Table of Contents
Purpose of the Menu Planning Module
When you start planning your menu, whether it be a cycle, monthly, or daily special menu, the goal is to provide the freshest, most appealing recipes for your audience. Local products can help but figuring out how to include and procure these items can be challenging.
This toolkit module will explore how menu planning with local foods can be achieved by reviewing best practices and hearing examples from those who have surmounted familiar obstacles. Case studies provide inspiration, practical advice, and tools to help your institution procure the freshest products while supporting the local economy and nutritional needs of your audience.
This “Menu Planning” module complements the first toolkit module, “Building a Solid Foundation for Farm to School”, which addressed aspects of getting started. The first module highlights the importance of building a solid Farm to School team, defines the parameters around farm to school, and helps with action steps in planning your school team. We recommend revisiting this initial module in setting up a strong foundational framework for your Farm to School program.
Forthcoming modules will offer other additional resources. The FINYS team welcomes input on the gaps in knowledge or challenges faced by your institution that you would like to see addressed. Contact us at [email protected] and sign up for updates to learn of new resources and trainings.
Getting Started: First Steps in Planning a Menu Utilizing New York State Farm Products
Introducing or ramping up inclusion of New York farm products takes time and it takes a team, both within the school and externally. The first FINYS Local Food Buyer Learning Center module, “Building a Solid Foundation for Farm to School,” introduces the elements of a strong school team. The following is a list of other stakeholders and partners, referenced at points throughout this module, that you will likely encounter while seeking out New York farm products.
Farmers: The first task in identifying and incorporating New York products should be enlisting the assistance of farmers within your geographic area. If you are venturing out to obtain more local products and have not yet established a Farm to School team (though we encourage you to), check with your distributor or Cornell Cooperative Extension office for farmer information to seek possible local produce in season.
Schools can work directly with farmers and utilize their expertise to involve and engage students through visits to the farm or farmer visits to the school. Students enjoy seeing a working farm and as a result gain knowledge of where our food comes from and the necessity of keeping farmers on the land to sustain our communities.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, or NYSDAM, maintains several comprehensive lists of local farmers, including New York State Grown and Certified and GAP or GHP Certified Farms. These lists are available here.
Vendors: If you are just getting started, you can reach out to your current contacts - distributors, vendors – to establish an understanding of what products are readily available. If you have a Farm to School coordinator or similar staff, this position can help build solid vendor relationships with a focus on local foods. Food hubs are a unique type of distributor that are increasingly providing farmers with aggregation, marketing, and distribution services for local farm products. Appendix I provides a list of food hubs located across New York.
Other School Districts: There are nearly 300 school districts across New York implementing elements of Farm to School programs, and the number is growing. Check with distributors and surrounding districts to see if there are neighboring food service teams utilizing any local farms for food procurement and get connected!
Cornell Cooperative Extension: Your regional Cornell Cooperative Extension, or CCE, office is a wealth of resources. Along with knowledge on agriculture and food systems, CCE also offers nutrition education, gardening best practices, food safety, 4-H Youth Development activities, and sustainability programs. Learn more and find your local CCE office.
State Resources: The New York State Education Department’s Child Nutrition Department has extensive information regarding farm to school initiatives and contacts on their website. Check their website for a map on farm to school resources, documents, and procurement information. In addition to listings of local farmers, NYSDAM also houses Farm to School resources for farmers and food service directors. NYSDAM also has extensive Harvest of the Month materials and a Local Procurement Toolkit available on its website.
Section 1: Menu Assessment and Analysis
First and foremost, your farm to school team should define what local is to your institution. Local may be within a certain mile radius, county, or state. A school could decide that because there are so many fruit and vegetable producers within their county, “local” fruits and vegetables must come from within county lines. However, this definition may change with different products that might be more difficult to access or that require processing. If the county has only one dairy, then “local” milk, cheese, and yogurt might come from anywhere in the state.
For the purpose of this toolkit module, “local” is defined as grown or raised in New York state. Establishing your local definition will allow you to review your current menu to determine what you presently use that is local.
Begin with a thorough review of your menu as currently planned. What items on the menu are already sourced from New York farmers or producers? Before you begin planning for your next cycle of bids and procurement of foods, first check with your current provider.
Dairy is often a great place to start as New York ranks second highest in the nation for dairy production. Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, are available year-round in most regions of New York and used daily as a major part of many menus. Used in recipes, consumed as beverages, and utilized as protein sources, this commodity is readily available for local procurement in most of New York.
