By Ryan Ewanow, Public Health AmeriCorps Member

For most of us, accessing food requires nothing more than a simple trip to the grocery store. For some, it requires only a few clicks and a credit card, and it arrives at our door. Particularly over the past few decades, we have become increasingly removed from the agricultural processes that put food on our tables. Here at the Food and Health Network, we recognize these trends, which is why one of the primary goals of our Farm to School Program is to promote agricultural education. We want to give students a closer look at our food system, to help them understand how vital America’s farms are to the health and well-being of our communities, and perhaps, to inspire some of these students to pursue a career in agriculture.

One of the primary ways we support this kind of education is through our South Central New York School Garden Grant Program. We recently rolled out this grant for 2024, where we awarded 20 schools across 7 counties (Broome, Tioga, Tompkins, Delaware, Cortland, Chenango, and Otsego) with up to $500 to fund their school garden project. We will share the complete list of 2024 awardees this month. The number of funded projects is up from 13 schools in 2023. Schools that were awarded the grant in 2023 expressed gratitude for being able to provide these educational opportunities. One grant recipient shared that, “Without this grant, our school garden would not happen each year,” and another noted, “This was a wonderful experience, the kids were so excited to learn all things gardening and agriculture. The grant ensured that we will be able to start our program again, stronger, in the fall.” Oneonta High School, one of our grantees for 2024, wrote a short article on their school website expressing similar sentiments (click here to read it in full).

We are grateful to be able to provide this program to our local schools and to increase the reach of the grant. However, our ability to do so is limited by our own resources and funding. Right now we are able to provide this program to 20 schools, and this is thanks to the generosity of our donors. However, even this year, we could not award every school that applied. There is a wonderful enthusiasm in our schools for this kind of education, but we can always do more.