USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue address to School Nutrition Association’s National Conference 2017

Well I guess that’s one way to make sure
you’re going to get a standing ovation right good morning everybody how y’all
doing welcome to Atlanta Georgia I’m glad to be here home with you as well
and hope you’re having a great great time already having fun great I listen
to a little part of what Alex was talking about it he said you may not
remember in three days we used to sell our staff and I like to tell my staff
today about something that reminds me of what you all do because I still remember
it goes like this you may not remember what I said you may not even remember
what I did but you will remember how I made you feel you know that’s the power
that you all have over children because I’m standing here telling you I can
still feel the love from our lunchroom ladies when I was in middle school
elementary school in high school so thank you very much Lynn and Becky thank
you for a wonderful introduction and it is great to be here with you for just a
little small crowd of what 7,000 professionals here and nutritional
professionals it’s a delight to be here with you and I want to just take an
opportunity to tell you how humble I am to be a partner with you to really to
serve you and your profession because of what you do and how you have done it
over the years and I want to thank our USDA staff for being here that works
closely with you I want to thank where’s our Georgia home crowd I think we got
some Georgia folks down it okay all right so those folks know I love them so
anyway it’s good to get out of Washington I can tell you that and meet
with the people who do the real work as well so and you’re the ones who who feed
millions of children every day and god bless you for that I it’s really why
it’s especially meaningful to be working at your side because you provide
something that’s noble food and you think about that you directly influence
you nurturing you mold the lives of the most
important people in our country that’s our young generations you may know my
mother was a teacher my wife was a teacher I’ve got cousins and aunts and
uncles and teachers and in fact my uncle was the school superintendent about a
hundred miles south of here for 20 years in that period of time so people who
work closely with children in schools are very much a part of my life my
mother taught English for 42 years so if I leave any dangling participles today
please don’t tell her okay I have my own focus group as well that
you may know about it has kept me up to date on what goes on in school and in a
school cafeteria that’s 14 grandchildren so they they know what’s good and what’s
not and they they tell me about it so you know you may have heard my comment
lately the school nutrition professionals today affectionately I
still call lunchroom ladies is that okay hope that’s not true for pejorative for
you all but we understand guys forgive me but when I grew up it was lunchroom
ladies and some of my fondest memories and I can I can literally still remember
I talked about feeling I can still remember the faces of those wonderful
women who served us every day and I can still smell and if I close my eyes I can
almost taste those cinnamon rolls that they were prepare it rumbled junior high
school and one of Robins oh I’m hungry already and you know what back then
there was very little childhood obesity why is that because we played outside
all the time and there were nutritious meals at home so but we know times have
changed and today you’re still responsible for providing many times the
main meal for many children and you take those challenges on head-on and and you
do well frankly I told someone yesterday one of your members one of my friends in
Houston County that our school professionals today are kind of being
blamed for somewhere meals like our teachers are being blamed
for the education where kids spend six maybe eight hours at school and twenty
sixteen at home and yet you still get the blame right so that’s what happened
so like around many of living around many educators I learned some pretty
important principles about your call that calling your school your calling a
school nutritionist what I learned was these are directly relate to the
partnership with USDA and I want to share a few of the most important ones
that I found you know this you know what by what you do every day you see it but
first of all hungry children cannot learn and so I don’t mean to sound so
profane profound for that because that’s simple and basic but it can get lost in
the conversation about education children need good basic nutrition to
grow physically mentally and emotionally today many of us cannot even fathom the
environments that some of our school children come to school in you see them
you know though we can we can buy the latest cutting-edge technology we can
build and equip the best classrooms we can hire and train the brightest
teachers administrators but if that child sitting in that economically
designed seat and desk with a smart board in front of it is hungry then
learning is going to be a bigger challenge secondly school nutritionists know more
about the students and most people realize I’ve got a theory I’d like to
share with you I bet after the first six weeks of school any school year you
gives to school nutritionists a list of the students on the school roll and then
ask the school nutritionist to estimate the grades or maybe the performance of
each student I bet there’s a correlation between your estimates and how the
school students actually perform in the classroom because you have a significant
insight into the students that you serve thirdly students must like the food
enough to eat it pretty basic right this isn’t rocket science if children do not
eat the food it goes in the trash and food that’s thrown in the trash cannot