Next, review your products for area of origin. Vendors vary in how and what they track when sourcing local products. New York produces potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, beets, apples, and so much more. If a vendor is uncertain of the origin of products that might be grown or raised in New York, proceed with caution. Request a list of farms the distributors usually purchase from and review to see how many establishments are within the state. Explain to your vendor why your institution is requesting this information and identify exactly what data you need and when. By expressing interest in this information, you are showing vendors that buyers are interested in local procurement.
Example: School Lunch Menu Review
Let’s look at an example of a school lunch menu and highlight those items that could be available locally in New York. The food items highlighted are generally easy points to start with when investigating origin with your vendor(s). What local items are you already procuring, and where can you replace non-local items with New York products?
Taco, Meat, Shredded Cheese, Lettuce, & Salsa or Sliced Turkey & Cheese Wrap
Steamed Brown Rice
Frozen Fruit Juice Cup
Pasta with Meat Sauce or Chicken Salad Sandwich
Rainbow Grilled Cheese Sandwich or Assorted Pizza
Green Bean Salad
Brunch for Lunch: French Toast Sticks with Sausage Pattie or Chicken Salad Sandwich
NYS Roasted Potatoes
Stuffed Crust Pizza or Chicken Nuggets
Dark Green Mixed Salad with Dressing
It is important to also survey the storage and preparation infrastructure of the kitchen when assessing the menu. If storing or preparing fresh produce in your institutional kitchen is a challenge, consider identifying quick-moving, local protein sources such as chopped, frozen ground beef. As a labor-saving alternative, consider the use of local products fresh-cut and minimally processed by a processing company. Your distributor or regional food hub may serve as resources for identifying local protein and produce sources that align with your kitchen’s current infrastructure.
Once you have identified potential menu items, check first with current or known distributors. When you buy through your produce distributor, find out what local fresh products they have available. If something is not from New York, discuss the possibility with your distributors of changing the product to one grown and produced within the state. Many schools experience success working with their existing suppliers and procurement networks to acquire local foods. Before deciding to develop new relationships, contracts, and systems, take stock of the opportunities available through your current procurement system.
It is important to communicate with distributors and suppliers what you mean by local, as definitions can often include food that is only manufactured in New York using products grown and raised outside of the state.
Farm to School in Action:
New York Thursdays
One way to start is to include a day of the week or month that exclusively features foods from within the state. An example of this is the New York Thursdays initiative. Modeled by New York City Department of Education Office of Food & Nutrition Services and adopted by other districts statewide, it is a regularly occurring opportunity to highlight menus predominately or exclusively featuring foods from New York farms. Schools also take to social media to share their #NYThursdays menu items and photos to boost awareness and publicity for their institutions.
Photo from Mohawk Valley Farm to School: New York state products include local kale for chicken pesto pizza, milk, pears, Concord grape juice
How do you know that you are purchasing a food product from a New York farm? Some existing state and federal programs can serve as guides to identifying and finding local farm products.
- New York Grown & Certified: Operated by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, the New York Grown & Certified program helps buyers identify and source products locally and responsibly grown in New York state. The New York State Grown & Certified seal indicates that the farms have been inspected for safe food handling and environmental stewardship.
- USDA DoD Fresh: The USDA DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, or DoD Fresh, pilot program began in 1994, allowing food service directors the option of using federal commodity dollars to purchase local fruits and vegetables from Department of Defense buyers. The DoD Fresh Program increasingly gives preference to small and mid-size family farmers within the states in which it operates.
- USDA Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Project: The USDA Unprocessed Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Project encourages the use of fresh fruits and vegetables in the National School Lunch Program by allowing locally grown foods to be purchased with USDA funds annually allocated to schools.
New York is one of eight states selected to participate in the Pilot Project, which was written into the 2015 Farm Bill. Schools may use pre-existing commercial distribution channels with farmers, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors.
If you plan to source directly from farmers or to identify farmers with whom your distributor has a source for locally grown products, make sure that you are establishing proper contracts and procuring within USDA, state, and local regulations. Proper procurement is critical to successfully bringing in more New York farm products and will be addressed in detail in a subsequent module of the Local Food Buyer Learning Center Toolkit.
Section 2: Menu Planning and Forecasting
As you prepare your menu and begin to assess availability, menu planning and forecasting next come into play. This includes deciding what local products you will use, when you will use them, how often, and how much you will purchase to meet participation needs.
