Top 5 “Ah Ha!” Moments from the Midwest Farm to School Conference

On March 2, 2016, more than 150 people from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri gathered in Nebraska City, Nebraska, to celebrate and learn how to bring Farm to School to the Midwest. Read on for five top moments shared with us by educators, ranchers, parents, school food service staff, and more.

1. Even the small stuff counts!

Chad Taylor, Executive Chef at Des Moines Public Schools (Iowa) says: Start small! For instance, get enough cucumbers together for a taste test. You don't have to start by providing enough farm to school items to everyone in the district.

Denise Bone, Aurora Public Schools (Nebraska) appreciated this stance: “Sometimes I get caught up in how big my district is and I feel that I am not doing a good job with what I have. But in all reality, even the small stuff counts.”

2. It’s worth it!

Keynote speaker Chef Robert Rusan, District Chef at Maplewood Richmond Heights School District (Missouri) brought inspiration to Nebraska mom and farmer Kirstin Bailey, “It made me want the same for my child and the kids at his school. Getting more local foods in schools is a two-way street.

“Just like connecting with restaurants, it may take some time and a little more follow up. As a parent and a producer, it will be worth it. I can’t wait to get more involved by selling my surplus produce, offering farm tours, and perhaps participating in the classroom during farm to school month.”

3. Just do it!

Rob Marsh (Hebron, NE), cattle producer and lead for the Titan Beef Boosters, spoke about the beef donation program at Thayer County Community Schools. Elisha Smith, rancher from Pender, NE took full advantage of lunch with Rob and Susan Dishman, Food Service Director at the school.

They described the donation program logistics, the community support, and how much the children LOVE the BEEF! With lunch participation up on Titan Beef days by 5% and lunch satisfaction on those days noticeably higher, this is a WIN-WIN.

But Elisha needed to know, where do I start? She says, “I was told, just do it. Start talking with other beef producers, school staff such as the superintendent and the food service director, and other parents.” You can visit the Titan Beef Boosters website for supporting documents!

4. Hey there, Partner!

Presenter Bob Gorman, USDA Farm to School Regional Lead, led a session on Innovative Farm to School Programs. What most surprised Bob at the conference was a lack of awareness on how partners can help.

Bob says, “The Department of Education, Department of Ag, nonprofits and Extension can help with your farm to school efforts. It was shocking for me to learn that the crowd had no idea about ways these branches can play a vital part in farm to school.” So, make a call today and see what resources are available to you! 

5. Collaborate!

Growing Food, Growing Health, a project of the Merc Coop (a cooperative grocer in Lawrence, KS) has partnered with schools to hire 20 students to work 14,000 square feet of school gardens. In just five seasons, more than 14,000 pounds of produce has been harvested!

Garden educator Cait Caughey of Big Garden (Omaha, NE) was looking for new ideas as an attendee to the conference, and came away with just that. She now hopes to take her experienced school and community youth gardeners to the next level: “I want to partner with local businesses to offer our gardeners jobs and teach entrepreneurship skills.” Hopefully Omaha will see a pilot project similar to Growing Food, Growing Health in 2017.

This is but a small sampling from the day. We’re grateful to our 4-state partners, USDA Farm to School grant funding that made the event possible, the more than 20 presenters who contributed, and all of you who attended!

Contact me, Sarah Smith, sarahs@cfra.org, if you have questions or would like more information.