Extension creates new food position

Maria ‘Flip’ Filippi displays food processing equipment available in the Harvest House kitchen at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

CANTON — The goal of getting more locally-grown fruits and vegetables into school cafeterias has prompted Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County to create a new food processor job.

“This is totally new,” said Maria “Flip” Filippi, local foods program leader. “I think it’s exciting because there’s a lot of interest from local schools to buy local produce and it will make it easier for them. It lowers the burden for the farmer and it lowers the burden for the school.”

A new walk-in cooler and walk-in storage area are being constructed at the extension’s commercial kitchen to prepare for the additional processing work that’s expected to take place there once a person is hired.

The position is a collaboration between extension and St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Extension Services which has identified 19 schools in St. Lawrence County and two in Lewis County that are interested in partnering for the project, she said.

BOCES will provide transportation to take the processed food from the extension kitchen, known as the Harvest Kitchen, to the schools. The kitchen is at the extension site that also houses administrative offices, 2043B, Route 68.

The processor job will be funded through a two-year grant received from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

“This will not fund the purchasing or subsidizing of produce,” Ms. Filippi said. “It’s meant to fund the infrastructure, equipment or labor related to processing.”

Separate grant funding available through the state’s Farm-to-School program provides school districts money to purchase local food.

Ms. Filippi said creation of the new job was prompted by the realization that although many schools have funds available to buy locally-grown food, they are often not using all of the funds they’ve received. She said schools often want produce, such as potatoes, already peeled and sliced when it arrives at their cafeterias.

Some said they don’t have the staff or equipment to process large volumes of fresh vegetables and fruit used in cafeterias like lettuce, carrots, broccoli and apples.

A food processor would help fill the gap between farmer and school cafeteria, Ms. Filippi said.

“The processor would buy raw stuff from the farmer and then it would get sliced, chopped, bagged, weighed labeled, etc., in our kitchen. We’re not looking for someone to make meals in the kitchen, we’re looking for someone to do minimal processing,” Ms. Filippi said.

She described the person hired as a third-party entrepreneur. The grant would provide $15,964 a year to cover salary expenses, $31,828 over the two-year period.

The person hired could decide their work hours and also whether the money is split among different people if others assist.

The grant also covers the cost of renting the kitchen and the expense of building the walk-in cooler and storage area next to the kitchen.

The deadline for applying for the processor job is May 14.

Requests for proposals can be accessed at http://stlawrence.cce.cornell.edu/harvest-kitchen.

Ms. Filippi can also be reached at 315-379-9192, ext. 229. or by emailing harvestkitchen@cornell.org.

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