Connecting Nebraska Specialty Crop Farmers to Schools - Center for Rural Affairs Offers FREE farm to school training and networking

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Center for Rural Affairs (402) 687-2100

Lyons, NE - A FREE farm to school workshop and farm tour for both Nebraska’s school food service staff and fruit and vegetable farmers will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016 in Scottsbluff, NE.
Farmers will learn techniques for connecting and working with schools including food safety regulations, navigating school order cycles, product demand, and packaging needs.

“An increasing number of farmers are growing food for local markets in Nebraska,” said Wyatt Fraas with the Center for Rural Affairs, who is facilitating the farmer portion of the workshop. “Many of them are looking for additional opportunities to provide fresh, healthy food to their community, such as in school meals.”
Food service staff and managers will learn techniques to work smarter, not harder, when finding and incorporating local fruits and vegetables into school meals.
Dr. Fayrene Hamouz, UNL Professor Emeritus of Nutrition and Health Sciences, will address establishing predictable demand and supply of locally grown food for Nebraska Child Nutrition Programs. Hamouz recognizes that “adding local fruits and vegetables to the school lunch menu invests in the local economy, as well as increases school meal participation and contributes to the health and vitality of Nebraska’s youth.”
Who: School Food Service Professionals AND Nebraska Fruit, Vegetable and Specialty Crop producers
What: Trainings for farmers and food service staff; farm tour; free lunch; networking
When: Saturday, Oct. 22, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,
Where: Bluffs Middle School, 27 East 23 St., Scottsbluff, Neb.
Registration: Free. 

Lunch is provided. Mileage reimbursement is available for fruit and vegetable growers.

Farm Tour Opportunity:  The workshop will include a farm tour at Meadowlark Hearth in Scottsbluff.  This tour will dive into the diverse operations of the farm including animal businesses, year round vegetable production, and seed production. Participants will also learn about season extension and methods for storing fruits and vegetables.
“These trainings will include hands-on opportunities for school staff to learn tips and techniques for using local fruits and vegetables (and sample some great recipes), and strategies for connecting with local growers,” states Sarah Smith, Nebraska Farm to School Lead with the Center for Rural Affairs. “Food producers will learn marketing and food safety strategies, as well as ways to connect to the schools.”
As part of this workshop, farmers will have an opportunity to share information pertaining to their business. “Time and again, schools and farmers report that the most valuable portion of these trainings is the opportunity for schools and food producers to network,” said Smith. “This training will provide both facilitated and free networking space for these connections to develop.”
Smith continued, “ This workshop will give farmers marketing knowledge and access to school food buyers. It’s a good opportunity for food producers to describe their crops and meet the school food service staff who could become customers. Also, farmers can learn what produce or other farm products these Nebraska schools are looking for.”
“This project enhances the profitability of Nebraska’s specialty crop growers by expanding an underutilized market, or in many cases, opening a currently untapped new market,” added Smith. “Schools are reliable large purchasers of specialty crops, and by tapping into this market, specialty crop farmers can benefit greatly.”
According to Smith, students who try fresh local fruits and vegetables at school often go home asking for the same products at their dinner tables. Now is the time for schools to consider how local foods can expand menu planning opportunities in the National School Lunch Program, and at the same time increase student enjoyment.
“Farm to School programs in Nebraska are a win-win-win. They provide our kids with fresh, healthy food and benefit our Nebraska farmers and small towns as well,” added Smith. “These programs are widely recognized as boosting school lunch participation and the local economy, as well as assisting schools in meeting school lunch nutrition requirements.”
According to the National Farm to School Network, farmers see an increase in market potential when selling to schools, on average increasing their sales by 5 percent. Additionally school food service programs see an increase between 3 to 16 percent (average of 9 percent) in meal participation rates when farm to school is implemented.
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Continuing education credits are available.
This Center for Rural Affairs event is held in cooperation with the UNL Extension.