Planning in advance is essential as this is the crucial time to forecast your needs before farmers begin their planting. By planning before planting, you and your distributors will be collaborating with farmers to ensure you are part of their future harvest and more likely to acquire your preferred products. If you decide to purchase directly at harvest time, you will only have access to available products that the farmer forecasted previously to sell to the public.
Forecasting is necessary to be able to inform the local vendors of your desired products prior to the coming harvest. A good time to start your plan and communicate with farmers is 6 to 12 months prior to your anticipated needs. If you begin in March/April, you will be able to plan for your September needs and confirm the expected harvest. If you begin in November/December, you will be able to plan for your June/July needs and anticipate your farmer’s available products. However, keep in mind that severe weather and unforeseen circumstances can affect a farmer’s harvest. Keeping an open line of communication with your farmer or distributor will help keep you aware of any changes in product availability and be able to adjust accordingly.
Planning before planting will help to build diversity into menu offerings by taking advantage of seasonal local products. Selecting items available by season also ensures you will be securing better pricing and the freshest available local product!
Create a cycle menu for the seasons (Fall, Spring, Summer, Winter). Utilize products that are grown and available in your area for each season. Appendix II contains the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Harvest Chart, a list of fruits and vegetables generally available by month in New York state.
On your menus, start with introducing local products incrementally, such as one day per month, one day per week, or by highlighting local foods on a designated campaign day such as New York Thursdays. Many institutions have begun their Farm to Institution programs with an established Harvest of the Month Program. This program incorporates locally grown items in school or institutional menus each month. Below is a suggested schedule of featured items for the school year:
New York State Harvest of the Month
|September: Green Beans, Tomatoes||February: Onions, Garlic|
|October: Zucchini, Corn||March: Cabbage, Cheese|
|November: Cauliflower, Broccoli||April: Carrots, Yogurt|
|December: Squash||May: Sprouts, Apples|
|January: Potatoes, Beets||June: Asparagus, Lettuce|
For Harvest of the Month, select at least one day each month in your menu to highlight the featured local product, including promotions and activities to generate participation and engagement. If working within a school, it is a good idea to consider requesting volunteers, PTA members or older students, to help with Harvest of the Month activities that celebrate the featured local product on the menu.
New York State Harvest Calendar
Buffalo City Schools Farm to School Initiative
New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets Harvest of the Month Educator Toolkit
New York State Department of Agriculture & Martkets Harvest of the Month Recipes and Resources
Buffalo Harvest of the Month Materials, CCE Erie County
Once you select the fresh fruits and vegetables you will menu monthly, it is a good idea to introduce and positively promote as many local products as possible to students, parents, teachers, and staff, including any unusual items you may be offering. Repetition leads to familiarity, and familiarity allows your students or other clients the opportunity to become comfortable with the products and increase their inclination to try new items on the menu. One way to do this is by rolling out taste tests at your institution.
Whether in a school or other institution, involving your eaters in the development of menu choices will support your goals. Taste testing new local products creates a low-pressure environment for both students or clients and food service staff to promote a culture of food curiosity and ultimately expand their menu. By offering smaller portions of new and potential menu items, taste tests increase the likelihood that students or other clients will try something new.
It is exciting for students to taste new recipes with local foods that you plan to serve in the future. A review process at the end of a taste test – asking students to vote on whether or not they liked the taste test item – gives students agency over their school meal options and gives school food service staff confidence in knowing which new items would do well on the lunch menu.
Be aware that new items may require several repeat offerings on the menu for student acceptance to improve. In the school environment, taste tests are especially effective when coupled with educational programming about the new food item or opportunities for students to participate in preparation. Offering unique varieties in the tastings often makes for great learning opportunities as well.
Farm to School in Action:
Farmer Participation and Involvement
Now that you have connected with farmers for local products it is advantageous to invite farmers to get involved in the school district and menu planning process. Field trips involving classes and teachers to see where food comes from offers experiential learning to increase Farm to School awareness. Some students may never have been to a real farm where acres of land are producing broccoli, apples, blueberries, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, or much more. All of these items are readily available and offer purchasing opportunities from New York farms and eye-opening educational opportunities for students.
Communicating with Farmers
You have your menu assessed and planned, and a network of farmers you are ready to contact with the list of New York products to incorporate into your meal program. What else do you need to consider? One challenge many schools and other institutions face is translating the amount of product needed for institutional food preparation from the common agricultural units that farmers often use when selling their fresh produce. Before finalizing any contract with farmers or distributors, make sure you have clear agreement on the amount of product you are purchasing and in what way it will be processed, packaged, and shipped. The “Pecks to Pounds” chart, included as Attachment III, is one tool to help understand the lingo when working with farmers in planning and forecasting.
