Are you taking a family road trip in August? If you're traveling in Nebraska, your kids should be able to recognize field corn and soybeans by mile marker 20. But take a turn north into Litchfield. Then stop and meander into the 72’ x 36’ greenhouse and 28’ x 70’ retail produce store just off the highway. You’ll see a dozen or more varieties of vegetables growing year round.

In January of 2015, the Litchfield greenhouse, funded by Trotter, Inc, came to life. They started growing vegetables like kohlrabi, bok choy, green beans, cucumbers, romaine and bibb lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, and even watermelon. By February 2015, these made their way into the Litchfield Public Schools cafeteria via the salad bar, the hot lunch option, and the fresh fruit and vegetable afternoon snack.

Located in rural central Nebraska, Litchfield Public Schools educates about 100 students total. Food Service Manager Janice Reynolds takes the incoming produce from the greenhouse and serves it out to the kids.

If you have a chance to stop for a visit in the afternoon, you might see the students come in and fumble through the fridge looking for a tray of raw veggie snacks with their class name on it. Then you could experience the satisfaction they have in seeing each individual cup divvied out with orange, green, and red veggies they harvested yesterday afternoon, ready for the eating. This is the fuel that will keep them moving the rest of the day.

The past two years at the graduation ceremony for Litchfield’s seniors, the class valedictorian applauded Janice and the food she serves in that cafeteria. In a culture where #ThanksMichelleObama (sarcastic twist on disgusting school lunches) is the norm, it’s refreshing to witness students who know where their food comes from and appreciate it.

Litchfield is a well-rounded farm to school example. The kids are out in the greenhouse planting, learning, harvesting, and even taste testing. The school staff works as a team to plan farm to school efforts.

Teachers incorporate teaching in the greenhouse into their curriculum. Trotter Fertilizer, a community business, funded the greenhouse project. Greenhouse manager, Gary Lawrence, even encourages other schools, FFA programs, homeschooling organizations, and the public to be in touch. If you are interested in learning more via a greenhouse tour, call Gary at 308.446.2250.

When past Litchfield principal Jeff Smith (now superintendent at Oakland-Craig Public Schools) was asked if he would go through these efforts again, his response was, “Absolutely! The student engagement and community support was outstanding!

“Our teachers were able to incorporate standards-based lessons in reading, writing, math, thinking, speaking, and listening skills. Not to mention eating healthier as well. To me the best part of the program was watching engaged and motivated students and teachers get excited about learning to grow, harvest, and eat vegetables, and gain a sense of ownership in the program.”

In honor of back-to-school season, we challenge Nebraska students to photograph any colorful, delicious, pleasing lunch trays they experience in their cafeterias. Share these pics via the Nebraska Farm to School Facebook page or caption your photo with #ThanksLunchLady on Instagram @RuralNerd or Twitter. Remember to give credit to your schools and food service staff!

Feature image: Students pick fresh green beans in the Litchfield Public School greenhouse. Photo by Gary Lawrence, Litchfield Greenhouse Manager