Schools and farms build a local fruit and vegetable market

Small Towns

By Sarah Smith, former staff member

What happens when 20 to 80 food service staff comes together for training and networking with farmers? Good food, good conversation and lots of good connections – to ideas and to one another.

Over the past couple of months, the Center for Rural Affairs and UNL Extension have traveled together to East Butler, Wayne, and North Platte Public Schools. Food service staff learned how to use indoor tower gardens in the cafeteria to show kids they can grow food – thanks Callaway Public Schools for sharing.

The staff also picked up ideas for using local produce in school food recipes and tested marketing techniques that interest kids. These kitchen wizards asked great questions to area farmers who joined for a separate training.

Farmers have learned about expanding their market. They received tips for reaching out to food service staff at schools. They shared what it is that their farm can offer, and what it is they need from schools to make the connection viable.

Dr. Fayrene Hamouz, UNL Extension educator involved in the food service portion of the training, is jazzed by the energy apparent at these gatherings. There’s a desire to source food locally at the school level, and an opportunity for fruit and veggie growers to engage this desire.

We continue to strategize how we can boost production and distribution of these edible foods Nebraska’s kids love to eat. How can we ensure that it is reaching the school tray?

If there’s a missing link, it’s bringing farmers, school food service staff, and leaders to the same table – whether that table is at the school or the farm. This project is addressing that divide, and it’s obvious more work needs to be done.

Three more trainings are coming up this summer and fall. Attendees will not go away hungry as we help to build the fruit and vegetable market between farmers and schools. Hope to see you there.

Stay tuned for dates and locations for the next three workshops.

Feature image: A large group of food service directors sign in for the training held at Wayne Public Schools. Above, a food demonstration at East Butler Public Schools captures audience attention. Photos by Wyatt Fraas