Farm to School at New Roots: Growing New Food Systems Advocates

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Tompkins Weekly 3-10-14

By Becca Rimmel

US schools spend an average of $.95 on a school lunch-that’s not a lot considering the cost of high quality fruits, vegetables, meats and other ingredients. More importantly, perhaps, a lot of this food is being produced by ‘agri-business’ and little of it, if any, is coming from the farm down the road.

The Farm to School movement has created a push to increase the quality of food found in school breakfasts and lunches across the country. New Roots Charter School has not only made a commitment to provide high quality food in school lunches, but has taken the farm to school philosophy to the next level by connecting the school lunch programs and hands-on learning with local farms. Not only do these relationships bring healthy food into the cafeteria, but they also help youth see the impact that food systems have on communities.

At New Roots, the Farm to School program is comprised of three important pillars: healthy food sourced from local distributors, food systems curriculum integrated with core subject area classes, and hands-on, in-the-dirt experience. Each of these student experiences allows youth to connect to the food system in genuine and meaningful ways.

At the heart of Farm to School at New Roots is the school meals program, which is certified by the National School Lunch Program. Our school ‘lunch lady,’ Allyn Rosenbaum, uses almost no packaged or processed foods. Much of the food is made from scratch daily, with ingredients from local suppliers such as Byrne Dairy, Cayuga Pure Organics, the Youth Farm Project and our own student-run school garden. By sourcing some of our produce from the Youth Farm Project (which employs some New Roots students) and our school garden, a meaningful connection is made for students: the carrot they planted last spring and tended to all summer is now on their fork in the school lunch room.

Not only are students involved in the growing of food for the school lunches, but they are also involved in the daily prep work. Cafe classes held nearly every morning teach students the proper and most efficient way to dice vegetables or how to prep the main entrée, all the while creating a sense of ownership over their own school lunches.

Farm to School programs are not just about great food, they’re about larger food systems. Because of the broader scope of the New Roots Farm to School program, teachers are able to incorporate food systems learning into the core subject areas. Students may be found studying historical Central American food systems in Spanish class or utilizing math skills while mapping the New Roots garden plot to scale. Students in the “Discovering our Region’s Food Shed” expedition class spend each Tuesday morning exploring a different aspect of our regional food system. Students not only have the opportunity to learn the inner workings of their own school cafeteria, but have also had the opportunity to visit working farms and restaurants.

These field trips have connected students with food systems professionals—giving them real world examples of what a sustainable food system might look like. This type of experience has lead to graduates pursuing careers in this field, enrolling in TC3’s new Farm to Bistro program, which offers degrees in Sustainable Farming and Food Systems and Culinary Arts.

New Roots Charter School highly values experiential learning and offers students the ability to garden in multiple locations. Last spring students in the Farm to School Intensive dug their hands into the dirt while learning about soil ecology and sheet mulching a garden bed. All of these hands-on experiences help students build the connections between the food they eat, the land it’s grown on, and the community that supports the system.

This May 13th, New Roots Charter School and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County will host the first annual Finger Lakes Youth Farm & Food Symposium at 4-H Acres in Ithaca. Students from around the region will be invited to present and attend a day full of hands-on food and farm workshops designed to get youth to start thinking about the food systems in their own schools and communities. After the workshops have finished, youth will be invited to team up with other students from their area to think critically and form an action plan to help create a stronger more sustainable food system in their own town.

New Roots Charter School is a tuition free, public high school located in the heart of downtown Ithaca. Now enrolling for the 2014-2015 school year. To learn more visit the New Roots website at

Becca Rimmel is a Farm to School AmeriCorps Vista Worker at the New Roots Charter School.

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