Section 3: Training and Skill Development
One of the most common challenges in preparing and serving local foods in institutions is a lack of culinary and food safety training among food service staff. Changing over to local products often means preparing foods in their raw form, resulting in staff requiring the knowledge and skills to do so. If food service staff are used to opening #10 cans of green beans for lunch, acquiring the know-how to calculate quantities of fresh beans, prep them for service, and then cook a recipe from scratch can be a daunting process.
First and foremost, staff must embrace the importance of local products and the Farm to School mission. If staff are on board and passionate about using the freshest products for their students, this ensures continued dedication to procuring quality ingredients and building the skillset needed to provide healthful meals. Attending Farm to School workshops, trainings, and conferences that highlight local food initiatives help to motivate staff. Tying Farm to School efforts to the big picture of supporting the overall food system can help staff connect the dots and realize their actions in the kitchen count towards making their communities economically viable while simultaneously enriching the health of their students.
Once there is buy-in from food service staff, skill development in procurement and culinary preparation is essential to ensuring that local products are optimally purchased, presented and served. To introduce staff to new produce or products, many farmers are willing to highlight ideal storage and preparation ideas for their harvest. Local culinary schools may be able to provide chef volunteers to help train staff with knife skills, equipment operation, and best practices in the kitchen preparing scratch foods. Collaborate with other districts to schedule professional training in proper handling of fresh produce and recipe preparation. Often there are professional development opportunities available in person at conferences and workshops or through distance learning online webinars and training courses. See below for several examples of training available to food service staff on a state and national level:
NYSED Professional Cooking Summer Training: New York State Education Department offers an annual Professional Quantity Food Preparation training for staff each summer. The objective of this training is to enhance the skills and knowledge of school foodservice personnel and instill a sense of professionalism.
New York Farm to School Institute: Farm to Institution New York State offers an annual opportunity for three days of in-depth training and a full year of expert support to selected New York schools to improve operational and logistical processes to increase local purchasing and grow their Farm to School programs.
The Institute for Child Nutrition: The Institute of Child Nutrition, or ICN, part of the School of Applied Sciences at The University of Mississippi, is the only federally-funded national center dedicated to applied research, education and training, and technical assistance for child nutrition programs. The Education and Training division of ICN coordinates and develops face-to-face and on-site training seminars at little or no cost and free online courses designed to support the professional development of child nutrition program and childcare personnel at all levels of responsibility.
Assessing your menu, menu forecasting and planning, training and skill development.
Planning your menu to include local New York products takes time and intentional effort from food service staff, distributors, and all involved in Farm to Institution programs. Closely assessing your current menu, forecasting your future needs, incorporating promotional efforts, and ramping up kitchen staff skills will all play crucial parts in achieving a successful increase in local foods in your menus. Schools across the state have found success in building and growing farm to school efforts through menu planning. Appendix IV offers just one example of a successful program from The East End Farm to School Project that highlights collaboration among multiple districts and showcases innovative ways to both include food service staff and teachers, as well as engage their respective Long Island communities.
This toolkit serves as a starting point to inspire and guide your menu planning to include local products. Closely reviewing your own procurement and institutional needs will provide a more accurate assessment and steer the direction of what projects to take on and where to direct your efforts to improve your own Farm to Institution program. Communicating with regional partners, vendors, and farmers serves to deepen connections and understanding of procurement needs. By taking small steps to incorporate local foods within your menus, you can feel good in knowing that you’ll be supporting your local farmers, strengthening New York’s economy, and nourishing your community with the meals that you serve in your institutions.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Farm to School Programs
Farm to School in the Northeast Toolkit
National Farm to School Network
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Harvest Chart
New York State Food Hubs
Courtesy of Cornell Small Farms Program’s Local and Regional Food Initiative. List is current as of September 2019. Distributor contact information is subject to change, and we encourage you to reach out to vendors directly to confirm availability and ordering procedures.
