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Farm To School Program Connects East End Students With Local Farmers And Educates About Locally Grown Produce

Anastasia Lennon

Tuckahoe students enjoying the kale salad taste test. (Courtesy Photo)

In December 2016, the Southampton, Bridgehampton, and Tuckahoe school districts received a grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. The grant was part of a greater initiative happening across the nation to bring farm food to the school cafeteria. These East End districts are 3 of the 1,333 taking part in the Farm to Table program in New York State.

The 2016 grant enabled the receiving districts to hire a "Farm to School Coordinator" that would be responsible for sourcing seasonal produce, coordinating training for food service staff, and creating educational initiatives for the students.

Milk Pail Apples were on the menu. (Courtesy Photo)

The Food Service Directors, which represent each district, have the task of incorporating the local and seasonal produce into the cafeteria's menu. They help with training of staff to learn new recipes or incorporate these new ingredients into current ones. Additionally, they educate the students about local agriculture with activities in the schools' gardens, cafeterias, and classrooms.

"Through this initiative, we are working with food service staff, teachers, farmers, and community partners to connect students with local produce and educate them on the benefits of eating local," shared Marissa Silverberg, the Farm to School Coordinator.

Balsam Farms Kale Salad with Milk Pail Apples was enjoyed at Southampton schools. (Courtesy Photo)

With this program, students and faculty have enjoyed fruits and vegetables that were sourced from local farms on the East End, including Balsam Farms, Halsey Farm, Invincible Summer Farms, the Milk Pail, Open Minded Organics, and Shulman Produce. Silverberg has the students taste test the food before eating it, and selects a fruit or vegetable each month to highlight as "Harvest of the Month." This year, students tried (and enjoyed) Asian pears, local apples, seedless yellow watermelon, shishito peppers, local Northern Porgy, and an apple and kale salad.

"Taste tests have been a great way in which students are given an opportunity to provide feedback and see the power in their voice," said Silverberg. "In providing feedback on menu items which then appear on the menu soon after, students become empowered in 'voicing their choice' and are encouraged to stay active in the school meal program." Students have become so attentive that they can discern between an apple from Milk Pail and an apple that is subsidized by the government.

Students are also provided the opportunity to speak with the local farmers and learn more about where their food comes from. Dave Falkowski of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton visited high school students and brought along his pepper roaster to show them how to roast peppers. Jenn Halsey of Milk Pail orchard visited and was recognized by students. How often can one say that he/she knows the face behind the food they're eating? It's quite the rarity, but this initiative is successfully working towards bridging that gap and making a relationship between the producer (farmer) and consumer (student) more accessible.

Peter Haskell and Melissa Rachubka of Haskell's Seafood, Stony Brook Dietetic Intern Ashley Clay, Farm to School Coordinator Marissa Silverberg, and Southampton Food Service Director Regan Kiembock. (Courtesy Photo)

With this national initiative, the government aims to promote student wellness and improve nutrition in children by creating a streamlined relationship between local farms and schools. So far, it seems to be going wonderfully with the East End school districts.

"These opportunities do not just allow students to make a choice in what they consume and see on the cafeteria menu, but it encourages them to learn about what is being produced in their local community," Silverberg concluded.

For more information about the East End's Farm to School program, please visit Facebook.

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