Inside of St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Ithaca, high school students surround a food prep counter, watching as their teacher explains how to properly mix the ingredients for doughnuts.
These students are all taking part in the culinary arts course taught at the New Roots Charter School, where they have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while also helping prepare lunches for the school’s cafeteria.
Allyn Rosenbaum, teacher and “lunch lady” for New Roots, said the food that is used in the kitchen is all natural and locally grown.
“More than half the students eat lunch and breakfast here everyday,” she said. “Our change to using locally grown products came out of the desire to serve food that is as real as possible [to our students].”
New Roots is one of 1,453 individuals schools in New York State that is participating in the Farm to School movement, according to the state’s Farm to School website. But Rosenbaum said finding the funding to distribute solely locally grown food to the school was a difficult process.
“New Roots is a part of the National School Lunch Program so we have to operate within the financial rules,” Rosenbaum said. “Natural foods are more expensive, so we had to jump through a lot of hoops to get funding, and we had to counteract the costs by being fast and efficient in the kitchen.”
Rosenbaum is also Farm to School coordinator for New Roots, where she has worked to create a collaborative relationship with local farms.
“We have a Farm to School tract at the school and some of our students participate in the Youth Farm Project as well. This year our students are also going to be using a garden plot at the Ithaca Community Gardens to grow some of the produce we will use in our food,” Rosenbaum said.
The Farm to School movement has been sweeping across the country for the past several years. According to the network’s national website, 42 percent of schools in the United States are participating in some kind of Farm to School program.
In 2015, the national network pushed for the introduction of the Farm to School Act in Congress. Their goal is to have the act be included as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package, which would allot an additional $100 million to farm to school programs across the country.
The federal funds would help to meet the demands for assistance in implementing the programs into schools, as well as improving accessibility across the spectrum, from farms to schools.
The bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress in February 2015, and is currently being heard and voted on by the federal government, but the movement has also gained support through state governments.
New York State is among 40 states that have policies in support of the Farm to School movement.
In a 2015 press conference, New York Governor Andrew 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.”
But for now, supporters of the movement like Rosenbaum are thrilled just with the changes the federal government is making its lunch program.
“They recently mandated that only whole grains be used in schools, and if more schools are purchasing these products, the prices are going to go down for all of us. It’s important that students are eating nutritionally balanced meals, and at least they are making changes in the policy to promote this.”