A local farm to school initiative is gaining momentum through various collaborative efforts being carried out by Sullivan County schools and organizations. This movement will enrich the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers through educational supports.
Students at Tri-Valley Central School in Grahamsville are growing vegetables in a greenhouse to help supply the cafeteria with fresh produce. There are seven Catskill Edible Gardens, supported by Sullivan Renaissance and Catskill Mountainkeeper, located at area schools and at Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County (CCESC)’s Gerald J. Skoda Extension Education Center.
Last fall, Sullivan BOCES and partner district cafeterias across the county featured fresh salsa made with New York sourced ingredients to teach students how easy it can be to include fresh produce into their meal or snack choices. Sullivan County Public Health Services has incorporated a vegetable teaching garden for its Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program in Liberty, and has expanded access to farmers’ markets in Liberty and Monticello through collaboration with Catskill Mountainkeeper.
The Monticello School District is partnering with a local farmer to stock the lunchroom with intensively grown vegetables grown in Sullivan County – instead of being shipped from across the country. During Agricultural Literacy Week, 1,300 elementary school students learned about where their food comes from by listening to stories related to farming and gardening, read aloud by CCESC Master Gardener Volunteers.
These innovative approaches are just a small part of the growing list of Sullivan County farm to school activities in districts across the county, working to connect more children to locally grown fruits and vegetables.
There are many challenges associated with a school district offering healthy food options – especially when it comes to providing fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables on cafeteria trays. Common problems include budget costs; purchasing; storage; equipment; staff preparation and training; food safety; and, of course, food availability in general.
To keep things moving, Sullivan County BOCES, Sullivan County Public Health Services, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Sullivan Renaissance, Catskill Mountainkeeper, and Apple Pond Farm have teamed up in a combined effort to increase knowledge related to implementing farm to school activities. The first order of business is to understand the myriad ways each independent school district is embracing farm to school concepts and activities, and to provide support to food service directors and producers to grow and expand upon them. The committee has worked together to submit grant applications that would support a staff person to help schools and producers navigate and succeed in these efforts.
Farm to school programs are critical in so many ways to improving the health of Sullivan County’s students and sustaining the region’s agricultural economy. Students who are learning to grow vegetables in school gardens are more likely to watch weather forecasts, research fertilizing, and study how plants use photosynthesis to grow. What’s more, students who eat more of fresh fruits and vegetables are better prepared to learn, and they learn better eating habits, which can help curb the staggering obesity and health problems in Sullivan County. For Sullivan County, where agriculture is the number two industry, with an annual economic impact exceeding $120 million, farm to school programs mean raising a generation of youth who understand the importance of buying locally grown produce.
For students, who give rave reviews of the fresh fruits and vegetables in their cafeterias during taste tests, the bottom line is simple: we need to order more tomatoes!
To share school efforts and keep up-to-date on farm to school activities in Sullivan County, the public can connect with Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County at www.sullivancce.org/agriculture or through the Rural Health Network at www.scrhn.org.
For school districts and producers that need help navigating the maze of federal regulations for school nutrition, for parents interested in learning the benefits of supporting farm to school efforts in their local schools the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Farm to School web page full of resources, toolkits, grant programs, and contacts. The public can learn more at http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool.
Last updated March 13, 2016