Farm to School Stories
In school year 2017-2018, five school districts served as Nebraska Thursday pilot programs, incorporating local foods to the school lunch tray the first Thursday of each month. Each district brought to the table unique assets, goals and priorities, and each took steps forward in promoting local and delicious foods in their cafeteria programs. Read more below!
Litchfield Public Schools (LPS) serves 120 students at one site in central Nebraska. Food Service Director, Janice Reynolds, has sourced school grown produce for 7 years. In 2014, LPS began collaborating with Trotter’s Fertilizer to start a local greenhouse for the lunch program and student education. This year they added a donated pork program that is an addition to their donated beef program. Food service staff freeze and store extra in-season produce for use throughout the school year, like corn on the cob, squash, beans, beets and sweet potatoes.
Omaha Public Schools (OPS) was the first district in the state to celebrate Nebraska Thursdays, kicking off the program in September 2016. OPS serves 40,000 students and promotes Nebraska Thursdays at all sites. Tammy Yarmon, OPS Nutrition Services Director, has increased purchases of locally produced meat, produce and breads, and estimates that over $326,000 was invested in these products (not including fluid milk) in school year 2017-2018. She works with her distributors to find sufficient quantities of local products for her large district, and also purchases directly from local fruit and vegetable growers.
Overton Public Schools has six cafeteria staff that serve about 350 students at one site. Food Service Manager, Brenda Buchholz, went directly to the source of local foods several years ago and built a relationship with a local farm. Today, Brenda has established a farm to school team at the school that includes the superintendent, the high school science teacher (“garden guru”) and the family and consumer sciences teacher.
Thayer Central Community Schools serves about 400 students and established a robust local beef program in 2015. FFA students have also led efforts on growing indoors, harvesting lettuce from a grow tower and serving that lettuce on the fruit and vegetable bar. Food Service Manager, Jenn Waldemeier, with her six cafeteria staff members, plans to serve four new local items on the plate next year.
Wayne Community Schools serves over 900 students at three sites, plus an additional 100 students at three vended sites. Food Service Manager, Judy Poehlman, estimates that 51-75% of the food served in the cafeteria is made from scratch. The favorite local item on deck is simply sliced watermelon and cantaloupe. Slicing and prepping the fruit is time consuming for the 14 member cafeteria staff; they cut back on bread production on days that local fruit is promoted.