Farmers and Schools Unite for Better Health

Just east of York, Nebraska, at Prairie Pride Poultry pastures, over 500 chickens are clucking through greening grass, clambering for spring bugs. With over 450 eggs collected a day, chicken farmer Dan Hromas is pleased and expanding his markets. In the fall of 2013, Dan sought out Marcia Erdkamp, food service director at York Public Schools. As both tell the story, a mutually beneficial relationship began.

Marcia recognizes that pasture-raised birds produce healthier eggs. That’s important to her when providing food to York students. With many students receiving the bulk of their calories at school, and with 1 in 3 U.S. kids being overweight or obese, providing healthier food options is a timely subject.

Pasture-raised eggs contain more Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as less fat and cholesterol than their conventional cohorts. And it’s not just Marcia who recognizes the quality of these eggs. When Dan comes with an egg delivery to the school, workers flock to him to purchase a dozen. They love the deep yellow of the yolk and the delicious, fresh flavor.

Beyond the many health and taste benefits that come with eating local foods, there is an economic benefit as well. For conventionally produced food sold into national markets, farmers retain only 10 cents from every food dollar spent. When farmers sell locally, that number changes to 80 cents returning to local pockets.

As Dan states, “If I support the local economy and local community, they will support me. This is a symbiotic relationship.” And if that’s not enough economic benefit, a pilot study in Oregon found that “for every job created with extra spending at schools for local food, another 1.43 jobs would be created elsewhere in the economy.”

Farm to School is growing exponentially across the country, boasting over 38,000 schools buying local products and teaching children where their food comes from. School gardens are growing. State policymakers are introducing legislation that supports farm to school. And nationally, funding has been made available for these efforts.

Farm to school efforts bring healthier foods into schools, support local farmers and economies, and provide students with agriculture, health, and nutrition education opportunities. Learn more about statewide efforts and unique opportunities for your community here. Learn more about the National Farm to School Network here.

Feature image: Dan Hromas, owner of Prairie Pride Poultry, and Marcia Erdkamp, York Public Schools Food Service Director, got together to provide farm fresh eggs to York school students. | Photo by Wyatt Fraas