On April 17th, the Buffalo Board of Education accepted a series of recommendations put forth by Bridget O'Brien Wood, Food Service Director with Buffalo Public Schools, awarding food-related bids to local farmers and small food producers in the amount of $1,113,537.
The Farm to School program, now in its 5th year, took a giant leap forward this year in preparation for the 2019-20 school year. The Food Service Department not only increased its demand for locally grown produce to the tune of $457,021 but also requested 130,000lbs of local beef, resulting in the award of $656,516 to local farmers and food producers. Collectively, these awards account for 8% of Buffalo's total food budget, which coupled with their New York dairy purchases and other New York food purchases, positions the District to achieve Governor Cuomo's "30% initiative", as part of his No Student Goes Hungry Program. This, in turn, will qualify the District to receive approximately $1,000,000 in reimbursement, to then be reinvested into the food service department.
The majority of the bids were awarded to five New York-based businesses:
- Eden Valley Growers/Western NY Food Hub (Eden), a 60-year old vegetable cooperative that works with 25+ local farmers, who is partnering with Fruit Fresh Up (Depew) to minimally process and deliver to Buffalo's 80+ schools.
- Wardynski's (Buffalo), a family-owned and operated business since 1919, who will be custom making gourmet hotdogs for the District, free of nitrates, artificial ingredients, and preservatives.
- Headwater Food Hub (Rochester), a certified B-Corp who works collaboratively with a network of regional farmers and food producers to coordinate a "Good Food System" that delivers top-quality, sustainable foods year-round.
- Slate Foods (NYC), who partners with a consortium of farms and processors in various regions through the state to provide schools with New York Grown & Certified beef, free of growth-promoting antibiotics and hormones.
- Empire State Farms (New York Mills), a new food processing venture between two 3rd generation farms in Central NY, who is providing wholesale and institutional markets with access to locally raised meat products.
- Other awardees include Peterson Farms Fresh, located in Michigan, who is supplying the district with New York apples, and Latina Boulevard Produce (Tonawanda), who has a long-standing relationship as the primary produce distributor to the District.
Local food offered on the lunch tray is hardly a new concept in Buffalo Public Schools; however, what has changed is that it's surpassed just being a featured item only, and is now a staple on the weekly menu. On any given day, locally grown, raised, and minimally processed items can be found on the meal tray, supporting the local economy and providing the 30K+ students with greater access to healthy, local food.
Buffalo Public Schools Food Service Director, Bridget O'Brien Wood, said, "I am so grateful to all of the Farm to School community partners who helped us achieve this goal! For five years, our Farm to School community partners have guided our district and advocated for an increase of locally grown foods on our school menus by providing education, resources, opportunities, and their agricultural expertise. Our students have already enjoyed and benefitted from the healthier Farm to School options, however, the additional beef entrees coming next school year brings us one step closer to scratch cooking!"
Cornell Cooperative Extension Agricultural Economic Development Specialist, Cheryl Thayer, said, "The Buffalo Farm to School Program is a leading example of the magnitude of impact our public institutions can have when they shift a percentage of their food budget to favor local. There are so many wins afforded through this program, whether it's supporting local farmers and small businesses, providing students with healthier food, shortening our food supply chains, or driving economic development, it's a best practice in action."
Eden Valley Growers/Western NY Food Hub Operations Manager, Dave Walczak, said, "Eden Valley Growers/Western New York Food Hub and our partners, Fruit Fresh Up, are thrilled to have the opportunity to provide the students of Buffalo Public Schools with a direct supply of produce from our growers to their lunch trays. We take pride in the efforts our growers put forth each season to provide healthy, locally grown fruit and veggies and we are now able to share their labors and story with the students. What a win-win for everyone!"
Watch the video below to see how food grown on Western New York farms makes its way to Buffalo Public Schools with the help of Eden Valley Growers and Latina Boulevard Produce!
About the Buffalo Farm to School Program: The Buffalo Farm to School initiative brings healthy, local, and fresh food to schools in Buffalo. The initiative connects schools, farms, and community partners to improve student nutrition through agriculture, health, and nutrition education, and to strengthen our economy by supporting local farmers and food producers. What began as a small scale pilot in 11 of the district's schools in 2014 has since expanded to all schools serviced by the Food Service Department. To date, the Farm to School program has intentionally sourced more than $1.25M in fresh produce alone, with millions more per year going to support the New York dairy industry. Evolving every year, the program will now be sourcing local protein and is exploring options to support the local grain industry as well. The core Buffalo Farm to School team is comprised of individuals from the following organizations: Buffalo Public Schools Food Service Department & Wellness Teams, Cornell Cooperative Extension Harvest NY, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County, D'Youville College, and the Genesee Valley BOCES' Creating Healthy Schools and Communities initiative.
About Cornell Cooperative Extension Harvest New York: Harvest New York is a statewide Extension team that supports five program areas: (1) Local Food Distribution and Marketing (2) Dairy Food Processing and Marketing (3) Farm-Based Beverages (4) Urban Agriculture (5) Farm Strategic Planning. Specialists in these areas develop educational programs that increase agricultural investments, profitability, and sustainability. They play a vital role to New York agriculture by bringing together researchers, practitioners and industry stakeholders in the shared goal of growing the agricultural and food economy in New York State.
Photo credit: Josh Baldo Photography