Northeast Farm to School Institute advances Farm to School programs region-wide

Posted on June 26, 2017

June 23, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Betsy Rosenbluth, Vermont FEED, brosenbluth@shelburnefarms.org, 802-985-0318

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT — A flagship Vermont Farm to School initiative will convene twelve school teams from the six New England states and New York, from Tuesday to Thursday, June 27 to 29, 2017 at its kickoff at Shelburne Farms. Vermont FEED’s year-long Northeast Farm to School Institute advances food, farm, and nutrition education and expands local products served in cafeterias.  

Vermont has long championed Farm to School efforts, and as federal nutrition standards are being rolled back, this small state is stepping into the breach, and modelling success for others. The Institute is part of that model.

During the three-day retreat, teams of food service staff, teachers, administrators, and community partners will meet with peers and experts to expand their understanding and practices of FTS. Teams will develop an action plan for the coming school year in collaboration with an experienced FTS coach and continue working with their coach throughout the 2017-18 school year to implement their Farm to School programs and integrate best practices (farm visits, gardening and cooking activities, serving seasonal foods in school cafeterias, and offering food-based, hands-on science, math, and literacy lessons).  

Over its ten years, the Institute has supported FTS programs at 62 schools and districts, reaching over 38,000 Northeast students.

This year, the Institute is building on momentum set earlier in June when the Vermont House and Senate unanimously passed S.33, the Rozo McLaughlin Farm to School bill. S.33 increases funding of Vermont’s Farm to School Grant Program to expand school participation, support school nutrition programs, and extend the program to early childhood education. It also sets an ambitious statewide goal for growth: By 2025, 75 percent of schools will engage in integrated Farm to School programing, and 50 percent of school food will be purchased from local or regional sources.

“FTS programs have proven incredibly useful in forging ways to connect our food, our communities and our own health,” says Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Successful, too. According to the 2016 Vermont School Health Profiles,

92% of Vermont schools now serve at least some locally grown foods; while three out of four have school gardens. That number has risen 10% since 2012. These trends hope to chip away at a more sobering statistic: one in four Vermont teens is now obese or overweight. Beyond the classroom, a recent report commissioned by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets found that every dollar spent by schools to purchase local food contributes an additional 60¢ to the local economy.

The success of Vermont FTS has attracted national attention. This year’s Institute will host groups from Georgia, Massachusetts, and New York, all looking to adapt the Institute model to their own states. “It takes significant commitment and planning from the entire school community to sustain a FTS program and consistently increase purchasing locally grown foods,” said Glenda Neff, Farm to Institution of NY State Coordinator for American Farmland Trust. “Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS) is excited to be attending the Northeast Farm to School Institute, along with two New York school districts, Johnson City and Saranac Lake to take these lessons back to New York.”

Highlight accomplishments from last year’s Institute teams include: increasing procurement of local seafood (Seabrook School District, NH); building hydroponic gardens in the school cafeteria (New London, CT); creating a fresh fruit and vegetable grab-n-go snack option (Vernon-Verona-Sherril Schools, NY); and construction of a school sugarhouse (Lyndon Institute, VT). It comes as no surprise that Northeast states are in the top 15 % of FTS participation efforts nationally, according to the recently released USDA Farm to School survey.