Editorial: An introduction to collaboration between farmers and schools

For local farmers, school children are an untapped market — representing not only future consumers of their products, but future producers who can someday carry the torch and ensure that farming remains a viable industry in Suffolk County.

Tuesday’s meeting in Jamesport of educators, farmers and members of Cornell Cooperative Extension — which connects the general public with the farming community and educational farming resources — explored the topic of establishing a partnership between schools and farmers.

Several important questions were asked: How can educators teach farming effectively? What is the best way for children to learn? How can farmers get involved?

In Suffolk County, one of the state’s agricultural beacons, few joint projects exist between schools and farms to help sustain what is arguably the region’s most visible profession.

In recent years, Carl Gabrielsen, the host of Tuesday’s forum, has offered to donate two greenhouses to a pair of North Fork school districts. What if others followed suit? And what if school districts returned with students to the farms to purchase produce? This type of exposure could not only teach students the importance of a healthy diet but help them better understand the critical role local farms play in our economy. It might also help inspire a new generation of farmers.

If school districts can create a capital reserve for a new gymnasium or security features, why can’t reserves also be put aside to purchase healthy, local foods?

Having our schools use local produce exclusively would be costly and unreasonable. But Tuesday’s forum shows that plenty of steps can be taken to ensure that farmers in town have the support of local school districts and that students have access to healthier food at school.