NYCSD Farm to School Program
Farm to School Programs have been getting more and more attention these days. The Northern York County School District’s farm to school programming started in 2010 with goals to increase students’ understanding of agriculture, nutrition, and health by buying fresh, locally grown farm products served for meals and snacks in K-12 school environments while incorporating educational education and experiential learning. Changes in the social organization of agriculture have made it difficult for many small and medium scale independent farmers to compete and survive. Also, rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and other negative health outcomes in the United States population, including children, have raised concern about the nutritional value of school meals and snacks. The Farm to School Programs address these problems by connecting local farmers with school food service providers to incorporate fresh, regionally-sourced foods (particularly fruits and vegetables) into school menus and provide more healthful choices. The Farm to School Program can differ among districts, depending on who starts it and resources that are available. It includes any and all parts of buying and serving local foods, school garden activities, and food system and health education.
The Farm to School Initiative in the Northern York County School District was started by Mrs. Carol Richwine, Agricultural Education Teacher at Northern High School and FFA Advisor at Northern High and Northern Middle School. The program has benefitted from Mrs. Richwine’s twenty years of teaching experience in the Gettysburg and Northern School District and time spent at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Plant and Animal Industries. Farm to School activities are also conducted through the district’s diverse agricultural education program at the high school with teachers Troy Summey and Meagan Smyers through FFA activities, animal science, environmental science, and agricultural machinery courses.
Recently Mrs. Richwine presented an overview of the Farm to School initiatives to the Polar Bear Foundation Board of Directors, one of the groups responsible for helping to fund the program at Northern. She thanked the Foundation for being involved with the program from the beginning. Initial PBF funding provided matching funds for FFA Living- to- Serve Grants and garden installation at all four elementary schools in 2010 as well as tools, gloves, and a composter, used by students at South Mountain Elementary. A PBF feasibility study was used as a critical in-kind donation for the 2014 USDA $100,000 award for the establishment of the South Central PA Harvest Hub Project, which brokers local foods to local schools. In 2016 the PBF awarded a mini-grant to Dillsburg Elementary teacher Kathy Walker to supply tools, gloves, plant supports and soil tests to elementary and middle schools and to Donna Nebistinsky for the Farm to School Summer STEM pilot with upcoming third graders at Northern Elementary.
As outlined by Mrs. Richwine, among the many successes of the program from 2010 to the present include teaching the principles of food production through science; teaching and establishing food safety protocols; producing, maintaining harvesting, and taste testing over twenty-two different fruits and vegetables; increasing campus food production in scope and scale; and increasing “Meet the Farmer” activities with Dillsburg Farmer’s Market, local farmers, and field trips to farms. Through the establishment of the FFA Harvest Crew and by partnering with Family and Consumer Science and Life Skills students and the South Central Community Action Program, student gleaners recovered 9 tons of food from local farms in 2015, and over 18,000 pounds have been recovered to date. The FFA Harvest Crew experienced service learning and civic engagement as they worked in the program to feed their community.
The South Central Pennsylvania Harvest Hub brokers local farm foods to schools in 13 districts, reaching 40,000 students. Coordinated by grant funded employee Diane Statz, the Hub has created new markets for taxpaying farmers and resulted in over $25,000 this school year. The work at Northern inspired Farm to School programming in the Bermudian Springs, Mechanicsburg, Cumberland Valley, Chambersburg, and Central York districts and has secured $171,000 in financial resources in order to add staff, equipment, supplies, and transportation, including a refrigerated van, made possible by a USDA Rural Business Development Grant in 2016 that removed transportation barriers for farms and school food service directors. The Farm to School Program at Northern and the South Central PA Harvest Hub are doing well and growing. As Mrs. Richwine explains, “food literacy, production basics, and nutrition lead to innovative projects and community outreach, which in turn, create sustainable partnerships and result in healthy students, healthy schools, and healthy communities.”