Saratoga County

Grant will expand Saratoga Farm-to-School food program

$300,000 awarded to Capital Region programs
Vegetables harvested at Pitney Meadows Community Farm are pictured at Saratoga High School last fall.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Vegetables harvested at Pitney Meadows Community Farm are pictured at Saratoga High School last fall.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

CAPITAL REGION — Produce grown at Pitney Meadows Community Farm in Saratoga Springs will be going to more school districts next fall thanks to a $100,000 state grant announced on Tuesday.

The grant will pay for a commercial freezer and other needs so that the non-profit farm can provide produce to the Galway, Corinth and Schuylerville school systems, as well as Saratoga Springs.

The grant, channeled through Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County, was one among $1.5 million in Farm-to-School project grants awarded to 16 projects across the state. There was $300,000 awarded to three projects in the Capital Region, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced.

“This is a win-win that provides students with nutritious meals while also strengthening New York farms,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in announcing the funding. “I’m proud to see the growth of this initiative that will also help encourage healthy habits in every corner of this great state.”

The Farm-to-School program increases the volume and variety of locally grown and produced food used in schools, provides new markets for New York’s farmers, improves student health, and educates young people about agriculture, state officials said. The program also supports the expansion of the NY Thursdays Program, a school meal initiative that uses local, farm-fresh foods on Thursdays throughout the school year.

In Saratoga County, the $100,000 grant will expand the project involving Pitney Meadows, which had its first growing season last year. A year ago, the project got a $36,000 state grant to establish a sales program between the farm and the Saratoga Springs City School District. The money can’t be used for food purchases, but is for equipment, education and other program costs,

The Saratoga Springs district has the ability to flash-freeze fresh produce, so the new grant will be used to purchase a large freezer, along with providing education from a local chef for food service staff in all four school districts, and for students.  About 2,000 Saratoga County students are expected to benefit, according to the state.

“We’re very excited we were given this grant, because it will allow us to build on the project goals we’ve already started to work forward,” said Diane Whitten, Cornell Cooperative Extension community nutrition educator. “We will still get fresh produce into schools, but the freezer will allow us to get more produce into the schools during the off-season.”

“It’s not just the money that makes it happen, it’s the passion of the people involved,” she said.

One of the passionate people is Aliza Pickering, who was retained last year as the non-profit farm’s farmer. She said the schools last year bought more than 3,000 pounds of tomatoes, 3,500 pounds of sweet potatoes, and other produce like winter squash and greens. Based on plans developed with the schools, this year she plans to add fall broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers and spinach to the crops grown.

Access to freezer storage means locally grown produce can be served more of the year. “They’ll try to freeze a lot of things, because the growing season is so short,” Pickering said.

Elsewhere, Capital Roots will receive a $100,000 grant for a program called Connecting Underserved Schools with Local Producers. The project will build on an existing Farm-to-School project to connect an established local produce distribution system to local schools, paying for a commercial peeler for processing root vegetables, putting them in a more kid-friendly form.

“This is our third year working with school districts,” said Amy Klein, executive director of Capital Roots, a non-profit that supports access to local food. “We’re working with 25 districts now. We’re making it possible for local farms to work with local schools.There’s definitely a desire on the part of school cafeterias, and also on the part of farmers.”

Capital Roots is working with school districts in Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany, and Rensselaer counties, and Klein said they can’t keep up with the demand. “Last year we ran out of apples, actually,” she said.

In the Mohawk Valley, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schoharie and Otsego Counties was awarded $100,000 for the Local Foods-Healthy Schools project. Cornell Cooperative Extension will collaborate with Capital Region BOCES to develop a pilot Farm-to-School program that will provide produce to five school districts.

In Warren County, meanwhile, the Cooperative Extension office was awarded $91,400 to purchase a refrigerated truck to distribute produce to six schools, and Cooperative Extension in Washington County was awarded $88,686 to hire a farm-to-school coordinator, to work with five school districts.

The grants announced Tuesday were the fifth round of funding to support farm-to-school programs in schools and educational organizations. Since 2015, 43 projects have benefited 526,000 students in 356 school districts, state officials said. In addition, funding provided in rounds 3 and 4 of the program has resulted in schools spending nearly $4.4 million on farm products.

Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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