Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
Beverly J. Martin elementary school’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which is supplied by food from the Youth Farm Project, is expanding this fall to also provide snacks to Enfield Elementary School to give more students access to fresh food.
The expansion is being piloted as part of the Child Nutrition Program through the Ithaca City School District, according to Vanessa Wood, the program manager for the BJM snack program.
The new snack will be implemented on Wednesdays as part of a partnership with the Ithaca City School District. Students at Enfield will receive fresh snacks each Wednesday morning. Organizers of the program see this collaboration as an indication of a growing program.
“We hope we’re laying the groundwork to expand to more schools, maybe all schools in the district,” Wood said. “That’s always been the goal.”
The snack program started at BJM because it has the highest percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch due to low family income in the Ithaca City School District. Enfield has the second highest students that receive free and reduced lunches. The snacks are provided to these students at no cost because they would not normally have access to healthy snacks.
All 19 classrooms at BJM receive a bowl of fruits and vegetables each morning for every, with an emphasis on food being local and organic — with no dips or additions of any kind, according to Wood.
“We’ll serve them raw kale, raw turnips, raw beets, things that may not be traditionally thought of as something that a kids would like,” she said.
At Enfield the program will differ because the program stems from the Ithaca City School District, whereas BJM’s program is part of a non-profit organization.
BJM’s program will be operated by the Wood’s Earth Living Classroom and receive fiscal support from the Center for Transformative Action this year, according to the Ithaca Harvest Community website.
“They are going to be preparing the [Enfield] snack at the central kitchen, with their staff,” Wood said. “Right now it’s prepared at BJM with our staff – we’re a nonprofit – so they’re going to be actually using district staff.”
The Youth Farm Project, a program for high school students, is one of the organizations in Tompkins County that supports the snack programs.
“The Youth Farm Project sounds like youth learning farming, and it is,” Dan Flerlage, director for the Youth Farm Project, who started the program four years ago, said. “But it’s actually — in its importance — secondary to what else the kids learn.”
The program focuses on teaching the students about growing food sustainably, understanding privilege, communication skills, food justice and climate change. It has been crucial in supplying food to the snack program, and in doing so has also experienced a growth in production said Ann Piombino, a farmer with the Youth Farm Project.
“I feel like this was the first year where it wasn’t a question whether or not the Youth Farm would have vegetables,” she said. “We are actually being part of the food system, and people are relying on us for certain foods.”
Seven to eight students work during the spring and fall, four to five kids work during the winter and 25 kids work during the summer. The summer program is the most intensive and lasts seven to eight weeks.
According to the Youth Farm Project’s website, the crops it grows supply the u-pick for the Full Plate Farm Collective, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, the Lehman Alternative School lunch program, the Ithaca City School lunch program and the Congo Square Market in addition to what it supplies for BJM.
Joseph Amsili, assistant farm manager and volunteer coordinator for the Youth Farm Project, has been working at the farm for four years and said he loves working with youth and being able to provide crops to the Ithaca City School District.
Wood also recognized the importance of youth providing the fresh food for other kids in their community.
“It’s sweet that youth are involved in farming because we like telling the students at BJM that local youth have been involved in growing and harvesting their food,” Wood said. “I think that the students enjoy hearing that and they feel that much more connected to the food.”
Wood hopes to see more community involvement with organizations similar to the Youth Farm Project and more schools in the Ithaca City School District receiving fresh snacks in an effort to encourage healthy lifestyles.