Put local food on school lunch trays

By Sandra Renner - Center for Rural Affairs

Engaged communities and connections with farmers are helping make school lunches even better in rural communities. Across the country, kids are reaping the benefits and heading back to school with local foods on their plates.

Initiatives are being implemented throughout the U.S.

In one state, “Nebraska Thursdays” urges participating schools to serve a locally-sourced meal in their cafeterias on the first Thursday of each month. Sourcing local products encourages fresh and healthy meals in the school cafeteria; educates students about agriculture; and boosts the area’s economy.

The project began with five pilot schools, where lunchroom staff helped develop menus and other resources. Each of the pilot schools were already implementing various types of local foods into their menus. Nebraska’s approach to Farm to School is about meeting schools where they are at, and building programs one local food menu at a time.

Efforts in Nebraska last year impacted 42,000 students and resulted in thousands of food dollars staying in the state. According to the National Farm to School Network, each dollar invested in farm to school stimulates an additional $0.60 to $2.16 of local economic activity.

In Oregon, this has resulted in $1.4 million overall contribution to the state.

October is National Farm to School Month, so now is the time to connect with local schools and learn about their plans to promote healthy eating and locally-produced foods.

You can learn about the Center for Rural Affairs’ efforts at cfra.org/f2s.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

By Sandra Renner

Center for Rural Affairs