Bringing the farm into the school cafeteria

Posted: Tuesday, September 8, 2015 12:30 am
By Charlie Holmes
Columbia-Greene Media

 

CRARYVILLE — At Taconic Hills Central School District, the farm-to-school program started with two curious high school students who approached “Meet Your Farmer” columnist Tessa Edick and question why the school’s milk has high fructose corn syrup in it. Edick said she didn’t know but when she left the students, she became determined to find out.

 

“I looked into it,” she said. “I wrote a story. I asked the local farmers if we could do something about it publicly and Hudson Valley Fresh responded and said, ‘We probably can,’” Edick said.

 

Edick soon learned that getting fresh milk into the school was not as simple as finding a supplier.

 

“[School districts] have financial constraints,” said Steve Ammerman, New York Farm Bureau’s public affairs manager. “Oftentimes, for school districts, whatever’s cheapest is what they’re going to serve. It’s unfortunate but it’s the reality of everybody. Whether it’s in your home or in your school district or your business you can only pay for what you can afford.”

 

Edick decided to do something about it.

 

“I put my money where my mouth is and we funded the milk with a grant so it could meet the lowest bid and a regional preference,” she said.

 

Three years later, the FarmOn! Foundation is funding milk for eight schools and it has another 30 schools they’re trying to fund.

 

“It’s important for school districts and farmers to make those connections and see what’s available,” Ammerman said.

 

The foundation is one of those connections but there are others out there.

 

“There are resources available,” Ammerman said. “Whether it’s through the New York Farm Bureau or through their local cooperative extension service or the Department of Ag and Markets.”

 

The milk at Taconic Hills opened Edick’s eyes to everything that was being served in the school cafeteria.

 

“We also have a problem in the lunchroom where they’re not scratch kitchens anymore,” she said. “Everything is prepackaged plastic and microwaved …You start to wonder why they’re saying American children aren’t leading the world and I wonder if it has a direct correlation to nutrition.”

 

The concept really troubled Edick, she added.

 

“If you get kids back involved in seeding soil and planting what they eat and create, this experience of understanding how important cooking is and how important nutrition is and that nutrition tastes better, you create this opportunity to change the way America eats, which I think at this point we’re all begging for it because we’re all fat and sick,” Edick said.

 

The FarmOn! Foundation worked with the Harvest Club at Taconic Hills to put in an edible garden.

 

“They have a wonderful director of curriculum and an amazing superintendent that were very forward in building a garden there so they just needed support and help and lift,” Edick said.

 

The foundation also arranges for chefs to go to the schools and cook and farm visits for the children.

 

“We create these partnerships with farmers and chefs and schools to bring the experience of the old-fashion home economics classes back to the classroom,” Edick said.

 

In the same year Edick started the FarmOn! Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a Farm-to-School census, which had 505 school districts in New York responding that represented 2,944 schools and 1,823,127 children. Sixty-two percent of the schools said they engaged in farm-to-school activities. Out of the $245,215,709 spent by the districts on food at the time, $40,910,626 went to local farmers.

 

The majority of the schools in Columbia and Greene counties participate in the farm-to-school program.

 

For more information about the foundation, go to http://farmonfoundation.org/.

 

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