Farm to school culture has arrived in Nebraska

Farm and Food

Not often do we consider the possibilities that emerge from a school cafeteria.

Most of the time, they’re places where students enjoy a break, eat a meal, and socialize with friends. The cafeteria is, absolutely, all of these things, but it’s also much more as many groups around our state are realizing. Our school cafeterias can be transformed into both the largest classrooms and restaurants in Nebraska.

Farm to school has had a monumental year in our state. During the 2021 legislative session, senators passed a bill with unanimous approval to create a state farm to school program. Beginning in September, the State Department of Education will have its first full-time employee dedicated to the program.

In June, University of Nebraska Extension, the Department of Education, and other partners hosted the first statewide Farm to School Institute. This program will mentor and provide funding for schools on topics such as local food procurement and food production education.

Beginning in 2022, the Department of Education will begin offering farm to school producer training in different regions of the state. This gives our farmers an opportunity to get involved by gaining the knowledge to market and sell directly to their local school districts.

From the farmer to the teacher to the school food service director, farm to school programs are a network of stakeholders with each offering unique expertise to benefit the health and education of our students.

Across the state, we are seeing more partnerships form as students sell garden harvest in local farmers markets and local farmers allow students to grow seedlings in their greenhouses. Food service directors and farmers are realizing that few barriers exist to prevent the purchase of local food.

The biggest factor is often the relationship building between school and farmer. It doesn’t only have to be vegetables either, local beef has become more accessible and popular.

As we move into a new school year, there are many ways to get involved. October is Farm to School Month and Nebraska will be vying for a third consecutive victory in the Mountain Plains Crunch Off.

For resources on bringing farm to school to your community, follow the Center for Rural Affairs and Nebraska Department of Education.