Students push for farm-fresh food in schools

TUPPER LAKE – Five Tupper Lake High School students talked to their school board Monday about bringing locally grown food into the cafeteria.

The students are members of the Tupper Lake Middle-High School’s Green Team and Student Council. Four students from each team attended the second annual Food Summit at SUNY Potsdam last month. They also shared the carrot harvest from their school garden with their fellow students in the form of carrot muffins to celebrate Farm to School Day.

“The garden is an educational tool,” said Green Team adviser Kathleen Eldridge. “It is teaching about food and agricultural literacy.”

The school board presentation Monday was to support the Farm to School Initiative, which began last spring. The effort brought students from the Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake school districts together to work toward getting 15 percent of the food served in their cafeterias locally grown by 2015.

The other goals of the initiative are to connect school gardens with cafeterias and obtain grants to support the other two goals.

Ruth Pino, the director of the initiative, said she’d like each school board to commit to it, which would help all three obtain grants. She added that Saranac Lake High School has already received grants to buy equipment to process locally grown food, which typically does not come pre-sliced or diced. Pino is also a Paul Smith’s College professor and food service director for the Saranac Lake Central School District, and has been a menu consultant for the Lake Placid Central School District.

Providing enough produce to stock a high school cafeteria is not something every local farm is equipped to do, though.

Brittany Harris, nutrition coordinator for the Healthy Heart Network, said she has reached out to local farms to see if they have the supply and the means to deliver it to the Tri-Lakes schools. Eight said yes and 15 said maybe in the future.

“It sounds like a lot of food, 15 percent of the produce becoming local, but when it comes down to it, it’s 600 pounds of carrots,” Harris said.

Harris added that any one of the farms that said yes or maybe could easily provide that.

Since budgeting is always an issue with public schools in New York state, cost is a determining factor for any change in a district’s processes. Harris said a cost comparison shows that purchasing some vegetables locally, like carrots and green beans, would save the school district money. Other items, like butternut squash, would admittedly cost more.

“It isn’t more or less expensive; it’s just different,” Harris told the Enterprise. “It’s possible to change things up so you buy less of one thing that’s more expensive, and buy more of something else that’s cheaper. It’s just a matter of adjusting how you buy.”

The five students told the board about planting the garden and transforming its yield into a snack. They said other students loved the carrot muffins, and many opted to have one instead of purchasing junk food from the cafeteria.

Pino told the Enterprise that kind of shift in mentality is an especially important part of the Farm to School Initiative. She added that the local economy, education and food are all connected with this initiative.

“We really want to show kids where their food comes from, that something happens before the cafeteria,” Pino said. “I think the connections are starting to come back, but it wasn’t too long ago that it was totally out of people’s minds. We’re trying to pull the resources in so schools can include that in their curriculum.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or