Expanded Farm-to-School Program offers healthy options for NY students, supports farmers

Muna Hassan

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Two new initiatives announced will expand New York State's Farm-to-School program. The updated initiative will increase access to local food products as well as provide performance-based awards to schools across the state.

The Department of Agriculture and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) announced that it will begin a new Farm-to-School Coordinator Program, which will enable schools in Catskills, the Hudson Valley, Long Island and the North Country to have enhanced access to agriculture products.

These four regional coordinators will be placed in locations that are not currently supported by the existing program. In addition, a dedicated program director will be tasked with enhancing and designing efforts across the state. Together, these roles will connect food supply chain, local schools and the communities at large while simultaneously driving toward more consistent goals that work to meet the needs of regional schools and farmers.

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Awards will also be granted to schools that met the requirements for the 30% NYS Initiative during the 2019-2020 school year. The 30% Initiative provides additional reimbursements to schools that spend at least 30 percent of their school food lunch budget on New York State food products. This would include food items grown, harvested or produced in New York State as well as food items that are made from more than half of the agricultural products grown, harvested or produced in the state.

“This past year has certainly been a challenging one for our Farm-to-School programs, with many schools closed, farmers struggling with loss of markets, and the food supply chain experiencing many other disruptions due to the pandemic," New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball said. “The new initiatives announced today will help ensure that our nation-leading Farm-to-School program continues to be one of New York State agriculture’s best success stories as we re-open safely and move New York forward.”

The New York State Farm-to-School Program is designed to support local farmers as well as provide students with improved access to locally grown and produced foods.

To do this, financial assistance is provided to schools throughout the state. According to the initiative's webpage, it also provides additional support to schools, farms, distributors and supporting organizations, including technical and promotional assistance. By providing this support, the initiative is focused on bringing more local, nutritious foods to improve student health and promote awareness of regional food systems.

Applications for Round 5 of the Farm-to-School Program are now open for schools throughout the state.

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Muna has been a journalist and fitness professional for more than 10 years. With degrees in exercise science and dietetics, Muna focuses on informing people about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Muna is the owner of Body and Mind by Muna, an online gym for at-home workouts, as well as MuslimahFit, a fitness app for women.

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