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Farm to School Program

The New York State 'No Student Goes Hungry' program has five laudable goals: to ban school lunch shaming, require schools to offer breakfast at high-needs schools, expand the Farm-to-School program, increase the use of fresh fruit and locally grown foods served in school cafeterias, and require food pantries on all SUNY and CUNY campuses.  The program offers increased "the reimbursement schools receive for lunches from the current 5.9 cents per meal to 25 cents per meal for any district that purchases at least 30 percent of its ingredients from New York farms".  For districts like Lansing the 30% is a catch-22.  Lansing doesn't receive enough aid to be able to afford to buy 30% of its food from New York farms.  But Lansing School Business Administrator Kate Heath told the Board of Education last week that Food Service Supervisor Sandra Swearingen will do what she can.

"Sandy and I have had conversations about that," Heath said. "While reaching the 30% mark is probably not obtainable for us, it doesn't mean we don't do it, because doing some of these initiatives is still the right thing to do, bringing healthier, fresh foods to our kids.  We also want to look at opportunities to include students via student gardens, sample tasting opportunities and some other projects to get student and faculty buy-in."

Heath said that other districts receive more financial support that may make it easier for them to reach the 30% benchmark.

"We don't get the same aid, for instance, through the Community Schools program with our food we don't get the same free and reduced reimbursement that other districts get," she said. "So part of the reason they've increased the reimbursement rate, if you meet that goal, is that it's more expensive.  They know it costs more to buy local foods, so they're increasing that reimbursement rate to make it easier for districts to do that.  But you have to 30% mark before you get that increased rate."

To attempt to meet that goal, the school district is working with a Farm to School coordinator through Cornell Cooperative Extension.  She has facilitated staff training and sharing of recipes, and meets with district food service staff monthly to extend the initiative county-wide.

"She's been working with all the food service directors in Tompkins County to implement this program," Heath said. "So it's a county-wide effort to increase fresh, health, regional foods in schools, and to raise awareness of what seasonal foods farming, nutrition, and healthy food choices can do for our students.  She's been in touch with all our building principals regarding student surveys, assessments around food education programs, and  some interviews with key stake holders."

heath said that Lansing isn't unique in being unable to reach the 30% goal.  She told school board members that Broome-Tioga BOCES has been implementing the program from the time the program was implemented in 2018 and still has not obtained 30% for all its districts.

"It was originally started to help farmers, not schools," Heath said. "I went to a conference and they talked about this. They were very open about it.  So it's really trying to promote New York State produce by getting the schools and other municipalities to utilize New York State produced foods to help our local farmers."

Heath said Lansing will start with easy, affordable items such as New York State apples, then try to come up with ways to afford more items.

"So we're going to start where we can where it's really easy, and then we'll look at different ways to increase it.  Its not something we can do over night, but we are looking to make some changes."

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