Can you remember what your favorite school cafeteria meal was? Maybe you didn’t have a favorite meal. Maybe you dreaded finding out what was going to turn up on the steam table each day. It’s a common story, complaining about institution food, and the barbs are often undeservedly thrown at the cafeteria staff.
Fact is it is only in recent history that schools have started to realize the importance of not only good nutrition for kids, but food that is fresh, local, tasty, and visually appealing. Seems like a no-brainer, right? That sort of food is what we all want and deserve to eat. Our farmers are looking for local sales outlets, too. So why isn’t this just happening everywhere? The challenges are numerous, but not completely prohibitive.
For starters, many school kitchen equipment inventories have been reduced to industrial freezers, refrigerators, and microwaves. Heat and serve. The infrastructure to prepare meals from scratch with fresh local ingredients has long since been removed in the interest of reduced budgets and staffing efficiencies.
And speaking of budgets, most school cafeteria managers are working within an extremely tight budget. The challenge is to find the cheapest food available that is still within the nutrition guidelines for our kids. Sometimes government surplus seems like the only option. A fortune does not need to be spent on each kid, but food budgets can be adjusted if the community is willing.
Another challenge is that much of our northern NY growing season happens outside the school calendar so utilizing early and late crops, plus planning for storing and preserving foods, is needed. And, if your school has a garden, who will tend it throughout the intensive summer months? Success depends upon the support and efforts of the school board, administration, faculty, students and, often, parents.
Enter innovative schools like Keene Central, Schroon Lake Central, and numerous others that have started school gardens, incorporating the food into their cafeterias and have adjusted their budgets a bit to purchase food from local farms. Keene not only boasts an impressive, student-run garden and greenhouse, but also involves the kids in food prep, recycling, and composting. They even report a meal budget in the black since cooking from scratch results in less waste and delicious leftovers. Other schools are showing signs of moving in the local food direction as well.
And we should all get behind the Adirondack Farm to School Initiative. Their goal is “to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local economies, bringing local food into school cafeterias and creating hands-on learning activities such as school gardens, farm visits, culinary classes, and the integration of food-related education into the regular classroom curriculum.”
Ruth Pino is leading this group, based in the tri-lakes region (Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake) and hopes that eventually it will spread throughout the region. Ruth is a professor and registered dietician at Paul Smith’s College and also the food service director for Saranac Lake Central School District.
Today, May 30 at the Lake Placid Speed Skating Oval in Lake Placid, NY, starting at 4:00pm, the Adirondack Farm to School Initiative will hold its second annual Farm to School Festival for the public. Activities from 4:00pm to 6:00pm will include music by Big Slyde, farm stands, student environmental groups, games and activities for kids, and informational booths plus a farm to school meal in the cafeteria. Guest speakers Mark and Kristin Kimball of Essex Farm will make a presentation at 6:00pm. Plan to stop by and support the farm to school movement.
We all want our kids to eat well, especially during the school day – good food supports developing minds. Encourage your school to explore the Adirondack Farm to School Initiative!