(Suffolk County, New York-December 6, 2016) Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone recently announced that two Suffolk County School Districts have been awarded NYS State Agriculture and Markets “Farm to School” grants for projects to supply fresh, locally grown foods to students.
“This is a great opportunity to provide healthier meals to students as well as educate them about the importance of good nutrition and how to achieve it,” County Executive Bellone said. “Our farmers will have a chance to show off their great products and connect with students to emphasize the importance of local agricultural efforts.”
Of the $500,000 provided by the State of New York, the Southampton and Greenport districts will receive $94,863 and $68,820, respectively. With these districts combined, Suffolk County received the largest regional distribution of funds in the entire state.
The grant to the Southampton Union Free School District will support the East End Farm-to-School Project, benefitting 1,650 students in three districts, including hiring a Farm-to-School coordinator, training food service staff, providing nutrition education and integrating more locally produced specialty crops in school meal programs.
Regan Kiembock, director of Food Service and Nutrition at the Southampton Public Schools, said, “Southampton Union Free School District , together with Bridgehampton UFSD and Tuckahoe Common School District are elated to learn that they are the recipients of the NYS Agriculture and Markets Farm to School Grant. The three school districts are ready to launch into their East End Farm-to-School Project to connect local produce with school meal programs as well as to develop school -based agriculture and nutrition education. The East End of Long Island has a rich agricultural history and is the perfect place to create partnerships between farmers and schools with the goal of increasing the volume and variety of local crops making it into school meal programs.”
The Greenport Union Free School District grant will support the district’s Nurturing Links’ North Fork Farm-to-Student Program and benefits six school districts serving 4,000 students. Grant funds will be used to hire a part-time Farm-to-School coordinator to train food service staff, introduce more local produce into school menus, and to increase student knowledge of local foods. A portion of the funds will also be used to purchase equipment for school cafeterias. The grant will fund services in six school districts: Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold, Greenport, Oysterponds, New Suffolk and Shelter Island.
David Gamberg, Superintendent of Greenport Union Free School District said, "On behalf of a consortium of six school districts on the North Fork of Long Island, I am delighted to be one of only a handful of recipients of the Farm-to-School grant. We eagerly look forward to many opportunities to expand the health and wellness of the students, staff, and families of our respective school communities."
Suffolk County had supported the grants for the schools, facilitating the application process for local schools districts. This is the second year in a row that the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning has assisted with a successful Farm to School funding application. In 2015, the Department assisted with a successful $44,361 "farm-to-school" grant for the Brentwood Union Free School District approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Theresa Ward, Suffolk County Commissioner of Economic Development & Planning, said, “Farm-to-School programming is one of several efforts the Department of Economic Development & Planning is taking to assist local agriculture and to support the continued diversification of the Suffolk County economy. Programs such as these will help build and sustain a new generation of young farmers”.
August Ruckdeschel, East End Projects Coordinator in the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning and Chair of the Suffolk County Food Policy Council, added, “Suffolk County enjoys many agricultural assets and institutional partners that are well-positioned to help establish Farm-to-School programs across the County. We encourage other Suffolk County school districts to consider establishing their own programs and to reach out to the Department to explore state and federal funding opportunities in 2017”.
With $240 million in sales, Suffolk is the third-highest ranking county in the state in terms of the total market value for agricultural goods produced. In the latest Census, the number of farms in Suffolk climbed from 585 to 604 and the amount of land under cultivation increased from 34,404 acres to nearly 36,000.
Suffolk County agriculture is by far the most diverse in the state, and includes such products as corn, tomatoes, and potatoes, grape/wine, fruit trees and berries, greenhouse and nursery, livestock and dairy, hops and grains, mushrooms, and nuts, and shellfish aquaculture.
“These Farm-to-School programs are a win-win that supports New York farmers and helps ensure our children have access to healthy, locally grown produce,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “This is one more step toward a stronger, healthier New York for all.”
State grants were also awarded to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County, the East Aurora Union Free School District, the Rural Health Network of South Central New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County and the New York City School District.
Schools districts interested in establishing their own Farm to School programming should reach out to August Ruckdeschel of the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning at 631-853-4714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.