Columbus City Schools is adding an item to its food program that would make Johnny Appleseed proud.

Starting in the fall, the district plans to offer fresh, sliced Ohio apples as part of its lunch program, which serves 35,000 students daily.

The district was the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase a fresh-apple cutting system that will clean, slice, preserve, weigh and bag local apples. The produce would be served in all schools, but is especially intended for elementary school-age children.

Part of the grant will be used for outreach and education, said Scott Varner, CCS spokesman.

Cafeteria surveys, both nationally and locally, suggest students eat more apples when they are pre-sliced instead of served whole, Varner said.

"If you slice it up, boy, those apples go quick," he said.

CCS now purchases more than 3 million apples a year.

"We do not expect this new equipment to add to our food costs," Varner said. "Apples are already a large part of our school menus.

"This new equipment will lower the number of apples that might get thrown out from not being picked up or tossed away after only a bite or two."

Earlier this year, Columbus City Schools moved to purchase all of its apples from Ohio farms. The district also launched "Ohio Days: My State. My Plate," serving a lunch option each month using Ohio-sourced foods.

Bill Dodd, president of the Fruit Growers Marketing Association, an Ohio apple-marketing cooperative, said the group supports the school district's efforts.

"Anytime we can get anyone to eat more apples, it's a good thing," he said. "In many cases, it's probably going to be a student's first introduction to apples."

Dodd said there are about 110 apple orchards in Ohio, most of them producing small crops. The school district's consumption accounts for about 20,000 bushels -- a number that can be accommodated by Ohio producers, he said.

More than 30 varieties of apples are grown in the state, but Red Delicious is the most prevalent, Dodd said.

The bulk of the apple harvest in Ohio is between September and October. The fruit typically is stored in special refrigerators to keep it fresh for the retail market throughout the year, he said.

Dodd said it is difficult to say if the district's efforts will lead to more apple production in the state.

Still, "It's good for this economy when you can source things closer to home, whether it's typewriters or apples," he said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary