SENECA CO., N.Y. — As part of the Creating Healthy Schools and Communities (CHSC) Grant, the Seneca County Health Department and Seneca County Cornell Cooperative Extension (SCCCE) work with Seneca County schools to help them develop nutrition education opportunities for students. Seneca Falls Central School District, which participates with CHSC and Farm2School programming, has jumped in to bring quality opportunities to their students.
Based on 2018 data collection Seneca County has selected two focus areas on which to anchor their 2022-2024 Community Health Improvement Plan, healthy eating and food security being one. Results of the 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) showed that close to one third of adults and almost one quarter of children in Seneca County are obese. Obesity is a major indicator of food insecurity as products like sugary drinks and those with poor nutritional content tend to be more affordable options for families than milk and nutrient dense foods. Data from the 2021 Feeding America Map the Gap report show that food insecurity affected 12% of Seneca County residents, and 17% of Seneca County children. Food pantry data from FoodLink also shows that an increased number of households were served in 2021 compared to 2022, indicating that access to food is still a pressing issue in Seneca County.
Seneca Falls Central School District has developed a nutrition education program that includes Farm2School staff, Health and Family Consumer Science educators, and district wellness champions to provide new opportunities to students. In July, SFCSD started developing their programs by hosting a community build day that brought together volunteers to build their outdoor raised garden beds using CHSC funds to purchase the lumber and supplies. CCE staff and even local assemblyman Jeff Gallahan were on site to assist with the building and share information about Farm2School and CHSC. Then, in August, the boys’ soccer program volunteered by assisting with preparing the garden beds for planting by moving and filling them with compost. Seneca Green Composting Club has been a project through the school cafeterias since 2014. Repairs were also done to replace broken or rotting walls of the compost container. As the school year was about to begin Amanda Fleig, CHSC school liaison for SFCSD, and Lindsay Wilson, SFCSD teacher, prepared the districts tower gardens by planting a variety of lettuces and herbs to be grown inside. The produce has since been a huge success and hit with both students and faculty as students have been able to sample unfamiliar items, staff have used lettuces for fresh salads and on their sandwiches at lunch, and students participated in a food lab to make Chicken Caesar salad with lettuce grown in the tower gardens.
“Students see the tower Gardens in the media center, and it catches their interest. They are curious and we allow taste testing of what is growing. It gets them thinking about what else could be grown in the towers,” says Amanda Fleig, CHSC school liaison for SFCSD.
Due to the success of the initial steps of the program the district is looking to continue to expand their nutrition education and gardening. The Seneca Falls Rotary has donated a tower garden to the middle school which holds some strawberry and tomato plants among others. More CHSC funds are also being allocated to purchase 2 additional grow towers and seeds to grow a greater variety of produce in the future.
Seneca Falls Central School District is also exploring additional ways to share their produce with a larger audience utilizing the cafeteria and with a partnership with a local business, Fall Street Brewing, which will be utilizing some lettuce on sandwiches served at their establishment. The raised garden beds will have garlic planted this fall and broccoli, carrots, potatoes, beans, pumpkins, and flowers next spring. The plan is to share the veggies with our school community first and then offer extras to the Seneca Falls community. Plans are also underway to further develop the space to include an outdoor classroom with picnic tables and umbrellas for teachers to hold instruction and labs monitoring plant growth and hold taste testing.
–Pivital Public Health Partnership