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The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts

November 15, 2017 - Worcester Telegram & Gazette - School reaps wholesome benefits from Food Hub harvests
Farm-to-table program thrives at Bay Path

Click here for more information on the Worcester Regional Food Hub project

by Debbie LaPlaca
Correspondent


Karenlee Hickey, left, and Ashley Guerin share a laugh while chopping fresh scallion
in preparing a taco bar lunch.  (Photo/Debbie LaPlaca)

Farm-to-table has grown into a “sweet” deal for students and staff at Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School.

The Worcester Regional Food Hub is a collaborative between the Regional Environmental Council of Central Massachusetts and the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts sowed its seed funding in 2015, and today, the Food Hub represents and delivers the harvests of more than 20 farms located in Massachusetts.

Bay Path joined the program this year.

“The government has been very big on farm-to-table lately, but we’re only one school, and we’re only ordering one case of the apples, so this program is great because I get a variety of things from different farms,” said Katie Tilton, Bay Path food service director.

Apples, it turns out, is the most popular farm item for schools enrolled in the program.

Bay Path 11th-grader Sarah Partlow, from Southbridge, said she hadn’t heard of the new locally farmed offerings at school but thought the program and the apple she was enjoying at lunch were “sweet.”

Superintendent-Director John A. Lafleche said students and staff have welcomed the “fresh, wholesome food.”

“Our association with the food hub is a win-win,” Mr. Lafleche said. “Bay Path is able to provide students with locally grown fresh food in a convenient and cost-effective manner, while local farmers benefit from a consistent market for their products.”

Ms. Tilton oversees the preparation of roughly 600 student and staff meals each day.

“Price-wise, it’s pretty much the same but the quality is much better,” Ms. Tilton said. “Everything that came in today was picked yesterday. I know it’s not going to go bad by tomorrow.”

One of the first Food Hub deliveries included what Ms. Tilton called “beautiful” cherry tomatoes.

“We got the medley — the orange ones, the red ones. So now it’s about training the kids,” she said. “It was actually kind of funny seeing for the first time their reaction to the different color tomatoes.”

Mr. Lafleche said he has been “extremely pleased” with the high quality and freshness of the locally grown food, particularly the salad bar selections he enjoys at lunch.

Business Manager Dean Iacobucci agreed, and rated the snap peas with an enthusiastic “delicious.”

The school will fall back on two other produce vendors who source beyond the Northeast to carry them through the dormant New England winter.

Brian Monteverd, Food Hub project coordinator, said the nonprofit operates in partnership with, and rents space from the Worcester County Food Bank.

The Worcester Regional Food Hub offers two programs.

The “Hub for Aggregation, Marketing, and Distribution” helps local farms grow sales, while bumping up the amount of affordable, healthy food available to underserved communities. The “Commercial Kitchen Incubator” operates a certified commercial kitchen to help farmers, caterers, and other food entrepreneurs to develop food businesses.

A handful of employees operate the program that runs trucks from farms to the Worcester Public Schools, the Webster Public Schools, Bay Path and the College of the Holy Cross.

Mr. Monteverd said the Hub is presently developing services for two other school systems, as well as long-term care and senior housing facilities.

“The primary benefit is access to fresher, healthier food that they can be serving to their communities,” Mr. Monteverd said.

Hub umbrella organization and its largest client, the Regional Environmental Council, operates mobile farmers markets in communities that have little access to healthy fruits and vegetables, he said.