Students in area schools eat corn and green beans, both of which are grown locally.
So a local farm-to-table effort is working to make sure local students eat local vegetables as often as possible.
That effort, headed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County, just got a boost from a $98,000 state grant, part of $1 million awarded to 12 farm-to-school projects.
“We’ve been at this for a while and the state has been looking at regions where there’s a history of working on farm-to-school and our extension office at Oneida County has been partnering with Waterville Central School District and Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District and the BOCES for almost four years now,” said Marty Broccoli, agriculture economic development specialist at the extension. “So we’ve got a track record. And this (grant) is really good because we’re making good inroads and we can keep this thing going.”
That effort helps a growing number of schools in Oneida, Madison and Herkimer counties, Broccoli said. The grant money will go toward hiring more staffing to supplement the full-time farm-to-school coordinator based in the Cazenovia Central School District, someone who can find the areas in which it makes economic sense for schools to buy local foods, he said.
“The school lunch program is very complicated and challenging, and the average parent and average school taxpayer does not have any idea how it works,” he said. “There’s commodity dollars involved that the federal government gives. The school lunch programs are stand alone; taxes do not pay for them.”
So they have to make do serving a lunch that includes a fruit, vegetable, dairy, grain and meat or protein for $1.60, he said. That leaves 14 cents for the vegetable. “Where does it make economic sense for the school food service and the farmer can make money? That’s what our role is – connecting the dots,” Broccoli said.
The project also is looking into getting local ground beef and four or five other options into area schools, he said. Local corn and green beans aren’t always served in participating school, but the goal is to have get more schools eating them and eating them more often. Even once a month would be a win, Broccoli said.
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).