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Farm to school is taking place in all 50 states, D.C., and U.S. Territories! Select a location from the list below to learn more or contact a Core Partner. 

National Farm to School Network

News

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner: Student-raised chickens on school lunch trays

NFSN Staff Friday, March 06, 2015

By Sarah Elliott, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Wisconsin state lead for the National Farm to School Network

On January 30, students across the Holmen School District in northwestern Wisconsin had a special farm to school lunch, aptly named “Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner.”  Over the past year, students in Roger King’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) classes raised over 450 meat chickens to be served to more than 3,000 Holmen students during this special lunch. The fantastic partnership between the FFA program; the Holmen’s nutrition services director, Mike Gasper; and the Coulee Regional Farm to School Program, made this extraordinarily unique project a farm to school success!

Last month I interviewed Holmen Mike Gasper, to learn more about this project and other farm to school activities in the district.

What prompted you to undertake this chicken project?
About a year ago, 25 of our FFA students came to me to ask if we would be interested in serving chickens they raised. We said yes, and so began the adventure that culminated in our Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner event.

The school helped pay for the equipment that was needed—feeders, waterers and chicken feed, and in May, the students got their first chicks. When they reached maturity, the birds were processed at a USDA licensed facility and then picked up by our distributor partner, Reinhardt Foods, who froze the chickens and stored them until enough birds had been raised to feed the whole district. The last batch of chickens went to the processor in the beginning of November.

What were some of the lessons you learned during the course of this project?
Well, we learned a lot about raising chickens. And we worked hard to put a system in place to ensure proper protocols and insurance while transporting the chicken between locations. To accomplish this, we actually became a processing member of Fifth Season Cooperative – a multi-stakeholder organization that includes six member classes that span the entire supply chain at the local level. Producers, producer groups, processors, distributors, buyers and workers all contribute. We sold the chicken to Fifth Season, they sold it to Reinhardt and then we bought it back. Now that the system is in place, we anticipate that next year will be even less expensive.  

Was the event a success?
Most definitely! “[This is the] best school meal I’ve ever gotten!” was a comment echoing throughout the cafeterias. In addition to the chicken, we served hydroponic lettuce grown at our high school, locally-grown potatoes sourced from Fifth Season and local milk, plus a non-local fruit. The FFA students helped serve the meal, and everyone had a great time. The cafeteria atmosphere was very celebratory – I even saw some kids doing the “chicken dance!” Our staff did an outstanding job. We are definitely planning on doing it again next year—and have even been talking to the FFA about the possibility of four-legged animals!

What is the history of farm to school activities in Holmen?
We started farm to school in 2008, which was my first year with the district. We started with apples and still partner with the same orchard today. Our county program started the following year, with the introduction of a Harvest of the Month Program and cooking classes with Chef Thomas Sacksteder. This past year we also partnered with the FFA to grow three fields of sweet corn. The chickens were our first meat project, and the first time we served so many local products on one day!  

Profile: Desiree and Cal Wineland, American Butchers & Veterans Vineyard and Winery

NFSN Staff Thursday, May 01, 2014


Editor's note: This week we are profiling a few of the wonderful people we met at the 7th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Austin last month. More than 1,100 farm to cafeteria movers and shakers gathered for four days of inspiring field trips, workshops, keynotes and more. We are excited to share their stories. 

Heading west

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Desiree and Calvin Wineland’s two young boys, Calvin and Austin, were in the Pentagon daycare center. They had arrived a week earlier because Desiree had been selected for an Army Congressional Fellowship. Both Desiree and Cal were helicopter pilots in the Army, but they never expected they would bring their kids anywhere near a battlefield. They all made it home safe that night, and while discussing the day’s events and the consequences that would surely follow, the Winelands made a solemn promise to their children that they would keep them out of harms way, and the middle of Nebraska, near where Cal's great-grandparents homesteaded, seemed like the place to do it. It would take a few years before they were able to retire and make their move.

 

Generations before, Cal’s family had made a similar journey, pushing west across the Great Plains, settling on the shores of the Republican River near Cambridge, Nebr., about 300 miles shy of the Rocky Mountains. It was here that Calvin, Desiree and their two kids would make a new life.

Once they had decided to move to Nebraska, Desiree began studying local history, trying to figure out what to do. She learned that early settlers planted grapes. The idea that they would be following in the steps of the pioneers appealed to them, and so did the idea of giving their friends a reason to visit rural Nebraska. But first, they needed to figure out how to grow grapes and make wine.

