From the Farm Field to the School Cafeteria

Husker Home Place

Joyce Rice has the energy and the attitude to do great things for Central City students.

Published on: April 6, 2011

Joyce Rice has the energy and the attitude to do great things for Central City students.

Joyce Rice is a ball of energy. The food services director for Central City schools feeds 700 students each day, and she has enthusiasm to spare. She is a farmer at heart, and she thinks like farmers think.

She was dissatisfied with the food students at Central City were being fed and she decided to start looking for locally raised, healthy food to place on the menu at school. Joyce contacted several local farmers in the region that produce fruit and vegetables, including the Helgoth family of St. Libory.

Helgoths raise corn and soybeans, and their produce business has been going strong since 1954. They grow sweet corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cabbage and more, marketing most of what they grow through their own roadside stand and through local farmers’ markets.

Most folks say that kids won’t eat fruit and vegetables, no matter what. But Joyce didn’t accept that attitude. Once she started purchasing locally raised fruit and vegetables from area farmers for the students, consumption of these foods skyrocketed by nearly 200%.

She told a group of folks gathered for a Farm to School meeting in Hartington recently that it took some time in experimenting with different recipes and learning how much to order and how to get the produce to the school. The cost to the school has been less than when fresh produce was sourced from other places. She believes it was well worth the effort, and the students have shown their appreciation by eating what she has sourced from local farmers.

It has been a good deal for farmers like the Helgoths too, who now sell their fresh produce to schools in Grand Island, Centura and Wood River as well.

Farmers come in all shapes and sizes. We raise all kinds of things, not just corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle. Many farmers raise grain, livestock, produce and have other farm enterprises like tours, pumpkin patches, tree nurseries and hunting adventures.

The common thread for farmers is that they are able to utilize the natural resources from their land, including sweat and human creativity, to make a living. The Helgoths are doing that. And Joyce Rice, bless her heart, is promoting local agriculture and good food raised in her own neighborhood, to the students and staff at Central City.

If Joyce’s locally raised food idea catches on in school cafeterias across the state, the problem might not be demand, but finding enough producers to fill the need. And students will be reminded each day at dinner time where their food actually comes from.