State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball on Thursday Oct. 6 announced the ‘Fall into Farm-to-School’ campaign to encourage school districts across New York state to participate in the Farm-to-School program, which helps schools buy and serve locally-grown and produced foods on school menus.
Throughout the month of October, schools are encouraged to learn more about starting the program in their district through the Farm-to-School website and related resources found http://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Press%20Releases/HOM_Toolkit.pdf, http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/farm-school and http://www.farmtoschool.org/.
Districts already participating in the program are encouraged to share how they are celebrating Farm-to-School Month using the #FallintoF2S on social media.
Farm to You FestFarm-to-School Month is highlighted by the annual Farm to You Fest held Oct. 3 to 8.
Farm to You Fest is a week-long annual celebration of local food and agriculture. During the promotion, school officials, parents, nutritionists, farmers and others are encouraged to organize fun and educational activities focused on New York agriculture.
To celebrate, many schools feature New York farm products on their school lunch menus, hold taste tests of locally-grown fruits and vegetables, take field trips to nearby farms, conduct hands-on cooking demonstrations using local ingredients, and much more.
New York State Farm-to-School Efforts
New York state’s Farm-to-School program is aimed at developing and strengthening relationships between farmers and schools to increase the amount of New York-made products offered to students and to expand markets for local farmers.
The program also looks to educate students about New York’s specialty crops and increase their preference for these healthy meal options.
Since 2015, New York state has provided $850,000 for its Farm-to-School grant program, including $500,000 announced this past September, a nearly 43 percent increase over last year.
Kindergarten through grade 12 school food authorities, charter schools, nonprofit schools, other nonprofit entities and Indian Tribal Organizations may apply for this funding to increase their use of homegrown specialty crops.
Last year, six Farm-to-School programs in the state were awarded funds, benefiting 45 school districts and thousands of students. The funding helped the districts employ local or regional Farm-to-School coordinators, purchase equipment needed to increase the capacity of the school kitchen and food service staff, and make capital improvements to better transport and/or store those crops.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average New York State school district spends 11 percent of its budget on local foods. To date, those schools have invested more than $45 million, with the majority being used to buy New York fruits, vegetables, and milk.
The New York State Office of General Services also recently announced that school districts across the state have made a commitment to dedicate at least $2.5 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture funds toward the federal agency’s Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables during the 2016-17 school year.
This investment represents a 400 percent increase over the $500,000 commitment by schools in 2015-16.
The state has also been a key partner in the New York Thursdays program, a new approach to bringing locally grown or produced foods directly to students in New York City Department of Education schools every Thursday.
Part of a nationwide initiative being spearheaded by the Urban School Food Alliance, New York Thursdays boosts student health and education, while improving the district’s budget, strengthening the local agricultural economy, and cutting carbon emissions.
The state Department of Agriculture and Markets is working to bring a similar program to schools throughout the state.