nourish any child and frankly that trashcan doesn’t need any nerve smoke
because the work you do in the vital input input that you gave one of my
first actions the Secretary of Agriculture was directly because and in
support of you for many of you it’s been a struggle to meet the school and meal
standards that came out of Washington in recent years we heard you but more
importantly we listened just as soon as I got the USDA the very first thing we
did was to announce new flexibilities in the school meals program I take that applause and you approve now
some of suggestions I was lobbied heavily to take this action and to some
degree that’s true I had a bunch of kids talk to me about how they didn’t like
the school meals anymore in fact one of my childhood friends had a 12 year old
granddaughter and he was telling her about what the USDA Secretary was
responsible for many things but it got around the school lunch program and how
the USDA was involved in the school lunches
she said grandpa that’s great can mr. sunny makes school lunches great again
so I I know I cannot but you can and we’re going to do our best to help you
also as you may know heard from school nutritional professionals you told us
instead of preparing menus for students you were spending too much time
interpreting the ever-changing guidelines implementing regulations and
preparing for audits in fact many of your vendors and food distributors were
opting not even to bid on those school contracts because of the complexities
and the liabilities and the overhead involved which helped to drive up cost
for our schools as well in short the new school guidelines were creating
bookkeeping headaches and menu problems and distracting you from the real job of
feeding the kids nutritious and appealing meals so as you may know we
addressed three different areas that kind of came to the surface as we talked
to many people that was grains sodium and middle some schools were
experiencing challenges and finding the full range of products that they needed
and that their students would enjoy particularly in the whole-grain rich
form so we’re announce that we will allow States to grant grant exemptions
to students from the hundred percent whole grain rich requirements to the
2021 school year for sodium levels we said that all schools which meet the
current sodium target one will be considered compliant through the same
year of 22 money and it’s for milk we want to allow
schools to be able to serve 1 percent fat flavored milk give students greater
choice and give schools greater flexibility these changes provide
hopefully more certainty to suit the both schools and food providers while we
work through the process to find more permanent solutions but we need you we
need you and your council to continue giving us feedback as we work together
to further ensure nutritious and appetizing meals are being provided to
our children now some have said in the press is you’ve read that we are rolling
back these moves roll back progress I don’t agree with that we’re freezing
things in place to help us evaluate what the palatability what the acceptance of
these these changes have been and to reduce the burdens on schools to give
you where you can get back to feeding kids and not doing paperwork so much
anymore all right I hope you found that our technical
experts are there for you many in this room who can help assist schools to meet
those standards that are there and besides if the program isn’t working as
desired as intended is it really progress others have said
the current program is a success because most schools are compliant already I
said huh if all the meal that means is they obeyed orders under the threat of
the federal government taking away their money I guess I’d be compliant too I found that only in Washington DC can
something be called a success just because people are doing what they were
told to do that’s not success ladies and gentlemen that’s just numbers on a
spreadsheet and we trust you to get to the heart and to the palate of those
kids that you’re feeding just because schools are following direct orders
doesn’t mean those orders make any sense and since when does all the wisdom about
feeding kids reside in Washington DC but I want to tell you how gratifying it
was to have the support of the school nutrition Association when we announced
the program because we consider the school nutrition Association and the
USDA to be partners in this endeavor in fact your own outgoing president Becky
bays was there president Loudoun County when we attended that elementary school
there to announce that and I want to tell you something else that’s fresh
news this morning we’ve invited lynn and our incoming board and the committee
work your committee day in washington to come give us direct specific advice how
we can make the best rules going forward possible Trust is important and I want to say
unequivocally I trust you and that’s why we’ve asked your leadership elected
leadership and the board of the nutrition Association to come help us
figure out the best way to make this work for all of our kids and all of our
families out there you can see the evidence of that partnership right here
this conference we’ve got more I think than 25
representative our food nutrition service here today including many who
are based right here in Atlanta and we’ve got three booths on the exhibit
floor and our people are also staffing the USA helped USDA helpdesk and out by
the registration area and hopefully are answering any questions that you’ve had
recently all this because I am convinced we have the same goals in mind and
that’s the health and vitality and nourishment of our young people you know as I indicated earlier you know the
children who are in your care you know the needs that are unique to your school
and your community wherever you may live you need to have the flexibility to fit
