October is a National Farm to School Month, an annual 31-day campaign to celebrate the connections happening across the country between kids, families, and their community food systems. This year, New Yorkers have even more reason to celebrate: despite changes to school meal service caused by COVID-19, our Farm to School program's local procurement reimbursement remains available to all districts.
To encourage school districts to use more New York State farm products, New York's Farm to School program increases the funding schools recieve for food purchases when at least 30% of school lunch ingredients are from New York farms. COVID-19 almost derailed the program's trajectory; administrative changes in school meal service at the federal and state levels would have made nearly one-half of schools ineligible to participate in the state's program. With schools closed during the public health crisis, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed districts to serve meals under the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The New York State Education Department (NYSED) originally determined that New York-grown food purchased for meals served through SSO, but not through SFSP, would be eligible for the state's Farm to School incentive. At least one-half of NY districts chose to distribute meals through SFSP during the crisis, meaning potential funding could have been cut at a time when greater investment for fresh, healthy meals is even more important.
Thanks to advocacy from New York Grown Food for New York Kids (NYGFFNYK), a coalition of nearly 70 organizations including the Tisch Food Center that are working to increasing access to fresh, healthy, local food for students in K-12 schools, NYSED just announced that the agency will issue guidance to correct the problem. Now, all food purchases for school lunches, including those served through SFSP, will count toward New York's Farm to School incentive!