Producers are bringing the farm to school

Farm and Food

By Justin Carter, former staff member

Farm to School continues to grow in Nebraska.

In 2021, the state Legislature approved the Adopt the Farm-to-School Program Act to reserve state funding to make new and existing farm to school projects a priority for the Nebraska Department of Education. These new programs include assisting nutrition directors with local food procurement and enhancing the agriculture education of students.

Now, the third vital group in this trifecta is being provided opportunities to enter the farm to school space.

The first “Bringing the Farm to School Producer Training” was recently held for both Nebraska and Iowa farmers. Partners included Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Department of Education, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, No More Empty Pots, and Black Chick Farm.

This workshop expanded farmer knowledge in child nutrition programs, product development for schools, marketing and distribution to schools, as well as whole farm planning to provide to school buyers.

In recent years, farm to school programming in Nebraska has focused primarily on two audiences. School nutrition directors have been provided training and resources to procure local foods and get them into schools, while students have benefited from the expansion of food production education in school greenhouses and gardens. While farmers have been engaged through networking events with schools and nutrition directors, there has never been a singular training event for producers on the subject.

“This new program gives us the opportunity to engage with a new audience, to provide vital tools and resources to an audience that farm to school could not live without,” said Sarah Smith of Nebraska Department of Education.

Nineteen farmers joined the first of these training sessions. They came from operations specializing in products including beef, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and various types of produce. Farmers also came with a wide variety of experience.

Some, like Gary Fehr of Green School Farms near Lincoln, Nebraska, already have a background selling to schools and shared their experiences as facilitators. Others, like Miles Adams of Flavor Country Farms in western Iowa, were learning about farm to school for the first time and came with motivation to enter the market.

“It is in the schools that we have an immense opportunity of connecting farming values with future generations,” Miles said. “If you want to make your mark, I’d attend farm to school training as soon as you can.”

Producers left with expanded knowledge to market and sell to schools, and with the inspiration to educate students and serve the nutritious food they work so hard to make. This training highlights the added value of boosting our students’ wellness while benefiting our local farmers and economies.

Additional “Bringing the Farm to School” events will be scheduled in 2022 and 2023, click here for more information.

Photo submitted