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Farm to School pilot program brings fresh produce to schools

The New York State Council on Food Policy released its 2013 annual report this past December. “In 2013, Council members carried out the mission and addressed the key issue areas of the New York State Council on Food Policy in many ways,” the report stated.

The council’s actions focused on maximizing participation in food and nutrition assistance programs; strengthening the connection between local food and consumers; supporting efficient and profitable agricultural food production and food retail infrastructure; andincreasing consumer awareness and knowledge about healthy eating while improving consumer access to safe and nutritious food, according to the report.

FarmToSchoolA young student had an opportunity to enjoy a smoothie created with a blender bike during Binghamton’s 2013 Farm to You Fest Celebration. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Johnson/New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets)The annual report provided an update on the Farm to School Grant Inter-Agency Pilot program supporting agriculture and healthy school food. In 2012, the first-ever U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School Federal Grant was submitted on behalf of the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets and funded for a two-year period.

“Three school districts in New York’s Southern Tier are reaping the benefits of local farm harvests,” the report stated. “Since the beginning of September 2013, Binghamton City, Johnson City, and Owego-Appalachian school cafeterias have been serving tomatoes from Benton Berries in Penn Yan, NY, and apples from Reisinger’s Apple Country in Watkins Glen, NY. The locally grown produce successfully made its way to student plates thanks to a USDA Farm to School grant awarded to the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets. Through the pilot program, ‘Sustaining Farm to School in New York State,’ Broome-Tioga BOCES food service is working to procure fresh, nutritious, local food.”

BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services) is a public organization created by the New York Legislature in 1948 with a goal to provide shared educational programs and services to school districts.

Contracts with the two businesses are first-of-a-kind for the Broome-Tioga BOCES. “This bid incentivizes food produced within New York State — simply by virtue of it being local — making it more competitive in the bidding process and ultimately more affordable for schools,” the report stated.

The next phase of the program will emphasize food safety. “Moving forward, the pilot will specifically seek participation of New York State growers lacking food safety certification, which is required for selling to schools,” the authors wrote. “The pilot is coordinating food safety training and will provide technical assistance throughout the food-safety certification process in order to increase the number of producers in the region that are able to sell to schools. Food safety doesn’t stop at the farm, so training for proper handling and preparatory techniques for fresh produce in school cafeterias will also be provided during the next year for food service staff.”