This summer, Amanda Brown, who has worked in district food service for 12 years and is a member of the Attica Central School Non-Teaching Employees Association, helped put up 10 bushels of peaches, 160 dozen ears of corn, 10 cases of blueberries, and too many green beans to remember. “The last box was like Mary Poppins, it just kept refilling,” she recalls.
Brown and her four-member team were hired by the district for the summer to capture the bounty from local farms and make it usable for cafeterias. Their jobs included unloading fresh fruits and veggies, and then cleaning, husking, blanching, flash-freezing, dehydrating and canning them -- all the tasks needed to ensure that locally grown crops are preserved at the height of their freshness. “I think students will taste the difference. The corn alone. It stands by itself!” she said.
The program, which also includes an educational component, is funded through a $100,000 Farm to School Grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets. The funds were used to hire a Farm to School Coordinator Alicia Spoth, as well as summer-time staff members: Brown, Melissa Brooks, Todd Ford, and Jenelle Bauer. In addition to preserving produce, the team also tended to the district’s student garden, and taught ag students how to harvest the garden and cook the produce. “They’re getting to see how it’s done from start to finish,” said Brown.
The Farm to School Grant program is just one of the ways the Ag and Markets is supporting farm-fresh school meals. The agency also administers the NYS 30% Initiative, which increases the reimbursement schools receive for lunches from 5.9 cents per meal to 25 cents per meal when district purchases at least 30 percent ingredients from New York farms. “We’re developing a pretty deep toolbox at this point,” said Tim McBride, School Food Program Manager for the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
This year’s state budget included another way to get more farm-fresh foods into schools; the approved budget includes $50 million to be administered by Ag and Markets over five years to help schools and community organizations work with farmers to develop infrastructure to aggregate, store, process, and prepare farm products. “We’re seeing this as an opportunity for us to make sure farmers benefit within the current system,” McBride said. The RFP for the new program will be available in the fall, he said.
Brooke Schery, president of the Attica Central School NTEA, hopes that more districts will take advantage of the Farm to School programs. For more information, visit: agriculture.ny.gov/farming/farm-school.