- The Wall School District in South Dakota is piloting a new school lunch program that sources cafeteria beef from local ranchers, KOTA-TV reports. The pilot began this month and lasts until May, but if successful, it will be used again in the coming year, and Superintendent Dan Baldwin hopes it expands to other districts across the state.
- Wall rancher Josh Geigle approached the district with the idea after learning about a similar program in Nebraska. Under Wall's pilot, the rancher-donated beef is locally raised then processed and butchered by a meat processing plant.
- Instead of paying higher fees to import beef from other places, the system feeds more funds into the local economy, teaches students more about where their food comes and illustrates the importance of ranching.
The effort to serve local beef in schools in Nebraska and South Dakota is an extension of the farm-to-school model that offers many benefits to students, schools and surrounding communities. Fresher foods are generally healthier, and especially for younger students, a nutritious diet is essential for cognitive, behavioral and physical development. Additionally, the opportunity to learn directly about the roles agriculture and farming can play is a valuable lesson that could serve both students and families well going forward. And the financial effects are multi-faceted: Not only do schools benefit from lower costs — and stronger ties with the local community — but the community also prospers from the economic opportunities that local sourcing provides.
The farm-to-school model features at least one of three elements: local procurement of food served to students; educational activities centered on agriculture, food sourcing, health, and nutrition; or the use of school gardens to allow students to experience the growing of food hands-on. In some cases, districts in more rural areas may have an easier time acquiring locally-sourced food; however, most buildings likely have room for school gardens — though for urban districts, this may be slightly less feasible.
However, all schools have the capacity to boost agriculture education, which benefits students not only by increasing their knowledge about food, but also about the impact food production has on the economy. It also may peak students' interest in exploring new careers in the rapidly-changing agricultural field.
Rural schools can connect with local farms and ranches for hands-on learning opportunities, but districts who don't have this option are still in luck: Programs such as mobile dairy classrooms and floating food forests can bring these opportunities to students in other areas. Organizations such as the FFA, the CHS Foundation and state Farm Bureau offices can also help schools find ways to expand agricultural education opportunities for students.