Students from Newark's Central High School and volunteers from the greater Newark community picked apples today on an East Brunswick orchard that will be distributed to Newark residents on Monday.

More than 1,500 pounds of apples were picked during the "gleaning" event organized by state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, who said she wanted to use the trip to the orchard to "elevate the conversation" about school nutrition.

“We had a firsthand look at the connection between our farming industry and the food on our tables in a way that many have never experienced," said Ruiz, who represents the 29th Legislative District, which includes parts of Newark and Belleville.

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The event comes after an announcement earlier this week of a bill Ruiz is sponsoring to eliminate the reduced-price meal category by requiring the state to pay the difference between federal allocations and the total cost of reduced price breakfast or lunch. 

The legislation is part of a larger package of bills the senator plans to introduce in the coming months to elevate schools’ nutrition standards.

“My bill package will include higher health standards for school meals and increase the amount of fresh produce served to students," Ruiz said. "Like every other space in school, the cafeteria is a place to learn and grow. It presents the opportunity to teach children what it means to eat healthy and why it is so important to their mental and physical wellbeing. Not every parent has the means to provide their children with a healthy diet but our schools can and should be partnering with our state’s farms to enforce good eating habits.”

The apples picked Friday at Giamarese Farm and Orchards will be distributed on Monday with the help of the New Jersey Agricultural Society and Table to Table.

Table to Table is a community-based food rescue program that collects perishable food that would otherwise be wasted and delivers it to organizations that serve the hungry in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties. The Agricultural Society works to preserve and enhance agriculture, farming and related activities and businesses in New Jersey through educational, informational and promotional programs.

“I am glad we were able to help facilitate this unique opportunity to connect different parts of the state and show our neighbors in Newark what a diverse ecosystem we have here,” said Pete Furey, Executive Director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau. 

“I look forward to working with the Senator further on her essential legislation to connect schools with our farmers to increase access to fresh food in schools,” Furey said.

Joining Ruiz in the apple gleaning were Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, who also represent's the 29th District, along with volunteers from Newark Central High School and the NJ Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers.