Farm to school program coming to Ellenville

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ELLENVILLE – The Ellenville Regional School District, Ellenville Hospital’s Rural Health Network, Cornell Cooperative, and the Roundout Valley Growers Association announced Monday afternoon they are partnering together to create a Farm-to-School program to serve the local school district.

The program is currently within its 12-month planning phase, after which a reapplication will be made to the USDA for funding for implementation. However, the partners shared they are personally passionate about this initiative and they expect it to take less than the 12 months allotted.

Executive Director of Ellenville Hospital Rural Health Network Victoria Reed said there’s been success getting produce for schools from within the state, but this planning period will be used to meet with local growers, see what the school district’s produce needs are, and try to make the produce acquisition more regional.

“This period is about looking into that, about how do we change where we’re getting our produce from, changing those workflows and making systemic changes to get that fresher produce in,” said Reed. “Through this year, we’ll make that plan and make it more specified,” she said.

Ulster County, specifically, has a larger issue with childhood obesity compared to the rest of the Hudson Valley. According to statistics from Ellenville Hospital, overall student obesity is approximately 17 percent higher in Ulster than in the Mid Hudson region.

Senator Jen Metzger (D-Rosendale), the Chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee, said it crucially important to provide students with healthier options, especially because the region is host to high-quality, locally grown produce.

“We can be and should be feeding fresh foods to our kids. Unfortunately, what our kids are eating now in schools is a lot of very over-processed food- not necessarily the healthiest,” said Metzger. “What they put into their bodies affects their learning, obviously affects their growth and their physical development and we should be as attuned to and caring as much about that as we are about their other educational needs in school,” she said.

Ellenville Hospital offers a free, fresh produce pickup every week through their Farmacy program and also have a family nutritionist available free of charge for families in the 10 municipalities they serve if there are concerns about student health before the program kicks off.