Farm to School Continues to Build in Nebraska

“Healthy students learn better because they eat better,” stated Dr. John Skretta in Beatrice during the Center for Rural Affairs’ most recent Farm to School Regional Conference. Skretta, school administrator of Norris School District in Firth, NE, started off the conference on the Southeast Community College campus with a powerful keynote.

Dr. Skretta talked about the need for farm to school programs. He noted they take “all hands on deck,” from administrators to great food service staff, teachers, and parents. And it is well worth the integrated approach.

Farmers, school administrators, food service directors, local food distributors, and members of UNL-Extension attended the event. Breakout sessions and presenters matched the diversity of attendees.

The first panel addressed key elements of starting a farm to school program from the perspective of farmers and food service directors. Another breakout focused on innovative approaches to farm to school, especially how to build a farm to school team.

Teams from Litchfield Public School and Norris School District shared their stories. Litchfield highlighted their greenhouse activities. In fact, their new greenhouse’s grand opening took place on the eve of the conference. Litchfield is now able to use foods from the greenhouse in their cafeteria, after students harvest them with help from the greenhouse manager.

Peggy Johnson - Live Fresh Foods Demo
Peggy Johnson gives a live fresh foods demo!

The Norris team talked about their commitment to healthy students. Their farm to school program got started with a 5th grade teacher’s school garden. The program has expanded and now has a relationship with nearby Prairieland Dairy, also in Firth, NE.

The live cooking demonstration was a favorite at this gathering. Peggy Johnson, Beatrice Public Schools food service director and an adjunct instructor in SCC’s Food Service program, shared tips on how to best process fresh fruits and vegetables for cafeteria serving.

Peggy presented new ideas for recipes that save time, like roasted vegetables and fruit smoothies. “This presenter knocked my socks off!” shared one food service director.

Farm to school is more than fresh, healthy, local food for our young Nebraskans. It also serves as a source for leadership development. Litchfield schools shared the story of one young student who wasn’t excited to get her boots muddy on the walk to the greenhouse, let alone her hands. But the pride and ownership she developed through her work in the greenhouse led her to champion the outcomes of the greenhouse without hesitation.

Farm to school also provides a significant environmental and community development impact as local dollars are kept local. The strain of long-distance transportation decreases as more local products are purchased. This helps with water conservation, waste management, and keeping our rural communities vibrant. There is an “element of stewardship to the environment and a connection to local” that cannot be underrated, Dr. Skretta noted.