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Farm to School Program Spotlight: CCE Niagara

Becky O'Connor, WNY Farm to Institution Coordinator

February 12, 2021

A student prepares a F2S meal kitCredit CCE Niagara County

Instead of scrapping plans for Kids Cook Monday family cooking nights, Lockport City School District and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County came up with a new plan: a remote version of the events featuring a meal kit-style delivery.

The district's original plan when it received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant was to offer the events in-person during the 2020-2021 school year, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County. At the district's K-6 schools, CCE Niagara F2S Coordinator Mollie McDonough would lead families in preparing meals together using locally-sourced ingredients. When COVID-19 took in-person meetings off the table, Mollie and the district decided to pivot rather than putting off the events until the spring in hopes of being able to meet face-to-face.

For their first event they selected Three Sisters Soup and Easy Cornbread for the recipes, and got to work sourcing local ingredients: butternut squash, black beans, garlic, tomatoes, onions, milk, vanilla yogurt, and cornmeal. To prepare the meal kits, food service staff and lunch monitors measured and pre-portioned the ingredients and packed them into reusable shopping bags emblazoned with Lockport's Farm to School logo. Thanks to CCE Niagara's NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets Farm to School grant, they were also able to include recipe cards, flexible cutting boards, and safety knives in each kit. Mollie also made videos demonstrating the recipes. The recipe cards included a QR code students could scan using their school iPads to bring up the recipe demonstration videos. In addition to all of this, they even worked in a training for Lockport's Farm to School food service staff on preparing dried beans.

200 kits were sent home in October. There was so much interest in the program that they repeated the effort in November, sending home another 200 kits the week before Thanksgiving. Mollie shared, "It was fantastic to reach so many families in the community and have kids get their hands on local products, and cook together as a family.  But I really enjoyed seeing a district take it's first steps in local procurement and learning how to use a local product like dried beans.  It may be a community project that doesn't translate into sustained use at this time, but I think it was a good introduction for them. Food service staff and lunch monitors were very enthusiastic about their involvement."

Mollie worked on a similar project with North Tonawanda City Schools. 500 kits were sent home along with a video from their food service director demonstrating how to prepare yogurt parfaits using Upstate Farms yogurt and Perfect Granola. Check out the video of Chef Ben!

Mollie is working on a short virtual training geared towards lunch monitors which will be available to Lockport CSD in early 2021, and other districts after that. In the meanwhile, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County's Farm to School page has some great resources to support your Farm to School program, from menu templates to lesson plans.

Lockport CSD Meal KitCredit CCE Niagara County
Preparing 3 Sisters SoupCredit CCE Niagara County

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