It all started in Judy Stewart’s junior high health class. Judy, the school nurse at Hemingford public schools, was teaching the nutrition section. She heard lots of comments from the students about their wish for better, fresher food in the school cafeteria. Judy is not the first educator to hear students complain about their school cafeteria, but she recognized a valuable teaching moment and seized it.
“I challenged the students to come up with ideas about what they could do to affect change in Hemingford’s school lunch program,” Judy explained. “We came up with the idea of them putting together a survey, and they worked their little hearts out on it. When it was finished, we got permission to distribute the survey to the entire school.”
The results reinforced the classes thoughts – students throughout the school wanted better, fresher food, fruits, vegetables, etc. The kids and nurse Judy didn’t stop there. They shared the survey results with Superintendent Casper Ningen and sold him on the idea of improving the school lunch program.
Superintendent Ningen carried the message to the Hemingford School Board. Clearly he was an enthusiastic promoter of the idea. The board not only went for the idea, they invested $60,000 to get the transition from “warm and serve” lunches to a “made from scratch kitchen” without much hesitation.
“That initial investment was crucial,” cautioned Judy, who was charged with supervising the school kitchen’s transition. “Other schools that attempt to undertake a similar effort should recognize that. We were blessed with several walk-in freezers and coolers and other kitchen equipment, but after a couple of decades of ‘warm and serve’ some of the equipment had to be replaced. Even the lack of a knife sharpener can be an obstacle when making lunches from scratch, and something you don’t always think about on day one.”
The most significant new purchase in the kitchen transition was a new commercial stove, replacing the existing one, which was a 1942 model that came to the school via the Alliance Army Air Base. No one I spoke with is exactly sure when that stove arrived at Hemingford.
Hemingford is now serving entirely made from scratch meals every day. They have added a fresh vegetable and fruit bar, also replenished daily. The staff of four food service workers, the same number as during the “warm and serve” era, work hard to provide the best lunches possible. And they do it with great efficiency and imagination.
This is only half the story of Hemingford’s success. Next time we’ll cover the gains of transitioning to a made from scratch kitchen, sourcing successes, and how the community has embraced the Farm to School program. Stay tuned!
Feature image: Hemingsford students get up close and personal with fresh ears of corn on the cob. They can't wait until it appears on the school menu again. Learn more about Hemingford Public Schools.
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