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Fresh Food Fridays comes to Cutchogue East Elementary School

While visiting Cutchogue East Elementary School with their children late this summer, parents Rebecca Nolan and Tonya Witzcak noticed an abundance of produce remaining in the school garden.

They hated the thought that produce the students had worked so hard to grow might go to waste. So they began brainstorming ways get the unharvested veggies into the children’s hands — and stomachs.

“The students are the ones who planted [the vegetables] so they should get to enjoy them,” Ms. Witzcak said.

That’s how they came up with Fresh Food Fridays.

They joined with other parents to get permission from Cutchogue East principal Kathleen Devine for their program, which involved picking the vegetables from the garden and boxing them for freshness. Then, for the first few Fridays of the school year, boxes of fresh produce — including tomatoes, kale and carrots — were delivered to each classroom for the kids to snack on.

“It’s no pressure, nobody is forced to try something,” Ms. Witzcak said. “Hopefully it’s sort of a positive peer pressure thing. If a friend tries something new, you might try it and learn you like it. It’s a teachable moment.”

Eventually, the school garden was picked clean. But having gotten positive reviews from both students and teachers, Ms. Nolan and Ms. Witzcak sought to continue Fresh Food Fridays by offering food from local farms.

That’s where they ran into a problem.

Ms. Witzcak explained that because the produce distributed during those first few weeks was grown at the school it could be given to the students. But outside food — even if it’s grown locally — can’t be given out on school property without administrative and legal approvals.

School district lawyers, she said, told her they “wouldn’t entertain the idea until they had a significant amount of parents interested in it.” But they gave no specifics about what number might be considered “significant.”

So Ms. Witzcak and Ms. Nolan created a petition to gauge the level of community support. Since Oct. 14, their paper and online petitions have garnered around 75 signatures.

Any parent interested in supporting the program can click here or visit change.org and search for Fresh Food Fridays to sign the petition.

“We, being the community and the students, live in an agricultural environment,” Ms. Nolan said. “It’s so important for the students to have awareness of where their food is coming from … they get to experience the benefits that come from hard work.”

Ms. Nolan said the PTA, of which she’s a member, and the district’s wellness committee are also working on getting fresher food options into the school cafeteria.

As the school garden continues to expand with the spring season, she hopes the school can incorporate that produce into the cafeteria as well. She noted that the Southold School District accomplished this by creating a salad bar in its cafeteria.

“We’re trying to bring up the standards of food that is available,” Ms. Nolan said, “and hoping to continue to bring better health awareness to the school.”

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