Kicking Off a New Year of the New York State Farm to School Institute

Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS) kicked off its second year of the New York State Farm to School Institute with a Virtual Retreat in August, welcoming school teams into a year-long educational program designed to aid districts in their farm to school efforts. The New York Institute is inspired by Vermont FEED’s Northeast Farm to School Institute hosted at Shelburne Farms and focuses on the 3 Cs of farm to school: Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community. This model supports schools in developing lasting programs and connecting the dots from farm to school to current issues such as climate change, food justice, and equity in communities.

The Institute complements the Governor Cuomo’s No Student Goes Hungry initiative which provides increased lunch reimbursements for New York schools that purchase at least 30 percent of their ingredients from New York farms and processors. Farm to School includes promotional efforts such as Harvest of the Month and New York Thursdays programs to bring awareness to school communities of local products grown within the state. The Institute offers education, coaching, and training on local food procurement, community engagement, and agricultural education.

Ten New York school teams attended the 2020-21 Farm to School Institute Retreat, including: Windsor Central School District, Perry Central School District, Forestville Central School District, East End Farm to School Project (Southampton, Bridgehampton, & Tuckahoe Common), Newburgh Free Academy North, Ellenville Central School District, C.V. Starr Intermediate School (Brewster), Thomas A. Edison Elementary (Kenmore-Tonawanda), and Boquet Valley Central School District. Despite the very real and pressing challenges facing schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are inspired to see commitment from these school teams in sustaining their farm to school programs and dedication to feeding students in the 2020-21 school year

The August 10th and 17th Retreat featured keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer Gaddis, Associate Professor at UW Madison, and author of The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools. Gaddis is an expert on national school lunch policy and highlighted the intersectionality of feminism and food justice within the history of school meals. Sessions included interactive workshops by Wellness in the Schools on self-care for essential school workers, Cultivate Community on grassroots community engagement strategies, food equity through storytelling, and a “Why Farm to School?” panel with folks from Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Vermont FEED, CCE, and Wellness in the Schools. School teams ended the Retreat by participating in a “Kitchen Table Conversation” session to brainstorm solutions to real-world farm to school issues with their 2020 cohort.

Participant feedback from the 2020-2021 NYS Farm to School Retreat:

  • I most enjoyed the keynote from Dr. Gaddis and her energy for the work we are doing. It's motivational to me to connect the small-scale work we are doing to a larger movement.
  • I think having to plan the retreat virtually must have been a ton of work and quite a daunting task- but it worked! I really enjoyed listening to the speakers, getting to know about others in the state, and making a few connections.
  • It was great to have lots of discussion on racial equity and all the different forms it might take. Our district is very diverse, so it is good to get that conversation started.
  • The breakout session with my team was important so we could discuss the project. We have not had much opportunity to do this "in person/virtually", it has mostly been through emails. Having the time to do this was priceless.

This year’s Virtual Farm to School Institute continues workshop trainings, coaching, peer-to-peer mentoring, and Implementation Awards as in previous years, with the addition of online discussion forums and a resource sharing platform throughout the duration of the program. Conditions permitting, the Institute will conclude with a Spring Celebration in the Hudson Valley paired with a farm field trip.

Applications for the 2021-22 NYS Farm to School Institute will be open at the end of January. Interested schools are encouraged to reach out to the FINYS team ([email protected])  for more information and for application assistance.