Friday, March 3, 2023

Serving local food is good for students and bottom line

school lunch program

Cornell Cooperative Extension Supports Local Schools to Serve Local Food

Lewis, NY – Schools in the region are proving that serving locally grown and from-scratch food is possible and has wide-reaching benefits. Serving local food can save taxpayers dollars, increase the number of students eating school meals, improve the health and focus of students, and support local farmers. 

Regional food service directors have found that some ingredients are actually less expensive when purchased locally, like apples and ground beef, and most other ingredients have a minimal price difference that can be made up with savings elsewhere. 

Schools can also take advantage of federal and state incentive programs to supplement their budgets, like the New York State 30% Incentive program that reimburses up to $0.25 per meal served for school districts that spend 30% of their lunch budget on New York State food products.

Ruth Pino, food service director for the Saranac Lake Central School District has been a farm to school champion for over a decade. The Saranac Lake Central School District is the only school in the North Country that has met the qualifications for the NYS 30% Incentive by purchasing local ground beef, beef patties, eggs, apples, potatoes, yogurt and NYS hot dogs. 

Pino says, “The meat does cost a little more but the apples, eggs, and potatoes cost less. I really like serving local food to our students. Receiving the 30% does offset the costs of the meats and it feels good to be able to share with our students where the food is raised and who the people are that are ensuring the quality and ethics of the processing of their meals.” 

Another school district that has seen success in serving more local food is Plattsburgh City School District. Under the direction of Julie Holbrook, they have shifted from frozen pre-packaged foods to nourishing meals made from scratch with pasture-raised meat, organic eggs and veggies, local grains and dairy products. They have done so by taking advantage of state and federal incentive programs and making budget-conscious changes, like switching to reusable cutlery and dishes.

The students really like the food too: the food service team has served 17% more meals to students this year compared to last. Plattsburgh estimates they will serve an additional 30,000 meals this year compared to last. Watch a video about their new program here at

Local farmers are also seeing the impacts of schools purchasing more local food. For smaller producers, selling wholesale to local schools is an important source of income after the summer farmers’ market season ends. 

Adam Hainer, Owner of Juniper Hill Farm in Westport, NY says for smaller producers, “The school year being from September to June, it really opens up a lot of sales opportunities…by local schools participating in our local food system, every taxpayer in our area is participating in it too.”

CCE Essex Provides Services to Schools

Meghan Dohman leads CCE Essex’s Farm to Institution program working with schools to transition to serving more local ingredients. 

Dohman says, “Most schools in our region are dealing with under-staffed cafeterias, shrinking budgets, and pressure to serve kids. My role is to support schools by looking at their food service plan and goals, and helping fit local food into the equation.”

Community members can sign up to receive information about how they can support more local food being served at schools in their community at:

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Mary Godnick is the Digital Editor for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County. She lives in the Champlain Valley where she grows vegetables on a cooperative farm plot with her partner and two rescue dogs. You can read more of her work on and follow her on Twitter at @MaryGodnick.

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