Back to School and Back to in Person at the New York Farm to School Institute
–Guest Blog from FINYS Summer Intern, Ingrid Marrero
After two years of virtual programming, the annual New York Farm to School Institute Summer Kick-Off Retreat returned with a great turnout! From June 28-30, the Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS) team at American Farmland Trust hosted 45 participants who applied to the New York Farm to School Institute, a year-long training with their New York farm to school programs team, to learn about increasing local foods in their cafeterias and school programming.
All participants hailed from different counties across New York state and included educators, food service professionals, administrators, and farmers. The three-day event was held along the Mohawk River at Mabee Farm, a lush and historic site established in 1705. The Mabee House, located on the farm (depicted above), is the oldest building in the Mohawk Valley. The Mohawk Valley Region is the ancestral homeland of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, located between the Adirondack Mountains and Catskill Mountains, northwest of the Capital District.
Meanwhile at Mabee Farm…
At the FINYS retreat, participants learned from industry professionals and thought leaders about various topics in the farm-to-school movement. Most importantly, with the guidance of a personalized coach, they worked as a team to develop a farm-to-school action plan to implement in their own school communities for the upcoming academic year. The bulk of activities occurred on Wednesday and Thursday with interactive workshops such as ‘Advocacy in Farm to School,’ ‘Exploring Equity and Justice in Farm to School Curriculum,’ and ‘Applying for the NYS 30% Incentive Program.’
Later that day, recreational activities included a trip to Capital Roots’ Food Hub in Troy and a live painting workshop held inside the barn. On Thursday, the workshops included ‘Fostering Relationships and Equity in Farm to School’ with Qiana Mickie; ‘Math in the School Garden’ with Jamie Levato; and an exciting cooking demonstration, ‘Going Local in the Cafeteria’ with Chef Evelyn Garcia of Teaching Kitchen at Lenox Hill. Attendees enjoyed Italian, American, and Korean dishes for lunch and dinner produced with food that was grown or raised in New York state.
“I feel like the institute reaffirmed the need for organizations like FINYS to purposefully work to connect the dots by providing guides, toolkits, technical assistance, and forums to help people build capacity and sometimes just realize what is feasible.
Everyone seemed to acknowledge that farm-to-school is hard work, and farmers to food hubs to schools were each facing unique challenges.”
-Mikaela Ruiz-Ramón, Workshop Leader
Insights from an Intern
I was the designated photographer and videographer for the event. I have never used a professional camera for work purposes, but I quickly got the hang of it after several shots. It was interesting for me to be “behind the scenes” in almost every activity. Being behind a camera really encourages you to capture moments as authentically as you can. I enjoyed tuning into the conversations during the workshops and hearing the experiences of the participants.
One of the most essential insights I gained during the retreat (and my internship) is the importance of investing in local farmers. Locally grown food creates important economic opportunities, provides health benefits, and helps to reduce environmental impact. In May, FINYS launched its farmer-focused series, Cultivating Collaborations in Farm to School, announcing its action to further strengthen relationships between farmers and institutions.
I also learned how farm-to-school initiatives benefit future generations. Children gain healthy eating habits through exposure to fresh, healthy local foods served in the cafeteria every day. Through New York farm-to-school programs, students can experiment with diverse cuisines from new produce. Furthermore, children can see agriculture as a career opportunity. Students can be inspired by farmers they meet and learn more about their options within the agriculture industry. There’s a place for every specialty!
An Experience to Remember and Apply Through the Year
Agriculture is an integral part of our society—it impacts everyone. Food production and nutrition should not be mutually exclusive. School staff who are reading this are familiar with how nutrition affects their students. Attending the FINYS Summer Retreat is a great opportunity for educators and food service workers to understand the benefits of farm-to-school.
About FINYS: Farm to Institution New York State is a program of American Farmland Trust that strengthens the economic security of farmers and the health of New Yorkers by empowering institutions to spend at least 25% of their food budget on food grown in New York. www.finys.org