Farm to School Lessons Learned: Better Food, Same Cost

Hemingford, Nebraska, public schools recently transitioned from a “warm and serve” to a “made from scratch” school lunch.
 
The change has been a hit with students and will likely have a positive impact on the school’s budget. School nurse Judy Stewart, a driving force behind the change, believes when final financial statements for kitchen operations come in, labor and food costs will be the same as before the transition, if not less.
 
The numbers of students eating the school’s lunch offerings are way up, which also helps with the financial outlook. Kitchen staff have learned there are cost savings in procuring food for a made-from-scratch kitchen. Food purchased through USDA - meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, etc. - include processing charges if they are prepared for a “warm and serve” kitchen. But they are considerably less expensive when purchased in less processed forms and prepared at the school. Moreover, USDA has hundreds of made from scratch recipes for school kitchens, most of which require little adaptation and are thoroughly enjoyed by the students.
 
At the Center for Rural Affairs, we take great pride in our Farm to School work, which is nation-leading in its focus on rural and small-town schools. Hemingford, perhaps as much as any community, proves that a small-town school with desire, imagination, and an innovative spirit can offer a first-class school lunch with fresh, local, and made-from-scratch offerings that students truly enjoy. Congratulations to the students, staff, and administration of Hemingford Public Schools, and happy eating.