The U.S. Department of Agriculture has allocated almost $5 million to New Jersey for the 2020-2021 school year's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to provide fresh produce to thousands of school children.

The funding will help provide fresh food to 85,000 students in 14 Jersey counties during the school day.

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher said it is the third straight year the number of schools participating in the program has increased — and 168 is the highest number of schools in the program since it began in New Jersey in 2008. The first year, only 33 schools participated.

The program introduces children to fresh fruits and veggies so they can learn how to incorporate local produce into their diets at an early age, Fisher said.

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Fisher said the kids — some of whom don't have easy access to fresh food — get very excited to try these foods. The hope is that they'll start asking for these fruits and vegetables in their meals served at home.

Some of the fruits and vegetables are common; others, like papayas, are less so. Fisher cited the strawberry as a fresh food some kids may have never had at home. In school, they'll get to sample its sweetness, learn how it's grown in New Jersey, and get various recipes to prepare it at home.

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