By Meghan Dohman, CCE Essex Farm to Institution Educator
The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County (CCE Essex) Farm to School program is an educational outreach initiative that works to increase the amount of locally grown, healthy foods in school meals. This program also provides area schools with classroom lessons on local food and agriculture, visits to farms and farmers’ markets, and assists in the creation of school gardens.
CCE Essex developed a formal Farm to School program in the fall of 2018 after the success of the grassroots “Adirondack Farm to School Initiative” in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties. Since the onset of CCE Essex’s program there has been immense growth; with the number of participating districts increasing from 12 to 18, over $100,000 being spent on local food, and nearly 8,000 students being educated about local food and agriculture.
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, Farm to School programs across the country, and especially in New York State, changed drastically. In our tri-county region local purchasing dropped 52% from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2020-2021 school year, and all in-person lessons came to a stop. The farm to school program was able to make certain adaptations with virtual lessons, kits that could be sent home, as well as assisting schools in finding grants to continue their local purchasing.
Approaching the 2021-2022 school year, CCE Essex saw an opportunity to help support schools in their local food purchasing efforts.
Generous Acts Grant Footing the Bill For Local Food for Schools
To continue to support regional school districts in serving local food during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, CCE Essex was awarded a grant from the Adirondack Foundation to support pandemic recovery for regional school districts.
The grant established a program that assists schools in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and parts of Warren County become more familiar with the process of purchasing local food by paying for each district’s first three purchases of local food (up to $300). For the purposes of this grant, local food is being defined as within the Adirondack Region to ensure that local farmers are also benefiting from this grant program.
This grant program provides schools with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the process of ordering from their local farms without the financial risk of paying for the products out of their own food budget. The program also provides training for cafeteria staff to allow staff to become more comfortable with preparing and serving the local food. This grant program minimizes the financial risk of purchasing local food, gets food service staff comfortable preparing the food, and provides technical assistance in sourcing the food. Schools are in a unique position where they can have a direct positive impact on students, farmers, and their communities when they purchase local food, and this program is here to help increase those impacts.
How the Program Works
Now, in the 2021-2022 school year many food service directors find themselves understaffed and with limited budgets. To date, there has only been participation within two districts, but the program is open for the entirety of the school year so there are still many opportunities for school districts to sign on and participate.
If you are a parent or community member and you would like your school district to serve local food, please encourage your Food Service Director to reach out to get involved in this grant program. If you are a school that is already serving local food – great job! – you are not eligible to receive funds to purchase local food, but you are eligible to participate in the staff training.
Food Service Directors or School Administrators can reach out to Meghan Dohman, Farm to Institution Educator to learn more and get involved.