A plan by Florida’s agriculture commissioner to increase nutrition in children includes proposed legislation to give school foodservice programs improved access to locally grown produce.

Commissioner Adam Putnam unveiled the outline for a bill — the Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act — while speaking to about 125 school foodservice employees on Feb. 21 at the Florida School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Caucus.

A spokeswoman for Florida State Sen. Gary Siplin on Feb. 22 said the senator plans to introduce the bill within days. It is expected to be filed by committee in the Florida House.

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association said Feb. 22 that he is excited to see Putnam following up on campaign promises with the introduction of the legislation.

“Putnam talked about this in his race for his job and we are thrilled to see it happening,” Stuart said.

Putnam is known as an advocate for better nutrition for children, Stuart said, and the Healthy Schools for Healthy Lives Act is a continuation of the commissioner’s work when he was in Congress.

If approved by the state legislature, the act would bring together all state-level school food and nutrition programs under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

One goal of the act is to “enable schools to access and serve high quality and nutritious foods, including locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables,” according to a news release from Putnam’s office.

“In a state where fresh fruits and vegetables are in abundance, there is an opportunity for us to offer more high-quality, nutritious foods to schools and public assistance programs,” Putnam’s release stated.

The act would increase coordination between businesses providing fresh produce and the state’s school foodservice programs by using the ag department’s existing relationships and distribution networks.

Stuart said the Putnam’s goal of consolidating the school food programs makes sense for everyone involved. In the long run, he said, it would benefit Florida’s produce industry.

“This is really an opportunity to direct the focus to fresh fruits and vegetables … We’ve seen that kids who eat better at school ask for better choices at home, too,” Stuart said.

“As for residual benefits for our industry, time will tell. But if we can get kids interested in eating healthier now, they will be buying more fresh fruits and vegetables when they are adults.”