Sustaining Farm to School Throughout the Winter

Table of Contents

Group of students with teacher tending to a snowy garden.

Introduction

Despite the colder temperatures and plants going dormant, there are still plenty of ways to keep your farm to school program alive and active through the winter! New York products are poised to be featured in school cafeterias year-round, and this is the perfect time to teach kids about the seasonal cycle of agriculture and food systems. Read on for ideas of New York products to purchase, recipes to feature in your school menus, opportunities to extend your fall harvest through storage and preservation, and farm to school activities and lesson plans that can be used during this time.

In the Cafeteria

When we think of serving local food in school cafeterias, the first image that comes to mind is often the abundance of fresh produce that’s available in the summer and fall in New York. This seasonality can be discouraging for folks looking to increase their local food procurement, but thanks to cold storage, there is still a variety of fruits and vegetables that can be purchased during the winter months and plenty of New York agricultural products available all year!

New York Fruits and Vegetables Available in Winter

  • Beets
  • Rutabaga
  • Celery root/celeriac
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Apples
  • Winter Squash
  • Cabbage
  • Dried Beans

New York Products Available Year-Round

  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Grains
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Value-added products
  • Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables

For more information about where to buy New York products, use Cornell Cooperative Extension Harvest NY’s database.

Student is holding a red tray in the cafeteria line and a food service provider is in the background.

Winter Recipes for New York Products

Wheat Berry Salad

Portion Size

1/2 cup

Serves

50

Recipe From

VT FEED's New School Cuisine cookbook

Ingredients

  • Soft winter wheat berries, 2 lb or 1 qt + 1/2 cup
  • NY sweet potatoes, 2 lb 6 oz or 2 medium
  • Olive oil, 2 tbsp
  • Ground cinnamon, 2 tsp
  • Brown sugar, 1/2 cup (packed)
  • Ground nutmeg, pinch
  • Dried cranberries, 3 cups
  • Kosher salt, 1 tbsp
  • Ground black pepper, 2 tsp

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add wheat berries and cook until tender and the berries start to split, about 40 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, peel sweet potatoes and cut into 3/8-inch dice.
  3. Preheat convection oven to 350F or conventional oven to 375F.
  4.  Toss the sweet potatoes, oil, cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Spread evenly on a half-sheet pan and cook until tender and browned, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  5. Combine the cooled wheat berries, roasted sweet potatoes, cranberries, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine.

You could subsitute brown rice or barley for the wheat berries.

Roasted Root Vegetable Hash

Portion Size

1 cup

Serves

52 1/2

Ingredients

  • NY beets, 2 lb 8 oz
  • NY carrots, 2 lb 8 oz
  • Other NY root vegetables (turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, and/or parsnips), 2 lb 8 oz total
  • NY potatoes, 2 lb 8 oz
  • NY sweet potatoes 2 lb 8 oz
  • NY yellow onions 2 lb 8 oz
  • Water, 3 qt
  • Ground coriander, 5 tbsp and 1 tsp
  • Ground cumin, 5 tbsp and 1 tsp
  • Onion powder, 2 tbsp and 1 tsp
  • Paprika, 2 tbsp and 1 tsp
  • Garlic powder, 1 tbsp and 1/2 tsp
  • Kosher salt, 1 tbsp and 1/2 tsp
  • Vegetable oil, 1 cup

Directions

  1. Trim and peel beets, carrots, and other root vegetables. Cut into 1/2-inch dice.
  2. Cut potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch dice.
  3. Trim and peel onions. Cut into 1/4-inch dice
  4. Preheat the convection over to 425F.
  5. Bring water to a boil in a 4-quart stockpot. Add beets and cook until you can just pierce them with a fork (but they are not fully tender), 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  6. Meanwhile, mix coriander, cumin, onion powder, paprika, garlic powder, and salt into a small bowl.
  7. Add the carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, other root vegetables, onions, and oil to the beets. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and stir to coat. Divide between 2 full sheet pans and spread evenly. Roast, stirring once, until the vegetables are fork tender and beginning to brown and crisp on the edges, 40 to 45 minutes.

VT FEED's New School Cuisine cookbook

Butternutty Mac and Cheese

Portion size

3" x 3" cut or #8 scoop

Serves

48

Ingredients

  • NY Butternut squash, raw, whole, 9 lbs or 10 c of butternut squash puree
  • Elbow macaroni, 3 lbs dry (New York ziti, fusilli, or shell option to substitute)
  • NY sharp cheddar cheese, grated, 1 lb
  • American cheese, grated, 1 lb
  • Butter, 2/3 cup
  • All-Purpose flour, 6 cups
  • NY Skim Milk, 48 oz
  • Salt, 3 Tbsp

Directions

  1. Preheat the convention over to 325F.
  2. Melt butter in a 4-quart pot. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.
  3. Take the pot off the heat and stir in milk. Place pot back on the heat, allowing milk to warm. Stir occasionally. Add grated cheese and mix until melted. Stir in salt and pepper. Stir in squash puree, adding 2 cups at a time. Allow sauce to thicken on low heat while the pasta is prepared.
  4. Bring 3 quarts of water salted with ½ cup salt to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for 8 minutes. There should still be a bit of chew to the pasta.
  5. In the largest pot or a very large bowl, combine the pasta and the sauce. Divide mixture evenly and pour into two 20x12x4 pans.
  6. Cover the pans with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Remove the foil and cook for about 10 minutes until the top is golden brown. CCP: Heat to an internal temp of 165F. Hold for hot service at 135F or higher.

