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Since he joined the Legislature, Nebraska Sen. Tom Brandt has been eager to find ways of providing Nebraska children with more opportunities to access and enjoy the foods grown right in their home-state communities.
A good place to start, he says, was the nation’s largest “restaurant chain” — K-12 school lunch programs.
And Brandt’s vision for a more robust farm-to-school program in his home state appears to be becoming a reality.
One year after the passage of LB 396 (it received unanimous legislative approval), local producers were being offered state-led training sessions on the process of selling to schools. Likewise, leaders from select Nebraska schools had participated in virtual Farm To School institutes, where plans were developed on how to bring locally grown foods to their cafeterias.
“The economic benefits of farm to-school percolate throughout our local communities,” says Brandt, whose background includes work as a food system engineer and farmer. “By providing a stable, reliable market for local produce, it enables Nebraska communities to start recapturing a portion of the 90 percent of our school food dollars that are currently leaving the state.”
Brandt also believes that by raising awareness among young people about Nebraska agriculture and how food is made, LB 396 can help build the state’s future workforce in this sector of the state’s economy.
One provision in the new law, for example, says the farm-to-school program “may include activities that provide students with hands on learning opportunities, including, but not limited to, farm visits, cooking demonstrations, and school gardening and composting programs.”
“If [it] encourages some young people to get involved in agriculture and food, and provides an opening for those young people to farm, it’s a winning proposition,” says Brandt, who this year has proposed expanding to include early-childhood education programs (LB 758).