The City of Buffalo’s public school system just got a significant boost in the farm fresh department. The Farm to School (Buffalo F2S) program has launched “The Farm to School to You” food truck, that will not only serve the district’s feeding programs (the Summer Food Service Program, Child and Adult Care Program, and catering), it will also act as an educational tool for teachers and students. This truck literally takes the farm along with it, wherever it goes teaching young people about the benefits of growing and eating wholesome foods that are not readily accessible in areas of the city that are deemed “food deserts.”
Since launching in 2014, the Buffalo Farm to School initiative has grown from a small pilot to a nationally-recognized program.
The idea for the food truck came about from a visit to a similar farm fresh vehicle at a New England school. The “learning laboratory” was a big hit with everyone who came across it. Now, this Buffalo model will help to engage people in a similar manner, with a wide range of programming/interaction that includes taste tests, Agriculture Literacy Week, classroom lessons, Harvest of the Month, and NY Thursdays. The truck will serve to educate students in the culinary arts, agriculture, nutrition, business development, and marketing. To that end, culinary curricula will be developed for students at Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and the Occupational Training Center, including healthy menu planning for Child and Adult Care Program sites.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Buffalo F2S spent over $2 million, or just over 41% of its lunch expenditures, on produce, dairy, beef, juice, and other NY foods.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our communities, Farm to School is more important now than ever. It is helping our school districts and agricultural organizations, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, to bring farm-fresh, healthy local foods to our school children and it provides a market for our farmers, who are still struggling with reduced demand and oversupply of product. Buffalo Public Schools and its Farm to School team has done tremendous work educating our young people about New York agriculture and serving delicious, nutritious New York products to our students. We congratulate them on this creative new initiative to expand Farm to School beyond the lunch tray.”
Adding to the power of the program, the food truck operators will source produce from beginner, urban, and socially-disadvantaged farmers as much as possible. This truck not only has the ability to change the mindset and the health of students, it also has the ability to change the landscape of sustainable food production in Buffalo. Typically, these small farmers cannot accommodate large scale orders from the school system. The truck, along with a new tool called “geographic preference,” will help to make fresh produce bids more accessible and obtainable for micro farmers.
For 2020-2021, the district awarded $646,330 to NY fruit, vegetable, and beef farmers and producers, with $10,580 going to Groundwork Market Garden and 5 Loaves Farm, which are located right in the city of Buffalo.
Bridget O’Brien-Wood, Food Service Director, Buffalo Public Schools said, “October is National Farm to School Month and we are very excited to be able to serve our popular Farm to School meals from this great new food truck that will feature ingredients from local New York farmers throughout the year! COVID may be keeping our students from coming to school for now, but we are determined to get this Farm to School food truck out on the road to offer our families a hot, nutritious lunch made from local ingredients that our students can enjoy in the comfort and safety of their home.”
Initially, the truck will undergoing a “remote learning” stage (starting in 2021), where it will be paying visits to neighborhoods where families can get a free meal that might include a hot lunch made with NY grown and raised dairy, beef, vegetables, and fruit. This initial boost will also allow 80 food service workers – at the food truck and in cafeterias – to benefit from plant-forward food training methods that will ultimately be used throughout the school system.
Through a partnership with the district’s Health and Wellness program, the team has made resources, lessons, and materials available to all teachers.
For far too long, students have been fed foods that were neither nutritious for the body or beneficial to the brain. And now that the school system is more diverse than ever before, with 33 ethnicities, the food program must better reflect that broadranging demographic.
Julie Suarez, Associate Dean for Government & Community Relations, Cornell University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences said, “Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension System is deeply committed to matching local farmers and foods with local kids. Efforts like the mobile Farm to School truck to put additional local healthy foods in the hands of our children is just a win-win partnership for all involved. I’m so pleased that our Harvest NY program is working hand in hand with the City of Buffalo’s school system to benefit the next generation.”
The food truck will serve local lunches and newly developed menus at the district’s 16 high schools on a rotating schedule.
Katie Schuta, Principal, Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management said, “The Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management’s students and staff are so eager to be a part of the Buffalo Farm to School to You food truck. Food trucks have become an integral part of the nation’s culinary fabric and we are excited to be able to offer our students this amazing opportunity. We want to keep our students abreast of the current trends in the culinary industry and this helps to do that. This opportunity combines two of the culinary industry’s hottest movements: food trucks and farm to table. We could not be prouder to be a part of this.”
PJ Azzarella, President, JP Food Trucks, LLC said, “JP Food Trucks is honored to be able to build this food truck for Buffalo Public Schools. Not only will this truck be used as a teaching tool at the Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, it will also be used to provide nutritious meals to many of the under-served communities throughout the City of Buffalo during this pandemic and beyond! We are confident you will see this truck serving the citizens of the City of Buffalo for many years to come!”
For more information, including where families can receive meals during remote learning, and for the food truck schedule, please visit: BPS School Closure Food Service Plan. Families can also visit Buffalo F2S’s social media pages for the location of the truck and information pertaining to the program. The handle for both Facebook and Twitter is @BuffaloF2S.
The Buffalo F2S initiative would like to thank the following people/organizations for their long-standing support of the program: NYS Dept. of Agriculture & Markets; Cheryl Thayer, Becky O’Connor, Mallory Hohl, and Sara Jablonski of Cornell Cooperative Extension; Dr. Kathy Border of D’youville College; and Julian Montague of Julian Montague Projects. A special thank you to a new F2S partner, PJ Azzarella of JP Food Trucks, LLC.
Lead image photo credit: R.J. Anderson, Cornell Cooperative Extension