your meals to the needs of the children that you serve where you are while the
intent of the original rules and the program were good the reality was
somewhat different additionally your dedication and creativity was being
stifled you were forced to focus your attention on strict inflexible rules
handed down from Washington even worse you experienced firsthand that the rules
were failing so we wanted to put more decision-making into the hands of the
folks of the local level let me just give you a simple illustration my wife
Mary is known for her delicious pound cakes she can make a quite a pound cake
now she didn’t have any professional nutritious training to do that but I’m
the scientist in the family I’m a graduate veterinarian and I want
to ask you had you rather have a own cake cooked by this scientist or the
lady who knows what she’s doing right that’s the example here that makes
common sense to me so you want to have the flexibility to
fit your meal programs in the needs of the children that you fit fit there as
well so we wanted we wanted you to be in charge and that’s what we hope to do
local it’s where we wanted to come from and finding sources for your food as
well we know that you have vendors and distributors and people here that help
you accomplish your goals and we want that to be even better as you know one
of the my goals of Secretary of Agriculture’s men to open up new markets
for farmers everywhere and the first thing when we think about that maybe
foreign markets and that’s definitely a major target area for us but one market
we also want to expand is a locally grown food you tap into this valuable
source to feed the children you serve and you know it’s good nutritious
wholesome and you know farmer Jones just down the road right so more than 40
2,500 schools participate in a Farm to School market over twenty three point
six million students learn the benefits of farm-fresh food over 7,000 schools
have a garden right on site and this gives students a real live opportunity
to cultivate and to grow their own food these students gain an increased
understanding of the miracle of life and where their food comes from and we have
opportunities to grow our farm to school programs and we want to make it easier
for you to do so of course being right here in Atlanta Georgia I’ve got to get
give a shout-out to our Commissioner of Agriculture Gary black and his Georgia
grown program there they’re working with our youngest students to teach them
about local products so they can begin to influence household buying decisions
hopefully before as they seek out locally grown farm products so I want to
encourage each of you if you’re not doing that already to work with your
State Department’s of Agriculture on growing your Farm to School
partnerships I think you and your hungry mouths that you feed will be blessed
locally grown food and hands-on gardening experience in schools can only
be good for our children let’s think about what your role is I once heard a
story about two bricklayers working near each other a man stopped by and asked
them what they were doing one man just looked up rather solemnly and said his
job was just to lay bricks the other hopped up with a smile on his face and
stopped his working he gazed up into the sky and with deep emotion and passion
and conviction he said I’m building a great Cathedral to the glory of God so
that really is about the big picture ladies and gentlemen the influence you
can have on the lives of tomorrow is immense just last week when President
Trump spoke to a large crowd in Warsaw Poland in that address he spoke about
the vital importance of our culture our freedoms and our shared values it’s
really what sets us apart in world history if you think about it and we
should be unapologetic and being proud of what we what you have accomplished
this United States is a great and blessed nation and part of what makes us
great are people like you part of a system
that nurtures future generations and frankly you never know the impact that
you have on lives of the children that you serve that little boy or that little
girl that you encourage in the lunchroom one day may you may discover to be a
Nobel prize-winning breakthrough in medicine or food production and I could
tell you about a little Georgia boy little Georgia farm boy who grew up to
have an opportunity honor to be governor of Georgia and then Secretary of
Agriculture I can tell you my lunchroom lady in Warner Robins high school that
taught me lessons about life and living in many ways miss chambers was there for
many years she had a daughter named Shirley who was one of the earlier the
Lumad babies what I learned about miss chambers and her daughter Shirley was
Shirley worked with her mother there in the lunch room she had virtually no arms
but she would sit on us tool there and make change take payment
and make change with their toes and her feet it demonstrated to me the power of
a dedicated life a dedicated mom who was dedicated not only a feed children about
food but to show them how we can accomplish great things if we don’t know
our limitations or disabilities so I want you to know how honored I am to be
your partner in school nutrition and I honored I am to be the Secretary of
Agriculture it’s a big vast job but I want to tell you this I don’t really
know if anything more important than what we do to feed our children our
motto at the USDA our new motto is do write and feed everyone and that
includes students school children its this is not a job it’s a mission it’s a
high calling with which I’m passionately committed and my mission is to serve you
and those children that you serve so thank you for allowing to come just
briefly today and share my heart with you may God bless you may God bless the
children that you serve may God bless your organization and may God bless the
United States of America thank you

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