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Nebraska Farmers Fueling Students with Locally Produced Food

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Thursday, September 23, 2021   

GERING, Neb. -- With school back in session, many Nebraska students will be fueled by fresh beef, fruits and vegetables sourced 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 food shipped in from out of state, her team now uses locally-produced, nutrient-rich foods and prepares meals from scratch.

Carman recently added local organic honey for cafeteria recipes.

"The whole point is to get the freshest food to the kids, and also use it as an educational tool for teachers to teach kids about where food comes from, how it's grown," Carman explained.

Nebraska students also are selling garden harvests at farmers markets, and some local farmers help students grow seedlings in their greenhouses. More school cafeterias soon could be transformed into both the largest classrooms and restaurants in Nebraska.

During 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 statewide Farm-to-School Institute, designed to help schools procure local food and teach kids how it's grown.

Justin Carter, project associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said farm-to-school is a good investment for local economies. When schools buy directly from local farmers, the money goes right back into communities.

"For each dollar invested in farm-to-school, it stimulates an additional 60 cents to $2.16 in local economic activity," Carter reported.

For school food directors interested in launching their own program, Carman encouraged patience and getting out into the community. She suggested farmers markets are a good place to start, and noted most producers are very interested in exploring additional revenue streams.

"It's a win for the farmers," Carman asserted. "A school district in any rural town, or anywhere, is usually your biggest restaurant. We're feeding thousands of kids a day."

Disclosure: Center for Rural Affairs contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Environment, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, and Rural/Farming. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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