A New York Apple a Day: Edison Elementary School Participates in NYS Farm to School Institute

Students at the Edison Elementary School in Tonawanda, New York are getting a chance to follow doctor’s orders by “eating an apple a day.” Apples were the featured fruit of the month in September as part of the school’s farm to school program. Edison is one of ten school teams participating in the New York State Farm to School Institute – a year-long educational program led by Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS), to aid schools across the state in their farm to school efforts.

Physical education teacher Nicole Zugelder, speech pathologist Linda Sternin, and elementary teacher Sue Hirsch spent several weeks planning how to connect the “3 C’s”—the classroom, cafeteria and classroom-- with apples as the core theme. COVID-19 may have changed their plans, but it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. Instead, they created socially distanced events.

Using funds received through the New York State Farm to School Institute, the district purchased apples from Smith Orchard’s Cider Mill in nearby Lockport and organized a drive-thru pick-up. A virtual farm tour of the orchard, cooking demonstrations and recipe suggestions were made available through Google Classroom.

“On farm apple picking photos dominate social media each fall, but only a small percentage of our students actually have that experience,” Zugelder says. “You can talk about fruits and vegetables, but that means nothing to an elementary school student, until they can taste it, touch it, smell it and engage with it.”

Even though students are unable to experience the farm fresh produce through the cafeteria in-person classrooms, Zugelder is finding creative ways to create the connection through June. October is dubbed “fall on the farm,” and she is working with the Parent Teacher Association to organize a drive through harvest festival. Each family will receive a harvest bag that includes fall vegetables like broccoli and squash and pumpkin.“Normally, our events would have been when the kids are in school and they would get to try recipes with the featured fruit or vegetable,” she says.

A monthly newsletter features the produce of the month. It is packed with facts, recipes and information about local farms. The goal is to give students an understanding of where their food comes from, its nutritional properties and encourage the kids to learn about the role food plays in creating family memories and connecting the broader community.

“We’re telling kids to look through recipe books with their families and talk about what their grandparents always made, or what their aunt makes,” she says. “There’s a lot of stories around food that you can share when you're sitting at the dinner table.”

Each month students are encouraged to submit a favorite recipe featuring the fruits or vegetables highlighted. All submissions will be included in a school-wide recipe book that will be given to students in June.

Edison Elementary is part of the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Union Free School District located in a suburb outside of Buffalo. For more than a decade, the school has offered comprehensive wellness programs, including a garden and Junior Master Gardeners Club.

Food Service Director Kim Roll embraces opportunities to use surplus crops from the garden in the cafeteria. When the garden produced excess eggplant, she found a way to bring them into the meals. She also strives for using local farm grown foods. When she saw the Farm to School Institute announcement for the 2020 – 2021 school year she knew it would support the district’s goals for bringing the classroom and the cafeteria closer together.

“When I originally encouraged my schools to apply for the New York State Farm to School Institute, it was before COVID. Part of the program included training in the summer and so I thought the access to that and more resources is an awesome opportunity,” Roll says. “There is a definitely need for food schools serve to connect the classroom curriculum and cafeteria. The institute ties that all in.”

-Story by Katie Navarra, photos provided by Edison Elementary