|Food Hub Name||Phone | Website||Address|
594 River St.
Troy, NY 12180
|Catskills Food Hub||
92 Commerce Dr.
Liberty, NY 12754
|Corbin Hill Food Project||
475 Riverside Dr. #244
New York, NY 10115
750 Enterprise Dr.
Kingston, NY 12401
571 Austin Place
Bronx, NY 10455
742 Schoharie Turnpike
Athens, NY 12015
|Food and Health Network of South Central NY||
455 Court Street
Binghamton, NY 13904
1999 Mt Read Blvd.
Rochester, NY 14615
|Glazier Packing Company||
3140 State Route 11
Malone, NY 12953
660 Casanova St.
Bronx, NY 10474
|Happy Valley Meat Company||
463 Lincoln Pl #224
Brooklyn, NY 11238
|Headwater Food Hub||
6318 Ontario Center Rd.
Ontario, NY 14519
|Hub on the Hill||
545 Middle Rd.
Essex, NY 12936
|Jerry Shulman Produce||
3000 Hempstead Tpke.
Levittown, NY 11756
|Lucky Dog Organic||
Hamden, NY 13782
|North Star Food Hub||
+1 315-560-1580 (Neil Miller)
200 Howk Street
Watertown, NY 13601
+1 607-319-5150 x5
Regional Access Inc.
1609 Trumansburg Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
|Schare & Associates, Inc.||
307A Woods Ave.
Oceanside, NY 11572
|Upstate Growers and Packers||
121 Second St.
Oriskany, NY 13424
|Western New York Food Hub||
7502 Route 62
Eden, NY 14057
Adapted from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the following is a list of fruits and vegetables generally available by month in New York state. These dates are approximate and may vary slightly in different areas. Harvest periods may begin a week to 10 days earlier during a warmer than usual year. A cool spring will delay crop maturity. Call farms for exact dates of harvest.
September: Lima beans, Snap beans, Beets, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard greens, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Onions, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Summer squash, Winter squash, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Turnips, Zucchini, Apples, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloupes, Grapes, Pears, Plums, Raspberries, Watermelon
October: Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard greens, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Kale, Leeks, Onions, Parsnip, Peas, Potatoes, Winter squash, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Turnips, Zucchini
November: Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Collard greens, Kale, Leeks, Mustard Greens, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Winter squash, Turnips, Apples, Pears
December: Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Collard greens, Leeks, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Winter squash, Turnips, Apples, Pears
January: Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Winter squash, Turnips, Apples, Pears
February: Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Winter squash, Turnips, Apples, Pears
March: Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Turnips, Apples
April: Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Apples
May: Asparagus, Beet greens, Lettuce, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Turnip greens, Apples
June: Asparagus, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Garlic, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Summer squash, Swiss chard, Zucchini, Apples, Strawberries
July: Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Collard greens, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Summer squash, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Zucchini, Apples, Blueberries, Sweet cherries, Tart cherries, Peaches, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries
August: Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard greens, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Leeks, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Summer squash, Swiss chard, Tomatoes, Turnips, Zucchini, Apples, Blackberries, Cantaloupes, Currants, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Prunes
"Pecks to Pounds"
|Commodity||UNit||Approx. Net Weight (u.s. Pounds)||Approx. Net Weight (Metric Kilograms)|
|Blackberries||12, 1/2 pint basket||6||2.7|
|Brussel sprouts||carton, loose pack||25||11.3|
|Butter||block||55, 68||25, 30.9|
open mesh bag
flat crate (1 3/4 bu)
carton, place pack
|Carrots||film plastic bags, mesh sacks, and cartons holding 48 1 lb. film bags||55||24.9|
carton, packed 5 oz. ears
|Eggs||average size, case, 30 dozen||47||21.3|
|Garlic||carton of 12 cubes or 12 film bag packages, 12 cloves each||10||4.5|
Eastern, 12-qt basket
Western, 4-basket crate
|Honeydew melons||2/3 carton||28-32||12.7-14.5|
|Kale||carton or crate||25||11.3|
|Lettuce||carton packed, 24||43-52||19.5-23.6|
|Lettuce, greenhouse||24-qt basket||10||4.5|
green, bunched, carton 12-doz.
2 layer carton or lug
3/4-bu, carton crate
carton or lug
|Tomatoes, greenhouse||12-qt basket||20||9.1|
without tops, mesh sack
|Watermelons||melons of average or medium size||25||11.3|
Courtesy of the Maryland Department of Agriculture
Appendix IV: Case Study
The East End Farm to School Project: Southampton, Bridgehampton and Tuckahoe School Districts, Long Island, New York
Banding together as the East End Farm to School Project, Southampton, Bridgehampton, and Tuckahoe School Districts have created a robust program through collaboration and relationship building, re-envisioning their school lunch menus to bring in more New York farm products.
