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By Justin Carter
Project associate center for rural affairs 

Back to school with locally-grown food


September 10, 2020

As the new school year gets underway, we see a renewed focus on agriculture education and local food.

Next to many schools, greenhouses are a common sight. With these come educational curriculum on planting, growing and harvesting, along with nutrition and health. Greenhouses are not new to rural agriculture education, however, they may not include food production. For instance, schools may devote greenhouse space to flower production for school fundraisers and, while this offers financial incentives, an opportunity is missed. Growing food on campuses offers students the ability to visualize the origins of their meals, successful programs can introduce new technologies and offer ingredients to school cafeterias.

At East Butler Public Schools, in Brainard, students cultivate vegetables for the school cafeteria. It is one of 10 rural schools selected to receive technical and financial support through the Center for Rural Affairs’ Greenhouse-to-Cafeteria project. Schools making this transition have purchased equipment to introduce new growing techniques. Grow towers have become a popular selection, offering new ways to produce fresh greens. Schools are also exploring aquaponic systems, which integrate fish production into greenhouse growing. Greenhouses give educators the ability to instruct students during the bulk of the school year, whereas outdoor cultivation is most active in the summer.

We realize this will be a year like no other; teachers need our support. The CFRA has partnered with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension to form a statewide peer network connecting greenhouse instructors. The group met to discuss ideas on take-home projects, demonstrating the importance of different models of educational opportunities related to food and agriculture.


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