Farm to school program to benefit over 28,000
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County has been awarded $69,000 in funding for the Niagara County Farm to School program, which aims to increase the use of healthy, locally grown foods on school menus. The project, which is funded through New York State's Agriculture and Markets Farm to School Initiative, will benefit over 28,000 students attending public school districts in Niagara County.
The goal of the program is to develop and strengthen connections between the county's farms and schools to help grow the agricultural economy and increase the amount and variety of specialty crops procured by schools for healthier meal options. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County will use the funds to hire a farm to school coordinator to train school staff in food preparation and procurement, and the use of specialty crops in school meal programs.
"Learning healthy eating habits now will serve our children for their entire lives," Cuomo said. "The farm to school initiative encourages thoughtfulness about what we eat and leads to better choices when it comes to nutrition. This program simultaneously educates our youth, promotes locally grown foods, and strengthens the connection between farms and schools across the state."
"This much-needed funding will unify farm to school activities across Niagara County by developing a systemic procurement structure and experiential educational programming designed to enhance the education of our children." said Cathy Maloney, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County. "Overall, these farm to school activities will promote the health of our communities and strengthen our local food system. We are very thankful for Gov. Cuomo and our New York state legislators' leadership and support on this initiative."
The Niagara County Farm to School program will work collaboratively with all 10 public schools districts in Niagara County to assess the district's needs and develop a specific plan to be implemented. In the first year of the grant, the program will work most intensely with the Niagara-Wheatfield, Lockport, Barker, Royalton-Hartland and Wilson school districts as well as local farmers to develop a farm to school procurement structure that will be adaptable to all districts in the county.
The program will increase the amount of local produce in school meals, benefitting the county's estimated 16,361 public school students who receive breakfast or lunch through their school's meal program. Additionally, all 28,000 public school students in the county will be impacted by the farm to school classroom curriculum integration, which will include hands-on learning activities to increase awareness of local specialty crops as well as healthy marketing throughout the schools.
Production of food and agricultural products is a leading industry sector in Niagara County. The county produces a wide range of specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, which rank high nationally in terms of production and economic value.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County is a 501(c) (3), tax-exempt organization. Net proceeds support CCE-Niagara County programming that benefits children, families, farmers, seniors and communities across Niagara County. CCE is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, protected veterans, and individuals with disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.