Wine making and grape growing involves a surprising amount of chemistry. Desiree commuted to Denver every weekend for a year to get certified through the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) and became involved with the American Chemical Society. As they learned more, they expanded their vision for the vineyard to include using it as a field lab for students. With approval from the local school district, they started teaching kids how to grow grapes, taking them through the process from soil samples through BRIX testing. 

Another new venture

It takes grape vines 3-5 years to produce fruit after they are planted, so once the work of choosing the right grapes and establishing the vines was done, the Winelands needed another projects to keep them busy. While they now knew a lot about viticulture, all of their new friends were mostly interested in cattle, a topic Desiree knew nothing about. Their interest grew, however, and soon the Winelands enrolled in the University of Nebraska to become certified in all things beef.

 

As the Winelands learned more about agriculture and the dwindling incomes farmers face, they started to think of ways they could cut out the middle-men so that farmers could keep more of their own profits. Farm to school programs emerged as a great solution for produce, but because all meat processing is centralized, there were logistical hurdles to selling local beef to local schools. 

 

Having hit a dead end, the Winelands needed a sign. A few nights later, they got one. A local preacher, Bill Weaver, came to the door of their farmhouse. He said that if they wanted to create jobs and support agriculture, he had a great opportunity. He started describing a facility that needed new management. It was a "locker," he told them. The only problem was that if this "locker" wasn’t part of a locker room at a gym, then Desiree had no idea what it was.

 

The following Monday, the Winelands travelled to the neighboring town of Beaver City to get their first look at the locker. It was a meat locker, and it was in a state of disrepair. 

In the military, officers are constantly put into situations where they are totally unfamiliar with their surroundings. They are trained to learn quickly and rely on the expertise of people around them. Where many people would have walked away, the Winelands used their training to assess the situation, quickly realizing that the locker was the key to processing meat for local farmers and delivering it to local schools. They decided to set up shop, and American Butchers was established in April 2011.

 

A community focus

Instead of focusing on scale, they focused on the relationship they had with farmers. They established a set price for farmers to use the locker and encouraged farmers to sell their beef for whatever they could get, keeping the difference. That stood in stark contrast to the big corporate operations that buy cattle for rock bottom prices and churn out as much beef as they can, as quickly as possible. 

In communities like Cambridge, Nebr., trust trumps money. Cal and Desiree set out to earn the trust of local farmers and ranchers by cleaning up their facility and establishing high standards. They also started working with schools, donating organs to biology classes and engaging with FFA and 4-H groups. They are currently working on a new program through which show animals raised by 4-H and FFA students will be purchased by local business leaders, processed, then sold to schools at a discount. Posters on the cafeteria wall will advertise the student's hard work: "Now serving Amelia's pork.

 

The Winelands have learned that there are many ways to start a farm to school program and many potential leaders. Sometimes the change-maker is the superintendent, sometimes it's the nutrition director, and sometimes it's the passionate owner of a meat locker.

 

We are showing kids how they can build businesses and how their English and business teachers can help them build business plans while their math teachers are helping with the finances," Desiree says. "There are setbacks and delays, but like plants or anything that grows, it takes a lot of elements working together. And it takes time.”

 

Through their efforts, the Winelands have won awards and have even been honored by the governor of Nebraska. But the highest honor they have received is the respect of the farmers and ranchers in their community. Desiree knew she had earned this respect on the day she received the simplest of invitations.

There's a table at Shirley K’s coffee shop in Cambridge where a group of farmers gather for coffee every day. Seats at this table are more coveted than seats on the city council. But recently, when Desiree dropped into Shirley K’s, one of the old men called her over and asked her to join them so they could hear about all about what she and Calvin had been up to. It’s hard to overstate this honor.

 

Meanwhile, the grapes that were planted in the spring of 2011 are growing. If all goes well, their first harvest will be in the summer of 2016. In the Army, Desiree would inspect her troops as they stood at attention to see how they were doing and to make sure they were mission-ready. Now she says that each one of the vines is like a formation of soldiers. She inspects them as she walks the fields – from top to bottom – correcting anything that is out of order.

 

After a career in the military where she always had a mission to accomplish, Desiree says she spent her first years in Nebraska searching for her next mission. "When I arrived, I was lost," she said. "But through agriculture I found a mission and my purpose. Agriculture saved me.”

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