Cornell Cooperative Extension Leads Farm-to-School Buying Program

Students at Beverly J. Martin Elementary prepare vegetables as part of a farm-to-table program, offered by the Ithaca City School District,
in partnership with CCE-Tompkins. Photo by Lara Parrilla,

Read the press release below about recent work to increase the proportion of local produce served in public school cafeterias in Tompkins County!

Tompkins County school districts, K-12 students, and area farmers will benefit from a new Farm-to-School buying program that aims to increase the amount of local produce served in our county’s public school cafeterias starting in 2019.  The project will run for two years and is expected to impact 31 local public schools, one public charter school and 11,175 K-12 students in Tompkins County.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) will receive $92,829  to coordinate these efforts. The award is part of $1.5 million in funds announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in December 2018 for a statewide Farm-to-School program within his No Student Goes Hungry initiative, which aims to alleviate food insecurity in schools, especially in higher poverty areas.  Feeding America reported 14,060 residents in Tompkins County were food insecure in 2016, 2,740 of whom were children under the age of 18. Funds were awarded to 18 projects and educational organizations that serve over 420,000 K-12 students across New York State.

A collaborative of local school district food service staff, foundations, agencies and other area nonprofit programs helped to develop the Tompkins County proposal. To help local public school districts incorporate more fresh local produce into their cafeteria meals, the Park Foundation plans to support a series of food service trainings through the kitchen facilities of Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Coltivare Restaurant. CCE-Tompkins, the Food and Health Network of South Central New York, the Youth Farm Project, and the Coalition for Healthy School Food, among other collaborators, will provide support around menu planning and promotion, as well as other educational activities to promote student awareness and consumption of fresh, local ingredients. Faculty and graduate students from Cornell University’s Master of Public Health program will oversee monitoring and evaluation of the project and farm-to-school activities across Tompkins County, to ensure continuous improvement and long-term project sustainability.

The Farm-to-School Project is expected to enable Tompkins County school districts to reach the procurement benchmark of 30% New York State food served, enabling them to qualify for a reimbursement up to 25 cents per meal under the terms of the 2018 NYS No Student Goes Hungry legislation.  This represents a 19.1 cent increase from the 5.9 cents per meal now received and could significantly improve school meal budgets overall and their long-term ability to spend more on locally produced ingredients.

“New York is home to world-class agricultural products, and the Farm-to-School program connects these fresh, locally sourced ingredients to our students,” Governor Cuomo stated in his December announcement. “This record funding delivers on our promise to provide fresh, healthy meals to all New York students and spur economic growth for our farmers and growers in every corner of the State.”

Students in Tompkins County will benefit from the Farm-to-School Project in several ways.  According to the National Farm to School Network, exposure to local foods and nutrition education can increase children’s willingness to try new fruits and vegetables, leading to improvements in diet quality, behavior, and educational performance. If project goals are met, 11,175 Tompkins County students will have access to fresh NYS produce through school meals as well as a wider range of higher quality and more consistent farm-to-school educational activities.

Benefits to regional farmers from Tompkins County’s Farm-to-School Project alone will include upwards of $100,720 more school food dollars expended on local produce each year, according to Silas Conroy, Supply Chain Director for Headwater Food Hub.

Headwater Food Hub will aggregate and deliver produce for the Tompkins County Farm-to-School Project. Headwater is a regional food collaborative representing more than 140 sustainable New York farmers and producers, in the Greater Rochester, Finger Lakes, Western New York and Downstate regions. Headwater aims to help eliminate barriers to farm-to-school procurement across New York State. In 2017, Headwater connected over 100 farmers and producers to over 100 schools and institutions, reaching over 200,000 students and staff. Schools and institutions spent $135,000 on NYS products through Headwater in 2017-2018 alone. Headwater also procures, processes and delivers 3,500 snacks each week for five Ithaca City elementary schools in Tompkins County through the Fresh Snack Program, a nonprofit program of the Youth Farm Project.

Questions about the Farm-to-School Project in Tompkins County should be directed to Lara Parrilla at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, (607) 272-2292 or [email protected].

Questions about Headwater Food Hub should be directed to Silas Conroy at Headwater Food Hub, [email protected].

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