RONDOUT VALLEY – October is Farm to School month and the Rondout Valley School District is on board to produce truckloads of tasty progress with two new programs. Throughout the month, the district has been working together with the Rondout Valley Growers Association to get more local and organic foods to the local students.
The Rondout Valley's primary industry is agriculture. And last week, Liberty View Farm provided the school with 1,800 pounds of local apples that were processed into 100 gallons of applesauce.
"This week, working with the RVGA and the Farm to Pantry group, we processed 300 pounds of broccoli that we will be serving our students," said Chris Van Damm, director of foodservices at RVSD. "We are cooking our own garbanzo beans and preparing hummus served with local red peppers at our two elementary schools next week... Some very generous local Rondout growers are supplying some produce and we will feature one item from each farm the entire week."
The menu for next week looks like this: On Monday it will be local broccoli salad, care of Davenport Farms. Tuesday students will have "Rondout Apple French Toast Bake," a breakfast entrée with apples donated by Kelder Farms. Wednesday's menu will feature a Gingered Cabbage Salad with ginger from R.O.Davenport&Sons. Oven Roasted Herbed Potatoes, with spuds donated by the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, will be part of Thursday's lunch. On Friday, Davenport broccoli will be served as the vegetable, Liberty View pink apple sauce will be the fruit offering, and organic blueberries for a hot blueberry cobbler, from various providers, will provide a final sweet note.
The district has been working on the Farm to School program for a couple of years but this is the first year it's started to get traction, according to Van Damm.
Farm to School is a nationwide program that focuses on education, procurement, and promoting school gardens. RVSD will soon have all those components in place with a new greenhouse under construction, the addition of more and more local food to the school menu, and the establishment of a local Farm to School committee complete.
The committee meets regularly and incorporates teachers and students.
The state of Vermont has been heavily involved in farm to school for twenty years, according to Deborah DeWan, executive director of the Rondout Valley Growers Association.
During the past month other local efforts have included a Farm to Pantry gleaning project run with the help of Ulster Corps and Family of Woodstock, with donated fruits and veggies going to local food pantries and kitchens.
Going back to that applesauce, the district received almost 2,000 pounds of apples which, with the help of two 60 gallon steam kettles, 15 volunteers and five and a half hours of effort, was turned into 100 gallons of apple sauce... which was then served to the whole district.
"They loved it. To see the looks on the kid's faces was great," DeWan said. "There is a tremendous amount going on around Farm To School and it's all coming together right now. It's different this year and that is really exciting... Using the school kitchen has been a great way to bring these two programs together."
Getting fresher food into schools is one of the reasons Van Damm is excited about the Farms to School program.
"Everybody wins," he said. "Students get healthy food, cafeterias get support and so do local businesses. When we educate youth as to eating healthy, it can change things. Instead of reaching for a snack food students are reaching for a carrot or hummus. And maybe in the long term we can get students to bring what they learn home."
Also, for an agricultural community there is an added special significance to eating local.
"The students in the Rondout Valley are surrounded by farms and farmers. Farm to School gives them a direct connection to where their food comes from and why local farming is important," DeWan pointed out. "More importantly it inspires them to think about the role they can play in creating a local, sustainable food supply."