Several St. Lawrence County Schools will receive funding as part of a pilot program to bring locally produced food into school cafeterias.
School food service officials and school administrators from a number of schools in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties met with approximately a half dozen growers last week to discuss the details of a farm-to-school pilot program that is being rolled out in the fall.
The schools that have been allocated funding from the pilot program in St. Lawrence County include Canton, Hammond, Hermon-Dekalb, Heuvelton, Lisbon, Madrid-Waddington, Massena, Norwood-Norfolk, Ogdensburg Free Academy and Potsdam.
"We have the opportunity to roll out this pilot program in the North Country first after I worked to get funding for a program I'm convinced has great potential for our local agriculture community as well as our schools," Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said.
"The details of the pilot program were shared with both school districts and farmers. It provided an opportunity for district officials and the farmers to start to come together to figure out how they work with each other," she added.
She said the Adirondack North Country Association has been selected to administer the pilot program.
"They will be providing professional support and also have been tasked with data collection and compilation so we will have a report, which is absolutely necessary for us to try to increase this program in future years and grow it to other parts of the state," according to Assemblywoman Russell, chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy,
"That means $200,000 from this grant is going to go directly to our schools to be able to purchase and serve local products," she pointed out.
Schools were notified of the amount of funding they will be receiving from the grant in recent days. Each school will get an allotment of funds ranging from $2,750 to $40,000 for the school year tied to a formula that includes the number of meals served in each school's cafeteria the previous school year.
"We wanted to share this funding information with our schools as soon as possible so they can integrate this money into their budgets and into their meal planning and work with our farmers to purchase food that's grown right here and start feeding it to our children in schools. These funds will be used to buy items from local farmers, augmenting what our school food service managers ordered months ago for their fall menus," Assemblywoman Russell said.
"The agriculture sector remains the largest economic driver in our region. The farm-to-school program is a way to strengthen our economy here in the North Country by allowing our farmers to grow their products and sell them to our local institutions. This program will also benefit our children by providing them with access to local, healthy food options in their school meals," she noted.
Dr. John Dewar, president of the North Country Grown Cooperative, Inc., and a retired physician, said the health benefits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our diets are clear.
He also praised Assemblywoman Russell for leading the fight that led to a change that allows small cooperatives to sell their products to schools.
Canton Central Food Service Director Blue Jay Fenlong said the pilot program is the first step in strengthening the relationship between schools and local farmers.
"We're buying this stuff now. If we can work out the logistics, my team is willing to work with you. We buy tons and tons and thousands of dollars of food from California. That doesn't make sense," she said.
Food service directors shared steps local producers would need to take to sell their products to local schools.
"Products need to come in clean or we won't accept it. We are serving a vulnerable population. I need to make sure that food is safe," Artie Fregoe, a food service director for several schools through St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, stressed.
He also noted producers will need to take the necessary steps to be approved vendors for the local schools and submit formal invoices that meet the requirements of the state Comptroller's Office.
Russell said it was important to bring school officials and producers together so those conversations could take place.
"There are specific requirements from the federal school lunch policies so this meeting was also about the school districts talking with farmers about how they can ensure their produce can actually be utilized by schools," she said.
She said improved relationships between the two parties could also play a role as farmers look at crop planting decisions in future years.
Last updated August 31, 2016