Winter Farm to School Success Story: Hamburg Central School District

Group of students with teacher tending to a snowy garden.

By Ashlea Raemer
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! 

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.

Winter seeds sowing in recycled containers.

Winter seeds sowing in recycled containers.

An assortment of soup ingredients from junior chef challenge.

Soup ingredients for Junior Chef Challenge NY Soup Edition.

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.