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TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Children's school lunches will be more nutritious and include more of Florida's fresh fruits and vegetables if Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam gets his way.

Putnam is working to develop a statewide menu for public schools that offers more of Florida's homegrown crops.

It's hard to believe but Putnam says public schools have never made it a priority to buy fruits and vegetables from Florida farmers when crops are in season.

He wants schools' food purchases to match Florida's growing season.

Putnam says simply order fruits and veggies when they're in peak production and everyone benefits: kids get fresher produce to eat, schools save money by ordering commodities when there's plenty of supply, and farmers can organize their plantings to earn more money.

"We're having a coordinated statewide menu, which means the bulk of the state will be serving the same items at the same time which allows us to negotiate a better deal for the schools when we're buying produce than if they were doing it one county at a time."

Putnam says growers can benefit from a coordinated statewide school lunch menu by basing their planting decisions on the demands of the school year.

"If you know that the third week of March there's going to be a surge in demand for green beans, you might be a Palm Beach County farmer who plants an extra 20 acres being aware of that fact."

Putnam says he brought together school leaders, farmers, and produce distributors so everyone would understand the supply chain in Florida and make the most of it.

Florida is home to nearly 50,000 farms. Nationally, it ranks first in cash receipts for oranges, grapefruit, snap beans, sweet corn, watermelons, and cucumbers.

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