To make butternut squash puree:

  1. Cut all squash in half lengthwise and lightly oil. Do not remove seeds, they are more easily removed after roasting.
  2. Bake on sheets in convection oven at 375F for 35 minutes. Rest squash until cool enough to handle.
  3. Scoop out seeds and discard. Scoop squash meat out of the skin. Place two halves of squash meat into a food processor. Puree for about 15 seconds for a smooth puree. Remove puree before placing next tow halves in processor.

Puree may be used immediately or frozen for later use.

Storage and Preservation

There are a myriad of ways to ensure New York produce from summer harvests is carried over into the winter season. Preservation techniques, such as freezing, ensures nutritious local products are still on cafeteria trays during colder months.

10 Winter Farm to School Activities

  1. Observe and document the changes in your school garden throughout winter
  2. Start a seed library
  3. Plan for next year's garden
  4. Create art for and about the garden
  5. Make your own maple syrup
  6. Bring the garden indoors by starting seeds or using a hydroponic grow tower
  7. Explore our cultural connections and traditions around food
  8. Take a virtual farm field trip
  9. Hold winter produce taste tests
  10. Participate in Agricultural Literacy Week in March

Hamburg Central School District

In Hamburg, New York farm to school is an everyday affair in cafeterias, school gardens, and classrooms across the district no matter the season. Their success is largely due to effective collaboration among Food and Nutrition Services Director, Kimberly Abram, Farm to School Coordinator, Tricia Miller, and teachers and administrators across the district. This holistic approach provides opportunities for the whole community to get involved and doesn’t stop for the winter. Instead, Tricia and Kimberly capitalize on the unique opportunities winter provides to feature New York products in school meals, incorporate agricultural lessons into classroom curriculum, and get kids outside in the garden!

Winter seeds sowing in recycled containers.

Winter seed sowing with recycled containers.

In the cafeteria, Hamburg schools continue to participate in NY Thursdays throughout the winter, creating a school lunch made entirely of New York products once a month to celebrate the local bounty. In February, they featured a beef and beet Bolognese served with local pasta, diced butternut squash, an apple, grape juice, and milk. These one-day celebrations of local food are coupled with Harvest of the Month and monthly taste tests that happen year-round. Hamburg collaborates with other schools in the area to coordinate a unified Harvest of the Month schedule so that they can share it with farmers to help plan for local procurement. The recent Local Foods for Schools funding offered Hamburg an opportunity to purchase more expensive New York items, like maple syrup and honey, and allowed them to incorporate a local maple French toast recipe at breakfast. Some of the New York products that Hamburg can reliably get in the winter include Sfoglini pasta, beef, beans, butternut squash, Issa’s pita chips, apple and grape juice cups, apples, Welch’s grape slush, and maple syrup.

Tricia also finds that the winter months are a great time for classroom-based farm to school activities. With growing activities in the garden quieted down, Tricia has time to visit classrooms and work through lesson plans from New York Agriculture in the Classroom. But that doesn’t mean kids in Hamburg don’t go into the garden in the winter. In the winter, the garden offers a venue to learn about seed sowing, the winter solstice, water conservation, the importance of snow in the local watershed, and worm composting both outdoors and indoors.

They also bring the garden indoors with hydroponic and terraponic systems. The middle school offers a culinary program for eighth graders, which hosts a Jr. Chef Competition with New York products, and students in the program develop recipes with locally-sourced products that are then adapted by the food service department and incorporated into the school lunch menu. Winter is also a great time for planning. Specifically, Tricia capitalizes on this quieter season to connect with farmers to plan activities, school visits, and field trips during the growing season.

Beyond the classroom and cafeteria, Kim and Tricia also dedicate energy to promoting the farm to school program and engaging the community year-round. They post frequently on social media, maintain farm to school bulletin boards, include information about farm to school on the menus, and incorporate educational resources in cafeterias. They also participate in events like Family Reading Night to promote farm to school and offer tastings of upcoming menu items.

All these successes are facilitated by the investment the district makes into farm to school. Beyond the food service director, other administrators are incredibly supportive of the program. This support is embodied by Tricia’s presence, that the district has hired a dedicated farm to school coordinator who collaborates with the food service director and teachers and runs the school gardens across the district. Tricia works to make it as simple as possible for teachers to incorporate farm to school while being realistic with goals and respectful of everyone’s time. In addition to administrative support, Kim and Tricia also cite the strength of the support that they receive from the community in helping to make this happen, and financial resources from grants have also been instrumental in developing farm to school programming.

compost collection crew holding a bucket

UPES compost collection crew.

Students sowing seeds into a plastic container.

Winter seed sowing containers.

An assortment of soup ingredients from junior chef challenge.

Junior chef challenge NY soup edition.

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