Farm- to-School Slow Foods—On the Fast Track in the Valley
by Mimi Quinn
The expression “farm-to-school” is being heard more and more around the Hudson Valley. It’s a term that includes the efforts to connect schools with locally or regionally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for the school cafeterias.
The main focus of this venture is procuring minimally processed and locally sourced foods as the main offerings on a school menu. It also involves other measures to create awareness, such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and nutritional cooking classes.
Local resident and pioneer of healthy foods for children, Nicci Cagan is the director of From the Ground Up (FTGU,) which she describes as a wellness initiative with its roots in the soil.
|Marbletown Elementary school kids enjoying local salad.|
“We are growing a community that cares about their food, environment, and the local economy,” Cagan said.
She’s also a member of the Rondout Valley Central School District’s (RVCSD) Wellness Committee representing Marbletown Elementary School, was also a granted employee of the Rondout Valley Growers Association (RVGA), and made a district-wide survey and marketing plan for farm-to-school in the RVCSD.
Cagan is also thrilled that the money made from a Marbletown Elementary fundraiser provided an opportunity to model for farm-based education in the district, “and bring 30-percent local food to our schools within three to five years. People want farm-to-school, and this is exciting!”
And keeping her connected on international forms of food and farm-based education, she also posts daily information on her Facebook page. Cagan recently posted that Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that the USDA will commence a nationwide investment in farm-to-school programs. The grant program initiative is being administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). It is authorizing and funding the program through grants, and program implementation will assist eligible educational facilities with technical assistance in implementing farm-to-school programs, thus improving access to nutritionally sound foods and increasing market opportunities for local food producers. The strategy will also embrace other educational ideas in a hands-on way for students. More information on the grant program and USDA’s farm-to-school efforts are online at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/f2s.
Cagan said that the RVCSD also has school gardens in all five schools. She said, “When food is energized by nutrient-rich soils, sunshine and good water, the flavors are exceptional and it enlivens our bodies and beings. What could be better?”
The local concern in the Hudson Valley about how mass-produced foods affect health involves many who are taking measures to provide wholesome produce with community-supported gardens.
Another person who has pioneered healthy eating and the procurement of local foods for over three decades is Dutchess County resident Joseph Baldwin. Having graduated the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1974, Baldwin has since endeavored to bring what he learned at the Institute “to the tables” of the Valley with a local food advocacy group that he administers called “Earth to Table,” located in Pleasant Valley.
Baldwin believes in the Slow Food Movement and its many meanings: Taking one’s time thinking about what’s best to eat; ingest only foods that grow nearby (he nicknames that the “caveman diet”); and follow a diet that includes locally grown foods as much as one can (he suggests within 100 miles from your residence).
Baldwin oversees a number of school and community gardens—his own farming focuses on stevia, herbs, greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and edible flowers.
Stevia? Yes said Baldwin who has worked with local doctors to fan a wildfire about the merits of this South American herb whose extracts are used in the FDA approved sweetener, Rebiana. Baldwin not only grows the herb, he gives demonstrations on how to dehydrate, boil, and grind it to make syrups and powders for use in cooking or sweetening your iced tea.
The Red Hook Community Garden is one of the gardens Baldwin administers and provides advice for. “Many are from the Red Hook School system, which helped with the gardens as part of their AP studies,” said Baldwin. “Marist, Bard, CIA, and BOCES are also working with us…agriculture is the future of the world, we might as well use what the country has left.”
As they say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and his son, Russell Baldwin who owns Rusty’s Farm Fresh Eatery in Red Hook specializes in locally grown, fresh ingredients throughout his menu.
“I learned about healthy eating from my father—he inspired me to use as much, if not all, seasonally fresh foods as I can,” said Russell, adding that his father is the reason he’s so passionate about healthy foods.
“My father is the hardest working, most generous person you’d ever want to meet and he’s the reason my restaurant is so successful,” he said.
Also working hand-and-hand with Baldwin is Victoria Digilio, owner of Victoria’s Healthy Creations in Hyde Park, who’s reinventing her mom’s recipes for diabetics and those who wish for healthy desserts sans sugar.
“I make savory pies, cookies, and biscotti for those who can’t have sugar and want to eat low-fat goodies—I’m doing this in honor of my Mom who passed from diabetes,” said Digilio.
“Make Your Health Be Your Wealth” is Baldwin’s slogan. He believes if you’re healthy you’re “rich” in energy—along with saving money on medicines and healthcare.
More information can be found at:earthtotable.ag; farmtoschool.org; Nicci Nashban Cagan on Facebook; farmtoschool.ag.
THIS JUST IN!
At press time CWN learned that Federal funds amounting to $1 million are being made available to enhance the competitiveness of New York specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, maple, honey and horticulture crops. The Hudson Valley is noted for its vegetable crops and apple orchards. The State Agriculture Department is seeking research and grower education, food safety, and marketing-focused projects that must have general applicability and statewide significance to the state’s specialty crop industry. Government organizations, nonprofits, and educational institutions are eligible to receive funding, starting at $30,000 per project up to a maximum of $100,000.