Letter: Putney budget includes school meal program

Putney budget includes school meal program

Editor of the Reformer:

The town of Putney celebrates our town's passage of a school budget that recognizes the educational benefit of relationships between culture, local economy, health and hunger, food and our environment. A budget that is .4 percent higher than the spending for the current year supports project-based learning in our school meal program and guarantees that all children will have access to healthy, tasty food during the school day without stigma. We recognize that hungry children do not have the same opportunities to reach their potential as those who are well feed. The approved budget includes Universal School Meals, a federal program that will provide breakfast and lunch to all of our students at no charge. This is a first for Putney and will be possible as a result of our high proportion of low income families. Reserved surplus funds from the 2014-15 budget will subsidize costs of this program that are not covered by federal reimbursements. This budget also supports a commitment to farm to school programming: food, farm and nutrition education and local food purchasing for school meals.

This past summer, after several years of discussion, the school board and our principal, Herve Pelletier, decided to take our meal program in house to achieve goals created by the school's strong Farm to School team. Kerri Harlow and Steve Hed worked tirelessly with the help of newcomer Nathan Drake to build this program, a huge undertaking. After a rocky few months and invaluable patience and help from Frank Rucker, WSESU Business Administrator, and Mary Lou Steiner and Ike Bergeron who work alongside him, the program is finding stable footing.

The Vermont Farm to School Network goal is 50% local purchasing by 75% of schools by 2025, and at midyear we are surpassing it. Thus far 25% of food purchased are from farms within a 30 mile radius, and 50% of purchases are from Vermont farms and businesses. The board is seeing the educational, social and economic benefits of a strong farm to school meal program that is school based rather than outsourced. The folks who work in the kitchen are all Putney residents, two of these are full time and receive full benefits, a significant change from past practices.

Another example of the new meal program: last spring we were awarded monies towards a bulk milk dispenser. This past fall we started serving fresh, cold milk. Students are drinking more milk than they did in the past, very little milk is being wasted, and kitchen staff are washing tumblers and pitchers rather than tossing 51,000 milk cartons annually. These efforts, and others, have been noticed and in December we were awarded a Farm to School Implementation Grant from the VT Department of Agriculture in the amount of $9,000.

Our Farm to School team believes even better results could be reached working in concert with other schools. If other schools in our area, or around the state, are not yet immersed in similar pursuits we would encourage them to reach out, as we did, to the smart, sensible and passionate folks at non-profit Food Connects, co-founded by Richard Berkfield and Katherine Jandernoa (foodconnects.org). Additional invaluable resources are Anore Horton, Nutrition Initiatives Director at Hunger Free Vermont; Laurie Colgan, Director Child Nutrition Services, and her team at the Agency of Education; Ali Zipparo, Senior Agriculture Development Specialist from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; and the knowledgeable folks at Vermont FEED. For their visionary and practical leadership, we thank Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont Secretary of Education, and Chuck Ross, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.

Alice Laughlin Putney Central School Board, March 2


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