Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Canton middle school students meet with Addie Russell

Students from Canton's McKenney Middle School took part in the 2015 North Country Food Day Youth Summit and are working on a project to bring locally grown food into their school cafeteria.  The students took part in a roundtable with Assemblywoman Addie Russell on farm-to-school programs and here is a compilation of the students' statements to the meeting and the Assemblywoman:

Farm-to-School Program

          I think that all people here will agree that nutrition is an important part of a person’s life, especially for our youth who are still growing. While our school does offer food with the required nutritional components, it would be great to see more farm fresh, local food in our schools.  If we get more locally grown foods, not only will the food be more appetizing, but it will be healthier.  This will give the students the vitamins and nutrients they need to make them happier and more active.  It will also allow kids to concentrate better, be more active participants in class and earn better grades. 

 We believe serving New York grown foods would help our families and our schools. Let’s use carrots as an example.  We would like to eat carrots grown in our own county and are processed locally.  This would help our local farmers and create jobs in our area, benefitting our local economy.  Our county’s poverty rate is growing and many students in our school come from families that have trouble paying the bills and putting enough good food on the table.  New economic opportunities are desperately needed in our area.  More jobs and healthier food options sound great to us! 

We want locally grown, fresh foods because they taste better and are more nutritious. Carrots grown by our local farmers would look and taste better than the canned carrots we are served now. We believe more students would buy school lunches if there were more colorful, fresh foods on the tray. 

Additionally, we care about the environment!  Our school recently started a Green Team, an environmental club, in which most of us are actively involved.  Carrots grown in our area would have a much smaller carbon footprint than those that are grown in California, for instance, and have to be trucked across the country.  We know that our earth’s atmosphere is falling apart because there is so much carbon dioxide in the environment, and climate change frightens us.  The less our food has to travel, the better for the health of our bodies, our  environment and our economy.

We know there are barriers that are presenting challenges for our school meal programs as well as for local farmers.  The students you see here today are dedicated to improving the quality and nutritional value of the food offered in our school.  We recently participated in the Food Day Youth Summit at SUNY Potsdam with students from across the North Country.  We learned about the impacts of corporate farming,  food insecurity, nutrition and about farm-to-school efforts in our area.  We have been working with the faculty at our school and with our food service director, Bluejay Fenlong, to find ways to encourage healthier food options and choices. 

In talking with Mrs. Fenlong, we understand that there are a number reasons why it’s difficult to get farm fresh food in our school.  For the past few years, she has been able to offer locally grown apples through the first half of the year, but hasn’t been successful in getting local farms to supply the food we need.  She noted the following as challenges that would need to be overcome to make farm-to-school a reality in our district:
    Location-  there is a short growing season and a limited time when foods would be available.
    Farmer interest- she didn’t find that many local farms were interested in producing for the schools
    Cost -  she would have to pay more for locally grown foods
    Communication - there’s not a well developed communication network between the farms and schools
We know there are challenges for farmers too.  Lots of strict and expensive health and safety regulations make it a challenge for the farmers to participate. 

We want to help.  We have thought of some things we, as students, could do to support the Farm-to-School Program.
    Fundraising - Our student organizations such as Student Council and Green Team would love to raise money for special supplies, like food  processing equipment, so fresh local produce could be processed and stored for later use. 
    Education - We plan to encourage healthy choices through taste tests and promotional posters and announcements.
    Getting Involved  - We would advocate for field trips to the farms that produce our food and encourage students to work and volunteer at those farms.  We are much more likely to eat the food when we feel a connection to it.

In closing, by increasing the amount of local foods, we can make lunches healthier and make the environment healthier.  We support the Farm-to-School Program because it can be a very successful program for everyone!  Thank you, Assemblywoman Russell, for inviting us to speak today and  thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen.