North Fork school gardens awarded $68K state grant


North Fork school districts were recently awarded nearly $68,000 from the state to further grow their school garden programs.

The grant is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $500,000 initiative to fund Farm-to-School projects across New York in an effort to increase the amount of healthy, locally grown foods offered on school menus.

Lucy Senesac, the area’s Farm-to-School coordinator, said the money will be used to establish a food hub where produce can be stored and later distributed to the six participating districts — Mattituck-Cutchogue, New Suffolk, Southold, Greenport, Oysterponds and Shelter Island.

“It’s exciting,” said Ms. Senesac, who works at Sang Lee Farms in Peconic. “It’s nice that all the North Fork schools are getting together to do it.”

The districts applied jointly for the grant last year, but didn’t receive it. This year, they hired a grant writer and revised their application.

“We want it to become part of how we do food in schools,” said Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith. “The parents are really behind this right now, so the timing is perfect.”

In recent years, North Fork school districts have created gardens as a way to give students hands-on learning experiences in science, math and agriculture.

“It gives the opportunity to raise the awareness of fresh food and fresh vegetables in the minds of kids,” said Oysterponds Superintendent Richard Malone. “Hands-on learning is much better than reading about it in a book.”

Greenport was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from Seeds of Change, a California organization dedicated to promoting community-based gardening programs, to expand their school’s garden. At Mattituck-Cutchogue, work on a greenhouse donated by Carl Gabrielsen was completed a few months ago.

“When you grow food in a garden, a lot of it is being in the garden and that experience, learning things through that,” said Ms. Senesac, who has been helping local schools cultivate their gardens since 2014 and runs children’s summer camps at Sang Lee Farms.

“A secondary part of that is getting the produce in the cafeteria, which is always challenging,” she continued. “This is a way to follow up on those lessons that they’re learning in the garden and they’re able to actually eat things that they’re growing and, in general, getting better-quality food that’s fresher and better for them — better tasting.”

This latest state grant will help the schools collaborate with local farms to increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables provided to students, since the amount currently grown isn’t enough to sustain a meal plan for the entire year.

“This is a great opportunity to kind of lay the ground work for something that should be considered for many, many years to come,” said Southold and Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg.“That’s what grants are designed to do: get us started with something that can continue beyond the scope of the grant.”

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File photo: Lucy Senesac of Sang Lee Farms picks carrots at Southold Elementary School’s organic garden. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)