SARATOGA COUNTY — Watermelon from the Pitney Meadows Community Farm was the featured Harvest of the Month at Dorothy Nolan Elementary in the Saratoga Springs City School District and Corinth Elementary School. One parent said, “the only reason my child bought lunch today was because watermelon was on the menu!”
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Saratoga County in partnership with Pitney Meadows Community Farm (PMCF) and four local school districts received a grant from the NY State Dept. of Agriculture and Markets to connect the school cafeteria and the students it serves with locally grown produce. The Farm to School Program began in 2019 with the Saratoga Springs City School District and has expanded to include three additional Saratoga County school districts, including Corinth, Galway, and Schuylerville.
The goal of the Farm to School Program is to strengthen local agriculture, improve student health, and promote regional food awareness. In support of these goals, school lunch directors in each school and Aliza Pickering, the farmer at Pitney Meadows Community Farm, developed a growing plan for the 2021-2022 school year. The growing plan will increase the amount and variety of locally grown, nutritious foods found on the school lunch menus. Pitney Meadows Community Farm will provide schools with produce they’ve never bought locally before, including broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, beets, and parsnips. This represents a 50% increase in variety of locally produced foods for the Saratoga Springs City School District.
Funding for this program has allowed for the purchase of equipment to process and store large quantities of locally grown fresh produce. This has been greatly utilized by incorporating a “Harvest of the Month” project component, where a locally grown food item is promoted and provided monthly via samples and/or on the school lunch menu.
This was carried out at Corinth Elementary, which happily embraced the Harvest of the Month Project during September. Lisa Tevendale, the Food Service Director, provided watermelon to students who purchased lunch, while food service staff provided samples to all other students in the cafeteria. In addition, Mrs. Young, an elementary school teacher, visited each table to read the Watermelon Party book, as students enjoyed their local watermelon.
In addition to providing local produce for the school lunch menu, CCE has been actively involved in facilitating Farm to School nutrition education to students and their parents, further promoting the locally grown foods found in the Farm to School Harvest of the Month Project.
CCE has developed Harvest of the Month morning announcements for schools to introduce the upcoming locally grown item and the health benefits associated with each. Activity sheets focusing on the Harvest of the Month produce have been supplied to some elementary school grades. Newsletter articles provided by CCE have also kept parents informed. Additional efforts have included a presence within the cafeteria to survey the student population to assess if students are both accessing and enjoying more fresh produce found in their school lunch.