mills and Pingree, along with Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal, got a first-hand look at the preparation of the school lunches, met with school staff and learned more about how Maine is taking action to end child hunger in our schools and communities.

“In Maine, we know that nutritious school lunches are as essential to classroom success as pencils and notebooks. Maine’s historic free school lunch program has given all children in our state a fair chance to excel academically without the burden of hunger or financial stress distracting them from their education,” said Pingree. “I am grateful that Secretary Vilsack came to Gorham Middle School today to see first-hand how Maine’s free school lunch program can be a model for the country. The Secretary’s announcement of $50 million in US bailout funding will directly help schools develop cooking from scratch, stock locally grown produce and provide the tools they need to serve healthy school meals. This funding, which complements the funding I fought for on the appropriations committee, exemplifies the USDA and Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to supporting healthy and equitable school lunches. I am proud to have Secretary Vilsack, Governor Mills, her administration, and countless farmers and teachers as partners in creating greater access to healthy school food for every child in America.




“I am pleased to join Governor Mills and Representative Pingree this morning in emphasizing the importance of ensuring that every student in Maine and across the country has access to healthy, nutritious meals,” says Secretary Vilsack. “As the release of the National Hunger, Nutrition, and Health Strategy demonstrates, the USDA, under the Biden-Harris administration, is committed to advancing the path to free, healthy school meals for all. . Providing all school children with access to healthy, nutritious meals will promote better health and give them the tools to reach their full potential, which means a better and more complete future for our nation.

“We all know that children cannot learn on an empty stomach”, said Governor Mills. “I’m proud to say that here in Maine, we’ve taken nationally-leading action to ensure that all children can continue to eat free during the school day. This investment in our children prepares them for future success and reassures parents. I hope other states will follow our example.

During the school’s food tour on Tuesday, Vilsack, Mills and Pingree spent time in Gorham Middle School’s community garden, which teaches students to care for vegetables, herbs, flowers and berries, which are all donated to the Gorham Food Pantry. There they met Maine’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, Heather Whitaker, who runs the garden.




“We are extremely honored and proud to welcome Secretary Vilsack, Governor Mills, Congresswoman Pingree and Commissioner Beal to the garden of Gorham Middle School today, where for the past 19 years our community has worked together. to grow and donate an average of 1,000 pounds of produce each growing season to the Gorham Food Pantry,” said Heather Whitaker. “I am proud to live, raise children and teach in a state that recognizes that all students should have equitable access to fresh, local foods in our school nutrition programs. School Meals for All and Farm and Sea to School have a direct and positive impact on the health and well-being of our students. Today’s announcement of additional funding for school nutrition programs will expand those opportunities and provide much-needed equipment to schools in Maine and nationwide. »

Vilsack, Mills and Pingree then met with more than a dozen local farmers in Augusta for a closed-door panel discussion on farm-to-school initiatives, our broader food system, hunger and more. problems facing farmers and schools.

Background:

As a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Pingree has made fighting hunger, reducing food waste and expanding access to healthy food top priorities. Pingree, who in 2018 launched the first-ever bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus, co-founded the Food is Medicine Task Force, co-sponsored the Medically Adapted Meals on Wheels Demonstration Pilot Actand is the lead sponsor of the Kids Eat Local Act to support local and regional food systems and encourage healthy meal choices among school-aged children.

In July, the Kids Eat Local Act and three other major bills it co-sponsored — the School Food Recovery Act, the Food Donation Improvement Act, and the No Shame at School Act — were introduced to the House Education and Labor Committee in under HR 8450, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Children Act.

She has also drafted several bills aimed at reducing food waste and fighting hunger, including the Food Donation Enhancement Act that would allow corporations to donate food to those in need without fear of liability and the Food Date Labeling Act to ensure that Americans do not feel it is necessary to discard safe and edible food. In April 2022, Pingree introduced the FIND Food Act to expand existing tax deductions and credits and create new ones to better incentivize farmers and suppliers to donate food.

In August, Pingree was part of a successful bipartisan effort to expand 12 crucial waivers that allow the USDA to feed millions of school-aged children.

Pingree sits on both the House Agriculture Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, and in 2018 launched the first-ever Bipartisan Food Recovery Caucus. Pingree is a co-sponsor of Universal School Meals Program Actwhich would permanently provide free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to all schoolchildren, regardless of income, eliminate school lunch debt and strengthen local economies by encouraging local food sourcing.

In April 2022, Mills and the Maine Legislature approved $27 million from the additional state budget to cover the cost of school meals not reimbursed by the federal government.

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