Taking Farm-to-School Food on the Road

To get farm-to-school and locally sourced foods to more students, Buffalo Public Schools (NY) invested in a food truck, which went on the road in October of 2020.

“We only serve New York-made beef, hotdogs and hamburgers on the food truck. Any entree served comes from local farms, such as locally grown eggs, New York grown potatoes and hydroponic lettuce,” said Bridget O’Brien Wood, Food Service Director for Buffalo Public Schools.  The menu is dependent on the current growing season.

The truck is a continuation of the district’s farm-to-school program launched in 2014, and was made possible through a grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.  Buffalo Public Schools has a great partnership between Cornell University and its Farm-to-School Nutrition Committee which has helped shape how the food truck is used. The district tries to source produce for the food truck from beginner, urban or socially-disadvantaged farmers as much as possible.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the district spent more than $2 million, just over 41% of its lunch expenditures, on produce, dairy, beef, juice, and other NY made or grown foods.

During the height of the pandemic, the truck was used to serve warm meals in the community. Now that schools are back, “The Farm to School to You Food Truck” has many purposes for the district. The truck visits schools for special lunch programs, helps bring more culturally diverse meals to students and provides an educational tool for teachers and students on the benefits of growing and eating wholesome foods that are not readily accessible in areas of the city deemed “food deserts”.

The majority of the food served is made at the district’s central kitchens and then kept warm out on the road. O’Brien Wood says there’s just not enough time during a school’s typical lunch period to make all the meals individually and serve them right from the truck.

The truck features recipes culturally relevant in the community. Working with a local farm, the nutrition team recently used African maize in an East African stew recipe, which is a vegetarian meal.

“I had one student tell me it tasted just like his grandmother made,” said O’Brien Wood.  African maize is a different type of corn. It has a very hard kernel and has a nutty flavor. 

During National School Breakfast Week (NSBW) in March, the school nutrition department brought the food truck to different Buffalo schools each morning as a way to increase breakfast participation.  O’Brien Wood says breakfast burritos featuring locally grown food and hot chocolate were the most popular items during NSBW. 

“I had a teacher at the high school tell me a student only came to school that day for the food truck,” said O’Brien Wood.  The district’s food truck gives students the experience of ordering from a food truck without having to pay for the food. 

The food truck also provides a career path for students in the district’s career focused program. Students learn real life skills and gain work experience.  In the fall, the Buffalo School Of Culinary Arts And Hospitality Management plans to use the food truck in conjunction with its program, which already has two restaurants. Culinary students will be able to create menus for the truck. 

When tragedy struck in Buffalo’s Jefferson Avenue community last month, donations from BPS’ partners enabled the truck to serve food to nearby residents. The BPS Food Service department provided grilled hot dogs, snacks, drinks and fresh fruit to the community.

During the summer, Buffalo Public Schools hopes the food truck will help them reach families who don’t typically engage in the free summer meals program. The food truck will be on the road Monday through Friday and community organizations can reserve it for their summer activities programs. 

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