ITHACA, NY —The Fresh Snack Program, now a farm-to-school program of The Youth Farm Project, announced that the 305 students in Caroline Elementary will begin receiving fresh classroom snacks this Wednesday, becoming the fourth school to benefit from the program in Ithaca City School District (ICSD). Yellow watermelon from Stick and Stone Farm in Trumansburg, NY and tomatoes from the Youth Farm Project in Danby, NY will be the first featured snack items paired this school year.

FSP replaces less nutritious snacks that parents or teachers otherwise pay for, increases access to fresh plant-based foods, familiarizes students with healthier food choices, and connects youth with their local food system.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with The Fresh Snack Program and ICSD Nutrition Services to bring healthy snacks—some locally grown by children in the Ithaca community—to our students,” says Mary Grover, Caroline Elementary school’s principal. “The Fresh Snack Program combined with Cool School Food lunch entrées, Caroline’s vegetable garden and our Farm to Table Event are increasing awareness of and options for healthier food at our school. I look forward to building upon this partnership to do even more for our community.”

Fresh classroom snacks in Ithaca launched at Beverly J. Martin (BJM) Elementary School in 2008 through a collaboration between the Coalition for Healthy School Food and GreenStar Community Projects. The Fresh Snack Program (FSP) continues to provide all BJM students with a half-cup serving of nutritious fruit and vegetable snacks each school day.

The Fresh Snack Program expanded to Enfield Elementary in the fall of 2014, and to Belle Sherman Elementary the fall of 2015. With the addition of Caroline, FSP will now serve 1,230 Pre-K through 5th grade students in the four ICSD elementary schools with highest indicator rates for family poverty—approximately 75% of students in BJM and Enfield, and 40% in Belle Sherman and Caroline, receive free or reduced lunch. An additional snack bowl is also prepared each school day for the students in Southside Community Center’s afterschool program, thanks to support from the Rotary Foundation.

A new partnership with local food business Crooked Carrot will allow the Fresh Snack Program to serve more local, organic fruits and vegetables than ever before. Crooked Carrot is a local foods processing kitchen located in Danby, NY, purchasing 100% of its fresh ingredients from over 20 local farms. The business makes natural ferments such as pickles and kimchi, applesauce, and fresh-cut salad mixes for distribution in natural food stores and restaurants across NY state—processing over 30,000 lbs. of local produce in 2015. Starting this school year, Crooked Carrot is ordering ingredients, processing them into finger food, and delivering them in bulk to the ICSD central kitchen, located at Boynton Middle School, for distribution to the four Fresh Snack Program elementary schools.  

“The long-term vision of Crooked Carrot is to be a problem-solver in developing our local food system, whether it’s sourcing, processing, marketing, or providing licensed kitchen space to new food businesses,” explains founder and owner Silas Conroy. “For the first five years of our business, we’ve focused primarily on expanding the market for local farmers’ produce by creating product lines sourced exclusively from those local farms—especially working with farms’ excesses and crops that are high-value but not aesthetically perfect. With this new partnership with the Fresh Snack Program, we’re very excited to be able to use our competencies in local sourcing and processing to work on very different kinds of problems in the food system, such as access to healthy food and child nutrition.”

For the past two school years, ICSD Child Nutrition Program staff have prepared snacks in the central kitchen before distributing them to schools on the meal delivery route. Partnering with the Child Nutrition Program has allowed for less expensive overhead costs and easier expansion to schools beyond BJM Elementary. “It’s about working together to educate the students about healthy foods,” said Denise Agati, School Food Director for the district.

Crooked Carrot will make Fresh Snack service even more efficient by streamlining the ordering and preparation of ingredients with their existing kitchen operations. Their in-depth experience purchasing from local farmers while balancing ingredient and labor costs will allow for the freshest, highest quality produce to be served in classroom snacks.

Cafeteria managers in each school receive prepared snacks in bulk and portion them into bowls for each classroom, and teachers send student representatives to pick up snack bowls from the cafeteria. In the intimate classroom environment, teachers can encourage new food choices in ways that best fit their classroom cultures.

Two of my students consistently refused healthy snack at the beginning of the last school year,” says Julie Bakos, a second grade teacher at Enfield Elementary School. “They wouldn’t take a ‘no thank you bite’ just to try the food. After a few months, they began to risk the ‘no thank you bite’. This evolved into them always trying the food and learning they enjoyed most of the food they tried. They would comment that the food tasted different when they ate it at home. I’m speculating they eat canned veggies and fruit at home, while learning they prefer fresh fruit and veggies. These two students now say they love carrots and salad!

Julie’s second grade class was also one of ten ICSD elementary classrooms to visit the Youth Farm last spring for a farm field trip. Students planted seeds, explored the compost, and met the chickens before harvesting ingredients for a fresh snack they prepared and ate on site.

In June, The Youth Farm Project became home to the Fresh Snack Program. Among other benefits, this merger has allowed the Fresh Snack Program to tie together elementary education with teen-focused food and farming programs. As the school year begins, Lehman Alternative Community School (LACS) students will be involved in three off-campus projects that feed into the fresh Snack Program. “These projects are a perfect example of how education can offer our young people avenues for learning that empower them to make positive changes in their world,” says Dan Flerlage, teacher at LACS and co-founder of The Youth Farm Project.

On Thursday mornings, one group will help harvest vegetables at the Youth Farm and make them “kitchen ready.” Others will work with the professionals at Crooked Carrot, learning how to transform these vegetables into healthy snacks for elementary school youth.

A third group will work with FSP staff to both create and teach curriculum to elementary age students, building upon the importance of these healthy school snacks.Antonia Demas, creator of Food is Elementary, introduced her whole food nutrition curriculum in Enfield Elementary classrooms in the spring, and will work with the LACS students spread her lessons to more Fresh Snack schools. Demas has taught her curriculum and measured the results for year in schools across the country, and student feedback indicates a significant increase in preference for fruits and vegetables.

The Fresh Snack Program depends on generous funding from The Park Foundation of Tompkins County, United Way of Tompkins County, Share Our Strength, The Community Foundation of Tompkins County, Tompkins Charitable Gift Fund; funding from community business sponsors B&W Supply, Mama Goose, Emmy’s Organics, CSP Management, and Kevin Brew Sales; and support from individuals and school PTAs. School parents have the option to contribute funds to the program on a sliding scale.

For more information on The Fresh Snack Program and other programs at The Youth Farm Project, visit our website at www.youthfarmproject.org or contact Audrey Baker at youthfarm2school@gmail.com / 607-592-2902.

(Featured image by John Nakamura Remy on Flickr)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.