Over 15% of Nebraska’s children were classified as food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, schools are facing challenges that affect the provision of meals to students. The waivers allowing for free student meals during the pandemic expired; schools continue to report supply chain issues like delayed and unfulfilled deliveries; and the cost of food rose over 10% in the past year. The need is urgent to support schools in nourishing students. Equally imperative is the need to strengthen and diversify the local supply chain, infuse dollars in the community, and benefit, not deplete, our environment and food landscape. Historically, small-scale Nebraska producers have had difficulty entering the school market, facing barriers with school delivery requirements, cashflow, and processing capacity compared to established broadline distributors. Socially disadvantaged producers face additional systemic challenges that impede their ability to compete. This Nebraska Department of Education (NDE)-led project will simultaneously increase local food purchases by schools and expand opportunities for local, small business, and socially disadvantaged producers.
NDE will (1) allocate funds to schools for the purchase of unprocessed or minimally processed foods from local, small business producers, (2) provide technical assistance to schools and producers, including resources, training, and networking events, (3) leverage recent developments including the Nebraska Farm to School Program Act, Local Food Purchase Assistance Program, and 2022 USDA Farm to School Grant initiatives to target socially disadvantaged producers. This project will pave a way toward a thriving, resilient farm to school infrastructure.