Thanks to support from a New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Farm to School grant in 2017 and receipt of the Farm to School Partnership Award, the districts have found creative ways to obtain and receive local farm products for integration into the meal programs across cafeterias in three school districts, serving 700 to 800 total students daily.
The Farm to School committee included representatives from all three districts, local farmers, and community-based organizations including the New York State Department of Health program Creating Healthy Schools and Communities, which has been involved throughout all stages of implementation. Funding supported the hiring of a Farm to School Coordinator to facilitate the Farm to School Committee meetings and initiate organizing the procurement and utilization of local products. The Coordinator’s first task included seeking out farmers interested in sourcing their harvests to schools. The second task was developing and maintaining working partnerships with personnel in the three school districts and connecting staff with local farms and other stakeholders involved in Long Island’s local food system. A needs assessment was completed with the three food service directors to determine how their current menus already included local food options and to identify procurement products that could be locally sourced. Finally, the Coordinator compiled a current database of supply chain partners and initiated contact with local farmers within the region.
East End farmers have been very receptive to this partnership. The result is a successful collaboration with several farms providing monthly local produce to Southampton, Bridgehampton, and Tuckahoe students. A Harvest of the Month schedule was created to match up the needs of each of the three school districts with local farmers who supplied the produce. The schedule was set up to run from the entirety of the school year from September through June.
We look at the cafeteria as a classroom. We can teach students about healthy eating and the choices available.
- Regan Kiembock, Food Service Director, Southampton Union Free School District
In addition to incorporating local products into school meals, the East End School Project devoted attention to weaving Farm to School into the classroom by introducing agricultural education topics, using promotional materials in the classroom, and conducting taste tests in all their schools. Finally, in-school farm events were planned as well as school visits to local farms for students to be able to make the connection between food and farmer tangible.
Providing professional development for all child nutrition staff has also been a priority for the East End Farm to School Project. One component of this training included Farm to School training with Chef John Turenne, Founder and President of Sustainable Food Systems, LLC at the Southampton High School kitchen. Turenne is Executive Chef at Yale University and creator of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Sustainable Food Systems, LLC is a consulting company dedicated to transitioning institutional dining programs to healthier, more sustainable food service operations. The fantastic teamwork, presentation of farm fresh foods, along with hands-on instruction on crafting mouthwatering recipes were a hit among Southampton food service staff.
New equipment was purchased for each district to assist in the preparation and storage of newly acquired local foods. Southampton procured a commercial food processor and Sunkist sectional units, while Tuckahoe purchased a display case, and Bridgehampton increased their quantity of refrigerator units. To encourage smoothie preparation, all three school districts purchased powerful Vitamix blenders.
To drum up further culinary excitement, The East End Farm to School Project also advertised an opportunity for local chefs and restaurateurs to be featured as guest chefs at their schools through social media:
To complement guest chef instruction, the Slow Food East End chapter and Edible Long Island provided gardening and product information and culinary guidance for the three participating school districts. Each of the three school districts also started school gardens.
In the Tuckahoe School District, students tasted a handful of beautiful carrots from their very own garden. The kids were able to directly harvest the root vegetables and taste them the next day on the cafeteria’s lunch menu. Results were tagged in a post-event Facebook post:
Mr. Matt Doris, Tuckahoe Food Service Director, roasted the carrots in the oven with a sprinkle of cinnamon. The kids loved them!!! The kids had a true Farm-to-Fork experience. Thank you teachers and students at Tuckahoe for allowing us to be a part of the fun! #carrots #farmtotable #farmtoschool
A large part of introducing students to local products is conducting regular taste tests, and monthly tastings are hosted in each school with support from Eat Smart New York. Some of the tastings feature local beets, carrots, kale, and spinach. Beets are pureed in a red velvet cake, spinach and kale are incorporated in salads and smoothies, and carrots are oven roasted to bring out their natural sweetness. Students enjoy these events immensely and are able to learn about local agricultural businesses and the valuable nutrition their local food provides. Additionally, students connect the concept that buying and eating from neighborhood farms helps support local growers and their very own communities.
In addition to local produce, other New York products identified and purchased included ground beef, honey, yogurt, and cheese.
This program is well underway and plans for the East End School Project include a commitment to increase their procurement of local products within the districts. The schools also are preparing to create a chef’s program for schools to provide staff with skills needed to increase their scratch recipe production. Finally, The East End Farm to School Project was selected as one of the six schools for the inaugural New York State Farm to School Institute for 2019-2020. Participating in the Institute will provide the districts with continued support to build upon the three C’s in Farm to School: Cafeteria, Classroom, and Community.