Monday, March 4, 2024

Saranac Lake Farm to School Program Continues to Grow

 Saranac Lake's Farm to School program - students planting
SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Central School District will continue to enhance and expand its Farm to School program through upgrades to its greenhouses and gardens.

This spring, the Farm to School program will work with teachers, students and community volunteers to complete maintenance on the greenhouse serving elementary and middle school classrooms. Also, the program will rebuild outdoor raised garden beds and fencing surrounding the school garden and finish maintenance of the high school greenhouse.

Saranac Lake's Farm to School program - watering trays

“Food, school and community are all interconnected,” said Ruth Pino, the district’s food service manager. “The Farm to School program’s infrastructure helps us incorporate Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into our curriculum, allowing students to undertake hands-on work and develop a better understanding of where our food comes from.”

The district’s first greenhouse was constructed outside the elementary and middle school in 2010, when Pino started working with the school district. That structure was built with support from a STEM grant received by the science department. Pino would go on to establish the Farm to School program, which took over responsibility for greenhouse operations. Since then, infrastructure grew to include a greenhouse and garden at the high school, and a garden at Bloomingdale Elementary School.

“Under the guidance of Zohar Gitlis, our previous Farm to School coordinator, the greenhouse at Petrova saw heavy use and the overall program grew into what it is today,” Pino said. “Over time, weather and vandalism led to deterioration of the greenhouse. Plans were in place to make repairs, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-school activities and delayed that work.”

The district’s new Farm to School coordinator, Emily-Bell Dinan, took on the responsibility of rehabilitating all of the greenhouses and gardens. Working with The Heart Network’s Creating Healthy Schools & Communities (CHSC) program, Dinan purchased materials, recruited volunteers and brought in Atlas Hoofed it Farm to rebuild the Petrova greenhouse on Veteran’s Day 2023. The project also received discounted lumber from Specialty Wood Products in Bloomingdale, used for raised garden beds inside the greenhouse.

“Looking forward, we want to work with teachers at Petrova and the middle school to understand what their needs are as we switch to NGSS,” Dinan said. “The greenhouse provides the physical space for learning, but the Farm to School program can help meet the district’s science goals more broadly.”
Saranac Lake's Farm to School program - greenhouse growth

“The Next Gen standards really focus on science learning methods that are more interdisciplinary, more hands on — more about incorporating engineering and design principles, English and math into science curriculum to make it engaging and fun, and to connect it to real world topics,” Dinan added. “Our greenhouses and gardens are living laboratories that you can use to plug in just about any subject or educational standard. When learning is fun and hands-on and three-dimensional, it’s more effective.”

The Farm to School program also goes beyond the hallways and grounds of the school district. Dinan notes that the Food Services department, under Pino’s leadership, has been purchasing food from local producers, supporting the local economy and providing fresh, healthy produce for school meals.

School districts across the North Country have implemented similar programs, utilizing gardens and greenhouses to teach kids about food systems. Pino noted that she’s worked with The Heart Network’s CHSC program for over a decade and hopes more schools will take advantage of its funding and technical support. Districts including Salmon River and Malone have implemented robust farm-to-school and seed-to-tray initiatives with The Heart Network’s support. Funded by a grant from the New York State Department of Health, CHSC aims to increase the availability of healthy foods by implementing food service guidelines strategies in both worksite and community settings, including schools. Saranac Lake's Farm to School program - dirt for raised beds

“Classrooms in our region have no shortage of ideas when it comes to building hands-on curriculum that teaches students real-life skills that prioritize healthy lifestyles,” said Arriana Patraw, The Heart Network’s community health improvement coordinator. “Our CHSC program is here to make it easy to turn those ideas into reality. We’re so proud to have played a small part in helping Saranac Lake grow its Farm to School program.”

Dinan and Pino will lead more work this spring, rebuilding outdoor raised beds and constructing fencing around the school garden, with the aim of expanding its capacity and usage. Local parents and residents interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Dinan by emailing

To learn more about Saranac Lake’s Farm to School program, visit To learn more about the CHSC program at The Heart Network, visit or contact Arriana Patraw at

Those interested in learning more about Next Generation Science Standards, which New York State schools are in the process of converting to, are encouraged to visit


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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at

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