By Christine Graf
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County has received a farm-to-school grant from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to help connect schools with local farms and food producers.
The goals of the program include strengthening local agriculture, improving student health, and promoting regional food systems awareness.
The two-year grant totals $93,582. The state awarded $1.5 million in grants to 18 different organizations.
According to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Warren County Executive Director Dr. James Seeley, they applied for the grant last year but did not receive it.
“We wrote the grant primarily on how it was going to benefit school districts. And we left out a lot about how it was going to benefit producers and farmers,” said Seeley. “The primary objective of the grant is to connect farmers or producers to school districts in an effort to increase the amount of fresh produce in the school menus.”
In additional to improving the nutritional value of foods available to students, the program is intended to have a positive impact on childhood obesity rates.
Cornell Cooperative will be hiring a farm-to-school coordinator to oversee the program. The majority of the grant will be used to fund this full-time, two-year position.
“We are looking for someone who has worked in the agriculture field and has an agriculture-related degree,” says Seeley. “It will take a lot of work and coordination with school cafeteria managers and food service directors.”
As part of the grant, Cornell Cooperative will offer food preparation and nutrition classes at the schools they are partnering with. They will also purchase some food preparation equipment for schools.
Numerous school districts were interested in participating in the program, and five were chosen for 2019. They are Glens Falls City, Hadley-Luzerne, North Warren, Warrensburg, and Fort Ann.
“It was based on need,” said Seeley. “We looked at free and reduced lunch counts to see what school might benefit more initially. In the grant, we also specified that were going to operate within a 50 to 75 square mile radius of the producers. We have to take into account transportation of products as well as storage of some of these products.”
Five more school districts–Queensbury Lake George, Bolton, Johnsburg, and Glens Falls Common—will be added in 2020.
As part of the program, Cornell Cooperative will work with local farmers and dairy producers. Stewarts Shops, Battenkill Dairy, Hicks Orchard, George Ryan Farms, and Juniper Farms have all expressed interest.
“We also include dairy such as milk and yogurt because a lot of local farmers are dairy producers,” said Seeley. “The biggest thing is going to survey these farmers and producers to see what they can produce for these schools, in what quantities, and what their prices points are. Then we go to the school districts and ask them what they would like to infuse into their menus and which of these fruits, vegetables, and dairy products would benefit your school lunches and make them nutritionally balanced.”
There are financial incentives for schools to source their products locally. The state No Student Goes Hungry program offers a 25-cent-per-meal rebate to qualifying schools. In order for a school to receive the rebate, 30 percent of the ingredients on a school’s menu must be locally produced.
“As a former teacher, principal, and superintendent, I am very excited about offering more healthy choices for kids. The most exciting piece is to be able to provide the fresh produce and help kids have a more nutritionally balanced meal and hopefully excite them about some of the things,” he said.
By Christine Graf