The Nebraska Department of Education and Burwell Public Schools have both received grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which will allow them to partner with Nebraska Extension to bring fresh, local foods into schools.
The Nebraska Department of Education and Burwell Public schools received $99,070 and $38,725, respectively through the grant program, which aims to increase the amount of local foods served in child nutrition programs, teach children about food and agriculture and foster economic opportunity for farmers and ranchers in surrounding communities. Each grant will be distributed over two years.
Nebraska Extension educators will work directly with the state department of education in order to identify interested school districts, build relationships between school administrators and producers and develop resources for both extension educators and local schools interested in serving more locally grown foods.
“Nebraska Extension has a really unique role to play in farm-to-school efforts because of our statewide network of educators who have great connections and relationships in the communities that they work in, said extension educator Ben McShane-Jewell, who is part of the Nebraska Regional Food Systems Initiative.
McShane-Jewell and other extension educators have been working with the Nebraska Department of Education for the past year and half on farm-to-school programs and building resources to support them. The first year of grant funds will be spent primarily on planning and building capacity within extension to carry out farm-to-school programs, said extension educator Natalie Sehi.
During the second year of the grant, Nebraska Extension will select eight communities to attend the Nebraska Farm-to-School Institute, which will be held next summer.
The institute will bring together community stakeholders with Nebraska Extension educators to develop a project plan for each participating school. Each community can then apply for a small, mini grant out of the Nebraska Department of Education’s $99,070 to effectively implement their project.
McShane-Jewell and Sehi are hopeful that over the next two years, they will be able to develop a replicable farm-to-school model that additional Nebraska schools and communities can implement years into the future.
“I want to keep that momentum going and develop a long-lasting program within agriculture, food, nutrition and health that’s always there as an option for educators to use anytime,” McShane-Jewell said.
Sehi hopes farm-to-school programs inspire families of participating students to incorporate fresh, local foods into meals prepared at home, too.
“Hopefully the kids are taking what they learn home and impacting their families,” she said.
According to the farm to school census, 29% of Nebraska school districts say they participate in farm-to-school activities. That translates to 71 districts, encompassing 458 schools and 188,637 students. Another 13% of Nebraska school districts say they plan to start farm-to-school programs in the future.
“School districts across Nebraska spend tens of millions of dollars annually on food, and most of that goes outside of the state,” McShane-Jewell said. “If we can start to capture some of the revenue and some of those sales potentials with producers inside the state, we’ll create some real opportunities for farm businesses to increase their revenues and be more sustainable.”