Nebraska Farmers Feeding Students With Locally Produced Food | New
(Gering) – With the start of the school year, many students in Nebraska will be fed fresh beef, fruits and vegetables from local farms.
Mary Carman, director of food services for the Gering Public School District, has spent the past three years developing a farm-to-school program. Instead of using processed foods shipped out of state, his team now uses locally produced nutrient-dense foods and cooks meals from scratch.
Carman recently added local organic honey to cafeteria recipes.
“The goal is to provide children with the freshest food and use it as an educational tool for teachers to teach children where food comes from, how it is grown,” Carman explained.
Students in Nebraska also sell crops from the garden at farmers’ markets, and some local farmers help students grow seedlings in their greenhouses. More school cafeterias may soon be transformed into Nebraska’s largest classrooms and restaurants.
In the last legislative session, senators created a state farm-to-school program, and this month the initiative added its first full-time employee.
In June, the University of Nebraska Extension and other partners hosted the first Farm to school institute, designed to help schools source local foods and teach children how it’s grown.
Justin Carter, project associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said the farm-to-school is a good investment for local economies. When schools buy directly from local farmers, the money goes straight back to communities.
“For every dollar invested in the school farm, that boosts an additional 60 cents to $ 2.16 in local economic activity,” Carter said.
For school feeding directors interested in starting their own program, Carman encouraged patience and integration into the community. She suggested that farmers’ markets are a good place to start and noted that most producers are very interested in exploring additional sources of income.
“It’s a victory for the farmers,” Carman said. “A school district in any rural town, or anywhere, is usually your biggest restaurant. We feed thousands of children a day.”