Colchester — Norwich and Colchester school officials and owners of the Savitsky Farm in Colchester gathered at the now dormant fields Monday to describe the new Farms to Schools program to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.
Murphy said he wanted to visit the farm to get an idea how the rapidly successful program works so he can promote it with a bill he has co-sponsored in Congress that would triple the federal dollars available to fund such programs from the current approximately $5 million.
“The bill's baseline is to triple the federal dollars, so that we can do more grants and reproduce what you're doing here,” Murphy said.
The new regional program in eastern Connecticut receives no grant support, Norwich Director of Food Services Erin Perpetua said. Last week she applied for a $49,600 state grant to expand the processing kitchen at Thomas W. Mahan School.
The Savitsky Farm sells fresh produce — this year lettuce, kale, summer squash, green beans, sweet potatoes and winter squash — to school districts in Norwich, Groton, New London, Stonington and Old Saybrook.
All the food is sent to the Mahan School processing center, and the Norwich Food Services Department second-shift staff cleans, processes, wraps and freezes it. The food is stored at a freezer at the Bishop School Early Learning Center for pickup by the participating school districts.
Perpetua said some details — including reimbursement by the participating school districts to pay for the processing services — have yet to be ironed out.
While the regional program started this school year, the Savitsky Farm has worked with the Colchester school district since the start of the 2014-15 school year.
The program started with a student petition from the community activism class, Colchester Superintendent Jeffry Mathieu said. Senior Lauren Hickey, also a student member of the Colchester Board of Education, has led the effort.
Hickey told Murphy that the students first petitioned the school district to eliminate foods with genetically modified organisms, so-called GMOs. But that proved too difficult, since many foods are not labeled as GMOs, Hickey said.
So the group turned toward the concept of purchasing fresh, local produce.
Perpetua told Murphy federal grant money would be much appreciated, because while buying local food is desirable for both health reasons and to support family farms, it is more expensive.
For example, she said she can buy a case of pre-packaged frozen corn with 150 to 200 servings for $20. A bag of local corn on the cob also costs $20, but has about 60 ears of corn that need to be shucked, cleaned and cooked. Students receive the entire ear of corn, she said, which gives the federally required half cup of kernels.
Perpetua said about 11,000 ears of fresh local corn was processed at the Mahan School center this fall.
“We pay for the staff in Erin's budget to process the food, because we feel it's important,” Norwich Supintendent of Schools Abby Dolliver said.