There’s something fishy going on at North Shore High School, and the state’s commissioner of agriculture and markets, Richard Ball, likes it.
Students, staff, Board of Education members and several distinguished guests at North Shore High School were treated to the first taste of locally sourced fish tacos now being prepared in the school’s cafeteria.
The Feb. 2 event marked the first time a New York school district had served fish caught locally to its students.
While it may seem like a no-brainer for a Long Island school district to serve fish caught in the Long Island Sound, most order fish and other ingredients from different parts of the country.
Ball commended the district for its efforts, saying that no other school district made such an effort to support farmers, fishermen and women and other foods producers in New York.
“Take good notes, pay close attention to what you have here, because you’ve got something very special here,” Ball said. “As excited as I was when I was able to buy my own farm, I think I’m more excited today than I’ve ever been about your opportunities, your future for a healthier career and an economic career for yourselves.”
Alan Levin, director of North Shore Food Service, said the district has been transitioning toward buying from local producers. Levin said it reduces shipping costs and helps strengthen New York businesses while reducing the district’s carbon footprint through decreasing the distance food has to be transported. The district currently purchases chicken, steaks, milk, apples and more from within the state.
“Since 2021, I have been committed to bringing locally-sourced, scratch cooking menu items to the district,” Levin said. “(This fish) is just another great New York product that we’ve brought into this district to show the kids and staff how wonderful our state is, and all of our resources are.”
Levin got the idea for adding fish to the district’s list of locally sourced produce from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which connects New York communities with research from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology. The cooperative operates in every county in the state, as well as all five boroughs in New York City, helping with both local and statewide farming, fishing and conservation efforts.
Cheryl Bilinski, a local food systems specialist for the cooperative, encourages the symbiotic relationships between school districts and state food producers. Bilinski also commended the North Shore School District for helping to take the lead in providing its students with healthy and locally sourced foods, but educating them on its importance.
“Our academic institutions are large, stable markets. They’re not going anywhere,” Bilinski said. “They spend a lot of money on food, they’re rooted in the community. So, when they can support their local farmer, that’s part of the community, it just helps to close the circle.”
According to Kristin Gerbino, a fisheries specialist for the Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program, the cooperative is working with the district through their Choose Local FISH Initiative, where FISH stands for Fresh, Indigenous, Sustainable and Healthy.
“Through this project we hope to raise awareness and increase demand for our locally-harvested fish and shellfish on Long Island,” Gerbino said. “There are so many reasons to make sure we are incorporating this local fish on the school menus, in restaurants and everywhere else.”