Schools enjoy local harvest


By Jim Poole

Students in area schools are reaping the harvest from local farms this week.
They’re enjoying a range of fruits and vegetables from regional producers, thanks to the NY Harvest for NY Kids Week.
It’s part of the year-long Farm to You Fest 2009 promoted by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
“At its core, this is to establish a relationship between schools and farms and farmers,” said Regina Tillman, coordinator of the Farm to School Project at the Extension office in Cobleskill.
She’s been working with school food service directors from Cobleskill-Richmondville, Schoharie, Middleburgh, Sharon Springs, Gilboa-Conesville, Berne-Knox and Jefferson to encourage more purchasing from local and regional farmers.
Besides making kids aware of neighboring farmers, the program strengthens the economy when schools buy locally.
“That way, the money circulates to the farmer and through the community the way it should,” Ms. Tillman said.
Stressing that Farm to School is still in its pilot stage, Ms. Tillman added that this week’s five-day celebration should bring added attention to the effort.
Ag and Markets provided trading cards, public-address announcements, posters, handouts and other materials, all aimed at making kids more aware of local produce.
At Cobleskill-Richmondville, Amy Shaw-Stuart is using a variety of fruits and vegetables to serve up salads, main dishes, pizza toppings, side dishes and desserts.
“Do the kids recognize the importance of local food? I think the older kids really do,” Ms. Shaw-Stuart said.
“It’s a good program, and it’s getting bigger and bigger as more people get on board.”
Josie Ennist at Schoharie Central is serving similar dishes. She’s also featuring an “Apple of the Day” from nearby Terrace Mountain Orchards and on Thursday will have special lunch servers––school administrators along with Senator Jim Seward and Assemblyman Pete Lopez.
It’s sometimes difficult to keep up a year-long effort, Ms. Shaw-Stuart noted, because the farm calendar doesn’t match the school calendar.
“We start in September, when their year is starting to wind down,” she said.
“But our goal this year is to use more local carrots and potatoes, things that can keep all winter.”
Ms. Tillman agreed, adding that the message should repeated and repeated again.
“You can highlight this in a simple way, like, ‘Your potatoes are from X farm,’ ” she said.
Overall, Ms. Tillman said, it’s a win-win program.
“This is to get the children aware of where their food comes from,” she said. “And it’s making an opportunity, too, for farmers to get their names out there.”
A Farm to School Conference is being planned for next year in order to broaden the program, she said.