Kids love to eat, but do they give much thought as to where their food comes from? As an elementary school student in a very rural town in Texas, I remember taking a field trip to participate in a program called “Ag in the Classroom.” This program was designed to help us understand agriculture’s important role in our state’s economy, as well as teach us important lessons about nutrition, science and the origins of the food we eat. We were given the opportunity to hold baby chicks, watch a cow-milking demonstration and field questions to a local produce farmer.
Fourth grade students in Nebraska are participating in a similar program – except this program has a tasty twist! According to an article in The Independent, more than 5,000 students will participate in the Ag Sack Lunch Program this year. This lunch-and-learn program provides free sack lunches to the students, while also teaching them about the origins of the foods they enjoy.
The Ag Sack Lunch Program began in 2010, and has served nearly 30,000 fourth graders in the state of Nebraska. Participating schools visit the state Capitol to attend educational agricultural presentations given by Ag Ambassadors, University of Nebraska-Lincoln students with farming backgrounds. The sack lunches provided to them contain “Nebraska-produced food to emphasize the message to students that their food comes from Nebraska farms,” according to the article.
Students also leave the program with a card game called “Crazy Soybean”, a twist on the classic “Crazy Eights” with facts about agriculture on each card. Children can take this game home to play with and educate their families, or play it in the classroom for a fun learning activity.
Why It’s Important
The Ag Sack Lunch Program yields many extended benefits for participating students. For starters, the students’ awareness about agriculture and food increases. Agriculture is the most important industry in Nebraska, and through these educational – and delicious! – sessions, students gain a better understanding of its role in their state’s economy, as well as their daily lives.
Through hands-learning, students can gain a better appreciation for the hard work it takes to bring delicious and healthy food from the farm to their lunch trays. Students who have a good grasp of the labor and time it takes to raise livestock and produce understand why it is important to not waste food.
Let’s not forget that, although the students participating in this program (and similar programs) are young, they are most certainly future consumers. Kyla Habrock, Nebraska Pork Producers Youth Education Director, pointed out that this program “builds a strong foundation that will influence their future purchasing decisions.” Teaching students from a young age that buying local meat, dairy and produce stimulates the state’s economy has the potential to positively affect their future buying.
Finally, students have the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about health and nutrition. It’s one thing to hear the “healthy eating” lecture from teachers and school nutrition professionals, but it really drives the point home when they hear about the importance of healthy eating from those who actually grow, raise and deliver the food they find on their plates.
What You Can Do
If such lunch-and-learn agricultural learning opportunities are available in your area, it might be a good idea to look into participating. But even if these trips are not available or viable for your district, that doesn’t mean your students can’t learn about where their food comes from.
Does your school participate in a farm-to-school program, all the time or even periodically? If so, advertise it! Place photos or posters around the cafeteria showcasing the farms that grow/raise the food that makes its way to your lunch serving lines. Or, think like Five Guys Burgers, who identify the farm where the day’s potatoes come from; place cards along the serving line that not only name the dish, but also tell the local farm where it was raised or grown.
If your school does not already participate in a Farm to School program, do some research and consider the benefits – both cost- and health-wise – for your operations. For tips getting a Farm to School program launched in your program, check out our blog series on going local: An Introduction Plan, Get to the Source, Menu Planning Principles, Procuring Farm to School Food, and Acceptance of Farm to School Foods. You can also listen to our PEP Talks podcast about Farm to School programs.
October is National Farm to School Month, and although it’s a long way away, that gives you plenty of time to plan ways to celebrate and educate! Be sure to check out the National Farm to School Network website for resources to maximize your celebration. You can also check out the USDA website for tips on procuring local foods.
Does your program feature locally grown/raised meat, dairy and produce in its menu line-up? Or does your school participate in agricultural education programs that help students understand where their food comes from? If not, would you like to begin? Let us know in the comments below!