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Farm to School Helps Build Resilient Communities

Young girl holds flower and apple

Most children learn their multiplication tables surrounded by four walls in a classroom; I learned multiplication by stacking haybales in the back of a wagon with my father when I was only six. By the time I began school, I had already learned about the cycle of life, managing responsibility, and developing relationships with animals, plants, and my environment. Growing up on a farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont afforded me an opportunity to apply what I learned in the classroom and reinforce that knowledge as well as connect to my own food system. As an adult, I often reflect on these privileges and experiences that led me to work in Farm to School through AFT’s Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS) initiative.

Farm to school is more than simply procuring local food and ensuring children are served healthy meals. It is about teaching students where their food comes from. It is about meeting a farmer and seeing agriculture as a viable career path and helping to keep farmers on the land with new markets. Above all, it is about showing every single student that they matter, that they deserve to be nourished, and that their voice is important.

More than ever, 2020 has shown us where there are disconnects in our food systems and supply chains. This year has highlighted inequities in our communities and our country, especially in access to food and land. As we work to make sure our communities are fed, I invite us all to think critically about rebuilding our food systems in a way that ensures equal representation and empowerment within each community.

Through Farm to School, communities have the chance to support their local farmers and economies while also improving the health of their students. Farm to School overlaps with critical topics such as racial equity, environmental sustainability, keeping farmers on the land, and food justice. As we connect our youth to their local food systems, we also inspire the next generation to reimagine sustainable food systems.

Our Role Supporting Farm to School

I have been honored to work with school professionals and community partners who are dedicated to furthering Farm to School programs all over our state. Essential workers have made sure that every student has remained fed through a global pandemic, farmers have continued working the land and providing food where they can, even in times of great uncertainty and disruption to the supply chain, and teachers have pivoted to teaching classes virtually or in “blended” styles. Through all of this, I have seen Farm to School integrated at the core of school programs, whether it be from incorporating food system themes into literature curricula, ensuring that the school garden is tended to despite the school being shut down, or handing out bags of local produce to families.

In August, AFT and FINYS kicked off the second year of the New York State Farm to School Institute, a year-long educational program to aid schools in their Farm to School efforts. We’re inspired by the 10 school teams that have joined us this year, showing their commitment to sustaining their Farm to School programs and dedication to feeding students well in the 2020-2021 school year. In addition, we have added new resources for schools and institutions to the FINYS Local Food Buyer Learning Center, including a New York Food Guide featuring tomatoes.

Food is central to the building of resilient communities. Having grown up in a rural farming community myself, I have seen this resilience first-hand. Through Farm to School, we can demonstrate this strength to our youth, and inspire them to become future advocates for resilient food systems and communities.

Farm to Institution New York State

Farm to Institution New York State, or FINYS, is a collaborative initiative led by American Farmland Trust to dramatically expand the volume of food grown on New York farms that is served in institutions across New York including schools, universities, hospitals, and others.

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About the Author
Mikaela Perry

Farm to Institution New York State Associate

mperry@farmland.org

315-748-5141

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