What do apples and collaboration have in common? For the Sustaining Farm to School in New York State pilot, they are critical building blocks of a sustainable farm to school procurement program.
Now approaching year two of a USDA Farm to School grant, Sustaining Farm to School in New York State celebrated its first successes this fall. From the beginning of September to mid-December 2013, Binghamton City, Johnson City, and Owego-Apalachin school cafeterias served fresh, healthy food grown in New York State. The pilot program has used the newly formed geographic preference bid as an incentive for local producers to participate—and continue participating—in the school lunch bidding process.
Through collaboration, the pilot program succeeded in making 15,000 pounds of local food available in school cafeterias. Beefsteak and cherry tomatoes were delivered weekly from Benton Berries in Penn Yan to Binghamton City, Johnson City, and Owego-Apalachin school districts. An estimated 3,000 pounds of local tomatoes were served in 16 cafeterias to over 11,500 students. In Binghamton City School District, an additional estimated 12,000 pounds of local apples from Reisinger’s Apple Country in Watkins Glen was made available to 6,000 students in 10 school cafeterias.
The best part? Students are noticing the difference. In a recent blind taste test sampling apples from Washington state and from New York State, students chose the locally grown variety by over two to one. Third graders at Benjamin Franklin Elementary preferred New York State apples by 38 to 15. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at East Middle School preferred New York State apples by 42 to 17. The results speak for themselves.
As the pilot enters its second phase, the team plans to continue creating collaborative
opportunities for farm to school to strengthen the regional food system and improve the
wellbeing of the community as a whole. Next steps will focus on more producer outreach, a farm to school survey for producers throughout the state, and information sharing with other farm to school initiatives throughout the state.