First-grade class with pumpkin harvest

Farm to School Initiative in Nebraska

One of the last 7 states in the US to wholeheartedly join the farm to school initiative, Nebraska has some catching up to do. And we're doing it, with your help! Farm to school means that students eat fresh local foods and learn about where their food comes from, all while supporting family farmers and the local economy. By connecting farms with schools, everyone benefits.

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN), founded in 2007, sprouted from the desire to support community-based food systems, strengthen family farms, and improve student health. NFSN was launched by a collaboration of more than 30 organizations seeking to shape the burgeoning farm to school movement, which has grown from a handful of schools in the late 1990s to approximately 38,000 schools in all 50 states today.

There are many different ways that schools can participate in a farm to school program: from a weekly or monthly taste tasting in the classroom to serving a portion of local foods in the school cafeteria one day a week or once a month, to serving an entire meal comprised from local sources.

Each school district decides how the farm to school program will best fit their schools. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ initiative. Some schools might choose to incorporate beginning agriculture lessons in their classes or by taking a class field trip to a farm that produces vegetables. Yet, there are no set criteria for where your producer farm or farms should be located. For your school, a producer might reside in the same county, in the eastern third of the state, or you could choose any producer in the state of Nebraska. This is one of the reasons farm to school is so easy. You can tailor it to meet your needs and resources. Ultimately, you define what farm to school is because it is a grassroots effort.

There are a myriad of farm to school benefits. Students:

  • eat a healthier diet by eating tastier fresh fruits and vegetables
  • learn about where their food comes from
  • develop a relationship with farmers who grow their food>
  • share their farm to school experience with their family
  • maintain healthy eating habits long into their adulthood

 

Farm to school programs have been shown to increase fruits and vegetable consumption by at least one serving per day, and students carry these healthy habits home. Many schools see an increase in school meal participation when farm fresh food is served through the farm to school program. What’s more…students get to know their local farmer. Students better understand the cycle of food production, including how it is grown, who grows it, and how fresh food impacts their health. Experiences like school gardens, farm tours, cooking classes, taste testing, and composting lessons all play a role in motivating students into healthier eating habits that last a lifetime.

Starting in the spring of 2014, the Center for Rural Affairs has been providing training and one-on-one facilitation for pilot schools in the eastern third of Nebraska. The Center for Rural Affairs staff has also held food service director and producer trainings in the 9 central Nebraska counties in the Loup Basin RC&D area.

As they say, “Plant the seed and watch it flourish!” That goes for the farm to school initiative too. Nebraska – it is time to show other states that we can provide a well-rounded education for our children that includes a healthy dose of yummy tasting, local fruits and vegetables.

For more information about the Farm to School program sponsored by the Center of Rural Affairs, contact Sarah Smith, sarahs@cfra.org, 307.321.9766.