On September 21st, the Food & Health Network joined many partner organizations and community volunteers to celebrate the launch of the NY Thursday farm to school menu program with a Harvest Celebration at Tioga Central School District. The day served as an opportunity to celebrate the school’s Tiger Farm, a living learning lab where students can apply classroom lessons and learn where food comes from and the launch of the NY Thursday Pilot Program in the Southern Tier. The pilot program launched this September in five districts (Chenango Valley, Vestal, Whitney Point, Johnson City, and Tioga) and features a farm to school menu sourced from local farms and processors on the second Thursday every month.

The Harvest Celebration involved a full range of farm to school activities, from local nutrition and agriculture education to potato harvesting, scavenger hunts and garden yoga. At the farm stations students had the chance to learn about pollination, producing honey, maple and growing apples, meet a calf and lambs, and see farm equipment up close. After the morning activities the NY Thursday lunch was served that featured local corn from Our Green Acres, apples from Lone Maple Farm, chicken spiedies grilled by Sam Lupo, and potatoes from Tiger Farm that were havest by Tioga Central students earlier in the week. Erin Summerlee, Director of the Food & Health Network, said “ the Harvest Celebration at Tiger Farms was really the embodiment of the 3 C’s of Farm to School: Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community, and it is quite incredible to see what can happen through these collaborations, from local farm families building the foundation for the school garden; using local grown potatoes in the menu; and students using the garden as a living classroom and gain exposure to careers in our local food system.”

The following comments were provided to the Food & Health Network as a reflection on the event and the potential of Farm to School Moving forward:

Nancy Eckstrom, Former Tioga Central School District Food Service Coordinator and current Community Volunteer said, “Our first NY Thursday and Harvest Celebration at Tiger Farm was an overwhelming success. A 100% New York sourced meal! How cool was that!  Many conversations were started about eating local healthy food including potatoes grown in our school garden. It takes a little extra effort to put fresh produce on the menu. I think that our NY Thursday meal shows that the effort is worthwhile. More than 500 students actively engaged in a wide variety of agricultural activities. Among their favorites were petting and feeding the calf, harvesting potatoes for the school menu and the garden yoga routine. Truly an example of community collaboration, we are already planning for next year. This event also generated enthusiasm for the school garden which will be cultivated into a long term plan. There are many lessons to be learned in our outdoor classroom that we call Tiger Farm.”

Scot Taylor, Superintendent of the Tioga Central School District: “The Harvest Festival was a great opportunity to bring the many facets of a farm to school program together. The Festival provided the students an opportunity to see and experience the people, equipment, and processes necessary to have a successful farm to school program from the farmer who plants and harvests the food, to the market place, and ultimately the preparation of the meal. It served as a microcosm of a real world Farm to School program.

I believe the sky is the limit for farm to school programs. On the larger scale it is a fantastic way to support local farms while providing fresh, nutritional food choices to our student population. On a local scale, like Tiger Farm on Tioga Central’s campus, it provides a living classroom where students will learn about producing their own food. A skill that will benefit them beyond their school years. Those skills are empowering. I also believe this provides us with a tremendous teaching opportunity where students will be able to learn about the many opportunities that exist in the agriculture world.”

Mike Harris, Owner of Lone Maple Farms said, “The Tioga Harvest Festival provided students with an up close and personal insight into how food is produced. The Farm to School program has the potential to provide far reaching positive benefits to the community, local farms, and most importantly higher nutritional food to the students for improved health, growth, and learning.”

Check out media coverage of the event below: