Engaging the Whole School Community to Grow Farm to School at Mynderse Academy

The following story was submitted by the Farm to School Team at Mynderse Academy, a participant in the 2022-2023 New York Farm to School Institute:

Seneca Falls Central School District’s Mynderse Academy Farm to School team is currently made up of six members, and we are hoping to get some students from the Green Club to join us as well. When we formed our little team back in June of 2022, we had some big ideas of what we wanted to accomplish.

We wanted to bring the Student Green Club that was run by Barb Reese (Science Teacher) back; include the Food Service Farm to School Program, run by Stephanie Lyon-Lawrence (Food Service Director); and the Staff Wellness Committee, run by Lindsay Willson (FACS Teacher) and Amanda Fleig (Library Media Specialist) together, under one umbrella. We were joined by Candace Riegel and Mo Tidball from Cornell Cooperative Education of Seneca County who were both already involved with the Farm to School Program within the Food Service Department. Mo later decided to become our New York Farm to School Institute Coach. 

Members of the Mynderse Academy Farm to School Team pose for a photo with NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball outside during the NY Farm to School Institute Summer Retreat

During our Farm to School Institute Summer Retreat in June, we sat down and got to work! We came up with our Values Statement:

“Mynderse Farm to School Program celebrates local farmers and the culinary bounty of our region. We will create equal access and space to grow for all by engaging the whole school community in local food education and providing nourishing foods to create a healthier lifestyle for everyone. We strive to instill a value of food, land, and soil/environmental health through active engagement in gardening, composting, and student empowerment. The Farm to School program will increase availability and knowledge of locally sourced foods through cafeteria, classroom, and community connections.” 

On July 26th, fresh off our return from our New York Farm to School Institute team kick-off trip, the farm to school team hosted a family and community build night, with special guest Assemblyman Jeff Gallahan, to build new raised garden beds. On Aug. 27th, 2022, the Mynderse Academy Farm to School Program hosted a community service event for the MA Varsity boys’ soccer team. The boys did an amazing job working as a team helping repair and clean out the compost bin system and fill the new garden beds with the compost that had been generated from the school cafeterias. For both events, our community partners and team members from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County also provided refreshments using local produce and other farm products and shared information on our Farm to School program and goals.

In Lindsay’s Food and Nutrition class we have used apples from a local orchard, in Penn Yan, New York, to teach knife skills and to create apple dishes during the month of October. Steve Messmer, the owner of Lively Run Dairy in Interlaken, will be joining the Food and Nutrition classes in November to talk about cheesemaking and dairy farming, and CCE Seneca purchased some of their fresh cheese curds to provide a tasting to go along with the dairy presentation. The classes will also be participating in a ‘Mac and Cheese challenge’ through New York Dairy in the Classroom utilizing local dairy products.

A student works on a grow tower in their classroom

Barb’s Green Club is planning to plant a 4’x4’ area of garlic in our raised beds this fall to harvest next summer, as well as fill our remaining garden space with other crops this spring.

Some more projects that are coming up this year are: 

  1. Purchase more grow gardens for the high school cafeteria
  2. Plant potatoes in one of the new boxes that were built this past summer and put some tables out near the Science Wing’s planter boxes where students can enjoy the gardens and learn from them.
  3. Offer evening cooking classes to incorporate some of the Harvest of the Month foods and grow some new items in the Grow Towers. 

Currently, we feel that our cafeteria efforts are the strongest component of our farm to school program. We have been running a NY Thursday meal each week, displaying posters with information on the Harvest of the Month, and Food Service already has a garden that is used to supplement the veggies on the salad bar at the high school. Now, we coordinate with the Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) program so they can try and do the same Harvest of the Month in the classroom. We have brought the grow towers that were purchased with previous grant funding into the mix as well. The two grow towers and their “goodies” are used in the FACS classroom as well as a talking point in the high school library. 

The biggest Farm to School challenge we have faced is time. We have found that a goal that we set in June to get more community involvement, by offering evening cooking classes in October, was missed due to an oversight. We hope to push it to the Spring of 2023. We have so many things we want to do, they sometimes get lost in the time restraints we find ourselves in. We found that we need to make more time to sit down as a group and meet to organize some of these great goals into reality.

It is great to see some of our efforts pay off, though. The students in the Food and Nutrition classes made apple dishes for the faculty and staff to taste test and judge. The students got rave reviews on their efforts and dishes made with apples. Our tower gardens in the library and in Lindsay’s classroom are a hit with the students, staff and faculty. Anyone can harvest from the grow towers and use the produce to make dishes or make a salad. 

Members of the Mynderse Academy farm to school team and volunteers pose with newly built wooden garden beds outside at the school

Farm to School is beneficial and impactful for reaching and educating the school community and the community at large to about healthy eating habits and nourishing foods, growing their own food, composting, the importance of local farms and food systems, and the bountiful availability of a variety of fresh, nutritious foods grown and produced in their own backyard. An important part of our Farm to School program is offering Mynderse Academy students, faculty, and staff healthier meal options made with fresh, nutritious local foods to support students being better prepared to learn and the overall wellness of our school community.

Being part of the New York Farm to School Institute has helped support our farm to school efforts this year. The retreat that we attended at the end of June 2022 helped get us started as a committee.  The action plan and values statement continue to guide our work. We are now part of a diverse group of people who are as passionate as us to bounce ideas off or learn (“borrow”) from what worked for them - or didn’t, both of which are valuable for our own knowledge and growth as a team. 

Learn more about the New York Farm to School Institute