March 7, 2011

In Its Second Season, Community Harvest Works With Local Students

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The Ithaca Community Harvest is gearing up for its second growing season, providing locally grown, organic produce to youth and their families in Tompkins County.

More than seven area farms are involved in providing produce to the initiative, said Lara Kaltman, the lead ICH organizer and nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension. This spring, the farms will also grow crops specifically for fresh produce programs at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School, the Greater Ithaca Activity Center and Southside Community Center.

Through a partnership with the farms, the program’s goal is for students “to feel as if they are members of that farm,” Kaltman said. Students would “go on field trips to farms to plant seedlings, take care of crops during growing season and eventually harvest them,” she said. “The whole concept is for students to have a true connection to the food they are eating.”

The initiative grew out of community efforts by parents, teachers, administrators, local farmers and school gardeners, Kaltman said. It began in March 2010 in an effort to continue funding for the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program at Martin Elementary School, which provides raw fruits and vegetables for children to eat as snacks.

Kaltman is the director of the Fresh Fruits and Vegtables program, a collaboration between the Village at Ithaca, a local nonprofit, the Martin Elementary School and Greenstar Community Projects.

Martin Elementary School was selected by the Ithaca City School District to pilot the program. In the district, “the school has the highest percentage of students receiving free and reduced price lunch,” Kaltman said.

“We had a wildly successful first season, beyond our greatest hopes,” said Liz Karabinakis ’04, the GreenStar Community Projects Program Coordinator. “We really started just trying to keep the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program alive and find some way to leverage resources to sustain that program.”

Cornell Orchards provides three bushels of apples a week to support the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables program, according to Kaltman.

Some farms participated in hands-on food education, bringing area youth to the farms to harvest produce for consumption, “many of them for the first time seeing how carrots actually grew out of the ground,” Karabinakis said.

While other initiatives focused on food justice and security exist in Ithaca, ICH “uniquely weaves them together” Karabinakis said. “It’s almost like a needle and thread that went around the community and really banded together existing initiatives and people who were invested in kids and families having access to healthy produce.”

The program has impacted the way students eat both at home and at school, said Amie Hamlin, the New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods executive director.

The ICH partners with the Ithaca City School District, which “ensure[s] that all children in the community, regardless of income, cultural background or identity, has access to adequate amounts of fresh produce,” Karabinakis said.

“Several students have said they don’t feel right when they don’t get their vegetables on weekends and on school breaks. It breaks my heart that they aren’t getting them at home, but it shows clearly how it’s impacting them,” Hamlin said.

Original Author: Emily Coon