The Ithaca City School District (ICSD) is located in Ithaca, New York, 225 miles northwest of New York City. Nestled at the southern end of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes Region, Ithaca’s beautiful bucolic setting and proximity to an abundance of farmland has been credited with inspiring a food culture that prioritizes local, fresh and often vegetarian cuisine.
ICSD serves 5,400 students in grades K-12 with eight elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, and one alternative middle school/high school. ICSD’s Child Nutrition Program serves 3,400 meals every day (3,000 lunch and 400 breakfast), with 37 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. The district draws students from both urban and rural areas and has a student population that is 69 percent white, 12 percent Asian, 11 percent Black or African American, five percent Hispanic or Latino, 0.7 percent American Indian, and 2.3 percent Other.
ICSD’s central kitchen facility has two combi ovens that offer three methods of cooking: steam, convection heat, and a combination of the two. They also have two 80-gallon kettles, ovens, and ample freezer and refrigeration space. Notably, each school is able to do a significant amount of on-site preparation and the high school and alternative school do all of their own food preparation.
The district’s Farm to School efforts began in 2010 with a focus on procuring New York–grown organic beans that were used in plant-based entrees as meat alternates. The program has since expanded to include local tofu as well as produce that can be prepared during the harvest season and frozen for use during the school year (for example, tomatoes made into tomato sauce and basil made into pesto).