Farm-to-school initiatives to support farmers and provide students healthy foods | News

Will Kreznick

NEW YORK — New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball recently announced two new initiatives to strengthen New York State’s Farm-to-School program, which provides new markets for New York farmers and improves access to locally grown and produced food in schools. Working with the Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) […]

NEW YORK — New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball recently announced two new initiatives to strengthen New York State’s Farm-to-School program, which provides new markets for New York farmers and improves access to locally grown and produced food in schools.

Working with the Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) will establish a Farm-to-School Coordinator Program to increase local agricultural product procurement in schools on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and the North Country. Additionally, the State is providing performance-based awards to schools across the State that successfully participated in the 30% Initiative during the 2019-2020 school year.

“This past year has certainly been a challenging one for our Farm-to-School programs, with many schools closed, farmers struggling with loss of markets, and the food supply chain experiencing many other disruptions due to the pandemic. The new initiatives announced today will help ensure that our nation-leading Farm-to-School program continues to be one of New York State agriculture’s best success stories as we re-open safely and move New York forward,” Ball stated.

“The Board’s commitment throughout the pandemic has been ensuring that children across the state remain as healthy as possible,” Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. remarked.

“One way to achieve this is to make fresh, healthy food more readily available for our students. I thank our partners at the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Cornell Cooperative Extension for their efforts in advancing the critical Farm-to-School Program in New York State,” Young Jr. noted.

“The State’s Farm-to-School program not only provides our children with access to healthy, nutritious food but it also educates them on local food systems and agriculture,” Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said.

“The last year has underscored the food access disparities that exist in communities across the state, the Farm-to-School program is a vital resource that can improve equity while also benefiting local producers,” Rosa explained.

To ensure smart, strategic, and sustainable farm-to-school expansion in New York State, CCE Harvest NY, which has been leading the Farm-to-School efforts in Western New York, is establishing four regional farm-to-school coordinators in areas that are currently not well served by existing programs. These coordinators will facilitate connections between food supply chain partners, campuses, and their communities to boost program success.

Additionally, CCE will create a dedicated program director who will help design and guide existing farm-to-school efforts across the state, ensuring consistency with statewide program goals while meeting regional needs and opportunities.

Regional Coordinators will be added to areas around the state currently without sufficient support. Other goals of the program include:

• Facilitating idea sharing between regions

• Assisting schools to meet procurement requirements

• Coordinating local connections between farmers and producers 

Farm-to-school coordinators are critical to an individual SFA’s ability to scale up local procurement efforts. This new initiative will support an equitable effort to implement farm-to-school programs across New York State, provide direct assistance to K-12 supply chain stakeholders, and streamline administrative support and leadership. 

“Cornell Cooperative Extension could not be more excited to partner with the Department of Agriculture and Markets on this critical next step in farm-to-school expansion. Coordinators are vital to increasing local procurement efforts among our SFAs across the state and ensuring our great New York State farms can benefit from this tremendous market opportunity. We commend and thank Commissioner Ball and his staff for their unparalleled leadership in farm-to-school,” Cheryl Bilinski, Agricultural Economic Development Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension commented.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly disrupted school feeding programs, spurring the USDA to extend its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Because this impacted New York’s ability to reimburse these schools under the 30% initiative, the Department is providing 55 schools with performance-based awards to offset the financial and operational burdens and to support continued participation in the program. 

New York’s 30% Lunch Initiative increases the reimbursement schools receive for lunches from 5.9 cents per meal to 25 cents per meal for any district that purchases at least 30 percent ingredients for their school lunch program from New York farms.

Additionally, guidance provides a means for SFAs to continue to count local purchases in order to qualify for 30% NYS Lunch reimbursement in the subsequent year. 

“We are so thankful to have the partners that we do at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and we really appreciate their passion to keep leading the nation with our farm-to-school programs. The pandemic certainly presented all of us with many challenges, but it also highlighted just how essential school meals truly are. We applaud Commissioner Ball for all of his efforts to make sure that our schools will continue to benefit from our amazing farmers right here in New York State,” Jennifer Martin, Executive Director of the NY School Nutrition Association said.

“American Farmland Trust and the New York Grown Food for New York Kids Coalition are overjoyed with the announcement of these new farm to school initiatives, and applaud the continued commitment of Governor Cuomo and the Department of Agriculture and Markets to farm to school in New York State. This comes at a critical moment, when the pandemic has increased food insecurity and laid bare how fragile our global food system can be. With the launch of a statewide Farm to School Coordinator program, reimbursement awards for schools that successfully reached 30% spending in past years, and the release of clear guidance on how more schools can qualify for New York’s Farm to School incentive in the future, the State has taken key steps forward to provide school the support they need to increase purchases from local farms and serve healthy fresh food to kids across New York. We look forward to continuing to work with the Department, partners, and others to keep New York’s nation-leading farm to school efforts growing to improve the health of our students, open up new markets for our farmers, and build a stronger more resilient regional food system for the future,” Samantha Levy, New York Policy Manager for American Farmland Trust added.

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