Nebraska Extension, in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Education and local community and school groups, recently won a regional local foods competition aimed at encouraging students and community members to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Led by the Nebraska Department of Education, the Crunch Off event encourages healthy eating, supports local agriculture and helps students and community members gain a deeper understanding of the food system. The state with the most “crunches” — or bites of local fruits and vegetables — per capita wins.
Defending the 2019 championship title with 4% participation, Nebraska capitalized on seasonally available produce from local farms and ranchers and crunched its competition in the Mountain Plains region, which includes Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. A total of 154,222 people registered for the Mountain Plains region of the Crunch Off, and 79,854 of those were from Nebraska. In Nebraska, 4.13% of the state’s population registered to participate.
“COVID-19 has made people think differently about sourcing food locally,” said Nebraska Extension Educator Ben McShane-Jewell, who helped coordinate Nebraska’s involvement in the Crunch Off. “This competition is just a win-win all the way around. Buying local from small, family-owned farms and ranches is great environmentally, socially and economically.”
McShane-Jewell has been working with a group of core partners, including the Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Extension, the Center for Rural Affairs and Buy Fresh Buy Local. For months, they have collectively coordinated logistics for locally sourced food programs already taking place in schools and organizations across the state, creating awareness around the competition and building a network of producers and food buyers in the farm-to-school movement.
Students, teachers, farmers, ranchers, parents and community members all either provided or consumed locally grown fruits and vegetables this year in a coordinated effort to keep the title in Nebraska.
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Dining Services also joined in the effort, sourcing local apples to 621 students at the East Campus dining hall as part of the competition. The Crunch Off played perfectly into Dining Services’ Nebraska Local program, which features special locally sourced monthly meals at the Cather and East Union dining centers, as well as daily locally sourced menu items, said Pam Edwards, assistant director of Dining Services and a longtime advocate of the local food movement.
While proud of the collaboration of many state entities during a trying year, McShane-Jewell said the greatest accomplishment of the program is providing high-quality local foods to students and teaching them about where and whom their food comes from.