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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Farm to School: New Push in Poughkeepsie: Hudson Valley farmers, Farm to Table Co-Packers, distributors, teachers and administrators working together

Oct 01, 2014 07:53PM

The Culinary Institute of America, training food service staff members

Last May marked the end of a pioneering, two-and-a-half year program through which the Poughkeepsie City School District (PCSD) used a farm-to-table approach to feeding its schoolchildren. The program was funded by a USDA Farm to School Grant—the first such grant ever awarded by the federal agency—and implemented by the nonprofit Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, working in collaboration with a number of local organizations. Now the final report on the program has been released, and it is encouraging for those who hope to see more communities take a whole-systems approach to the local food movement.

The report, issued by another partner in the project, Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation (HVADC), addresses the challenges, achievements, long-term outcomes and lessons learned from the experience. The report, as well as a short, documentary-style video summarizing project highlights, is online at HVADC.org.

“This project is a terrific example of how public-private partnerships can work cooperatively to enhance and strengthen the local food system through awareness and encouraging purchasing patterns,” says Mary Ann Johnson, HVADC projects director. “One of the notable findings was that education of the players in the school systems, the parents, the staff and of course the students, is the catalyst to creating a successful school program.”

The project consisted of two major goals: to develop a system giving schools routine access to local foods, and to create a culture where school staff, parents and children learned about food and farming and were engaged in the food system. Project staff collaborated with Hudson Valley farmers, value-added producers like Kingston-based Farm to Table Co-Packers, distributors, teachers and administrators, and other community stakeholders to carry out the goals of the grant. The Culinary Institute of America served as a technical service provider, developing seasonal recipes and training 32 members of the PCSD food service staff.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program awards up to $5 million in competitive grants to help implement farm-to-school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools.