School-lunchThe first-ever Midwest Farm to School Conference is planned for next week, drawing hundreds of participants from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.

Sarah Smith, at the Center for Rural Affairs, says the goal is two-fold: to improve economic opportunities for farmers and to improve the health of students by bringing locally-grown food into school cafeterias.

“We will have farmers and ranchers joining us, we will have food hubs that work on distribution, food service directors that are getting food out to the kids, teachers invested in curriculum, ag educators, administrators, students, parents,” Smith says. “Really, it’s open to everybody and there’s something for everybody at this conference.”

The one-day event in Nebraska City, Nebraska, will bring together those interested in building farm to school initiatives across the region. “With four states involved, there’s a great opportunity to learn from all of the states and what they offer,” Smith says. “We’d like to see some good connections made between schools and food producers as well as opportunities to grow the educational component of food and agriculture in the classroom.”

The conference will highlight ways to boost students’ knowledge about local and healthy foods, increase the amount of local foods served to students in schools, and build knowledge for hands-on farm to school practices, like school gardens.

“There’s so many health components to this that when you get kids involved with knowing where their food comes from, knowing what they’re eating, opening up their taste buds for real foods,” Smith says, “and then the market opportunity for growers of fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, all of the different aspects of what kids are eating at school, it’s a win-win for everybody.”

The conference will be held March 2nd at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center in Nebraska City. The event is being hosted by the Lyons, Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri Extension.