State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball on Feb. 1, joined leadership of the North Shore School District, members of the North Shore Board of Education, staff from North Shore High School, and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) for a special NY Thursdays lunch and Farm-to-School celebration. North Shore High School served a New York lunch, featuring, for the first time ever, locally caught fish, which is a Long Island staple.
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “This is a great day to be commissioner, celebrating the bounty of New York agriculture with our young people who are getting to experience foods that have been locally grown or caught. I congratulate North Shore for their dedication to sourcing and serving local food wherever they can, supporting our local farmers, producers, and fisherman, and ensuring their students have access to the freshest and most delicious ingredients. The local caught fish on today’s menu is a testament to all that we can accomplish when we work together, and I thank CCE Harvest NY and Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program’s ‘Choose Local F.I.S.H.’ Program for their partnership in working with our schools to expand their menus with local products from our New York farmers and producers.”
The fish taco lunch included corn tortillas made in Yonkers; fresh tomato salsa from Intergrow Greenhouses in Ontario, NY; Mexican street corn from Headwater Food Hub from Ontario, NY; fresh herbs from Koppert Cress in Cutchogue; and apples from Hudson River Fruit in Milton. North Shore High School has been participating in the NY Thursdays local lunch program and has been purchasing New York agricultural products for its school lunches since 2021. Under Food Service Director Alan Levin’s direction, the North Shore Schools prides itself on being one of the few school districts on Long Island that cooks from scratch (an initiative that began in 2010). Each day at all five schools, North Shore cooks chop, sauté, slice and roast their way to nutritious and delicious meals for students to enjoy. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread are delivered daily to complement the menu.
After a brief meet and greet, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Christopher Zublionis welcomed everyone in attendance to the North Shore School District. He said, “We are incredibly proud of the innovative partnership between our schools and the Cornell Cooperative Extension which will allow our students to enjoy healthy, farm-to-table meals that are locally sourced. Not only does this effort illustrate our district’s hope to always ‘think outside the box,’ but it represents Mr. Levin’s continued passion and innovation exemplifying ‘what makes us, us.’ It is a great model that displays to our students how local communities can work together for the greater good of all. We are grateful to Mr. Levin, the cooking staff, and the Cornell Cooperative for their efforts. Go Vikings! Go!”
Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk Marine Local Fish Program has been instrumental in connecting North Shore with the local fishermen, and the CCE Harvest NY team is working with dozens of schools on Long Island to help expand their purchasing of New York products.
Cheryl Bilinski, CCE Harvest NY Farm to School Program Lead Coordinator, said, “Cornell Cooperative Extension Harvest NY is so grateful for our partnership with North Shore Central School District, whose innovative menu offerings not only inspire but capture a signature essence of farm to school – celebrating regional delicacies. Serving locally caught fish serves as a true homage to Long Island’s agricultural bounty, and to our knowledge, the first effort of its kind! We’re also so appreciative of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Team, whose expertise and producer connections made this celebration possible. We look forward to expanding our partnership with them. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we want to express our sincere gratitude to the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, who’s one of the biggest champions of farm to school and a true partner in this important work.”
Kristin Gerbino, Fisheries Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program, said, “Living on an island, we have an abundance of local seafood options available to us that are sustainable, fresh, and delicious. This collaborative effort recognizes the importance of utilizing this resource in order to support our local fishing communities while connecting us directly with the people and places that provide us with healthy food.”
Principal Eric Contreras added how North Shore High School was “buzzing all week with excitement from students, faculty, and staff talking about how fish tacos were being served on Thursday.”
Additionally, Levin shared, “Since starting at the North Shore Schools, it has been my goal to move towards homemade scratch cooking using healthy locally sourced ingredients. As the food service director and a parent, I know how important the role school food service plays in creating healthy habits that will last a lifetime.”
He also thanked the school board, North Shore administration, cooks, food service employees, and guests in attendance for this opportunity.
Then the moment had arrived, as trays of delicious fish tacos were carried out for a special tasting by a dozen students and those adults in attendance. The fish was caught by Captain Dan Farnham from Silver Dollar Seafood in Montauk. During lunch, students kept saying that, “the fish tacos were delicious.”
To coincide with the fish taco lunch, the jazz ensemble were playing in the cafeteria and students were learning about locally grown products and healthy lunch alternatives in their science classrooms.
New York’s Farm-to-School program, which is now in its seventh round, helps Kindergarten through Grade 12 schools increase the volume and variety of locally grown and produced food on school menus. In November, the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets announced that $850,000 was available for eligible districts to expand their farm-to-school programs, and a portion of that money was reserved for new applicants, to encourage more participation.
—Submitted by North Shore Schools with guidance from Jola Szubielski