Turlock schoolchildren this morning can bite into apples picked a day or two ago on a farm just seven miles away.
They are enjoying the fruits of Ag Link, a new online company based in Merced County that matches farmers with school districts looking to buy food for their cafeterias.
Ballico-area residents Rob and Jana Nairn launched the service last week and already have signed up 15 districts and 13 farmers around Central California.
Thursday morning, Jon Yori and his son, Shane, delivered about 2,000 apples from their Carpenter Road farm to Turlock Unified School District's food-service headquarters.
"I picked a lot of them last night and this morning," Jon Yori said. "They're really nice right now. They're in the middle of the season."
Scott Soiseth, director of child nutrition for the school district, said Ag Link helps schools meet new federal requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables.
It doesn't hurt that the Yori apples were just 17 cents each, less than half the cost of fruit from regular channels.
"We're really excited about what we're getting in," Soiseth said. "The quality is amazing."
Ag Link already provides about 30 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables for Turlock schools, he said, and that could double.
The apples delivered Thursday were scheduled to be in cafeterias today. They will be served to students who already have been eating fresh fruits and vegetables from conventional sources.
Julien School third-grader Jennifer Estrada said she likes apples "because they're juicy and also sweet and healthy for you."
Or as classmate Alyssa Arceo put it, "They're grown from the ground. They're plants. They're nature."
A hub for local produce
The Nairns, who are from agricultural backgrounds, got the idea for Ag Link from a dietitian friend who talked of how school food managers wanted nearby sources.
"What they asked for was a hub where they could go and see what's available right now," Rob Nairn said.
Thursday, the website offered 15 fruits and vegetables, including melons, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes and mixed dried fruit.
The site also is set up to sell dairy products, eggs, meat and nuts, but nothing is listed yet.
Farmers and school food managers register with Ag Link for free and then arrange for specific items to be picked up or delivered. Ag Link charges transaction fees to both parties -- 4 percent of the dollar total for farmers, 2.5 percent for schools.
Jon Yori, who sells most of his apples to the Cost Less Food Co. grocery chain, said Ag Link provides a market for fruit that's too small for supermarket displays.
Nairn said he would like to see Ag Link become a statewide business. So far, it operates in the San Joaquin Valley and Salinas area, with six employees.
The school districts taking part include Sylvan, Salida, Oakdale, Turlock, Denair, Los Banos and Manteca.
Ag Link is part of the local-food movement, but that does not mean everything will come from within a few miles of a school. In winter, Nairn said, local can mean Fresno County citrus, which is abundant when summer fruit trees are bare.
It's unlikely the service will supplant canned fruits and vegetables, including the large volume of peaches from Modesto-area canneries. Nairn said Ag Link at least could help schools cut down on canned products that are oversweetened.
The company is working to identify its food sources for students, by means such as placards on salad bars, and on having the farmers give talks on campus.
"It's all about knowing where your food comes from," Nairn said.
Modesto Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.