Like hundreds of other New York City school districts, the Buffalo City School District (BCSD) has faced many obstacles with its new farm-to-school program. From finding suitable partner farms to encouraging student fruit and vegetable consumption, districts like BCSD are struggling to grow with strengthened school-based farm programs.
But according to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who recently published a report Outlining how districts across the state are addressing the challenges of implementing farm-to-school programs, one area that sets the BCSD program apart is its approach to youth engagement. Educators at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) help BCSD – the second largest school district in the state – communicate with students about the value of consuming locally grown foods.
âThe biggest takeaway for us so far is that it’s not enough to just simply buy New York-grown produce and make it available on the cafeteria line,â said Cheryl Thayer, Agricultural Economic Development Specialist at CCE Harvest New York regional agricultural team. “You have to go a lot further if you want the kids to buy in.”
Thayer has worked alongside Bridget O’Brien-Wood, director of food services at BCSD, to shape the program since helping the district acquire the initial grant of $ 45,000 from the US Department of Agriculture to fund the pilot project. In 2016, BCSD received a $ 43,260 farm-to-school grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to fund the 12-school pilot project until the end of December 2017. Thayer said the next step would be for the program to expand the district. -large in 2018.
As the BCSD program has grown and evolved, Cornell’s involvement has also grown. The centerpiece of these efforts has been Harvest of the Month, an initiative that selects locally sourced foods to serve once a week for a month. October menu dishes are broccoli and cauliflower. Each selection is accompanied by an awareness campaign targeting children and adults who influence their food choices.
âWith resources from CCE’s Eat Smart New York program, we worked with nutrition educators at Cornell to develop two-page newsletters specific to New York State food systems,â Thayer said. âAimed at teachers and caretakers, they focus on the entire food system while providing details on every element of the month’s harvest, including the history of the food as well as easy recipes and serving tips. suitable for children. They are distributed in class, posted online and mailed to parents at home.
âThen in the cafeteria we have infographic displays with details on each item of the month’s harvest,â she added. âThese are very colorful, don’t contain a lot of words and are easy for children to digest. “
To bolster food lifecycle education efforts, the program used a number of other tools, including hands-on classroom sessions to teach them how to grow kale and farm tours. the region. âWe try to motivate children to know where their food comes from,â she said. âMany of these students live in the city and this is the first time they have set foot on a farm and encountered a large animal. It really hits home when they see something on the farm and then see it in the cafeteria. “
Another key, Thayer said, has been to involve students in the assessment process. âOne of the most significant things we did during the pilot was what we called the taste test Thursdays,â she said. âEvery Thursday for 12 weeks, we asked students to vote on whether they liked the month’s crop item and handed them a sticker when they did. Through our assessment, we found that students were much more likely to try the item and less likely to throw it away when asked to vote.
According to data collected by nutrition students at CollÃ¨ge D’Youville after the BCSD pilot study, constant engagement – inside and outside the cafeteria – was key to students’ willingness to change their ways. eating habits. Surveys conducted before and after the Harvest of the Month pilot found that engagement activities and recalls resulted in greater retention of food and nutrition information.
âYou have to get them excited about what they eat and develop some kind of awareness of where they come from,â Thayer said. âIf you don’t engage the kids at this level and excite them, the food will go straight to the trash and the program will have limited success.
RJ Anderson is Communications Specialist / Writer for Cornell Cooperative Extension.