Students in Hastings Public Schools have been enjoying locally produced food served with a side of education this year.
Lunch at HPS underwent some big changes when Lunchtime Solutions took over food service. Area Manager Susan Gracey says one of their programs - Farmer's Market Selection - brings fresh, locally grown food into Hastings schools once a month.
"Trying to get local producers and local products into the school lunch program - it's not something that you see in a lot of places, but we feel it's very important to have that partnership with the community that we're located in," said Gracey.
Gracey says they work to make sure that students know that the meal they're about to have isn't just frozen or out of a box.
"We provide posters to each school outlining what the Farmer's Market Selection is, we highlight that on our menus as well, and at the front of the line it will actually tell the kids where the product came from," she said.
Officials say that having a locally produced lunch is an important education tool since many kids are several generations removed from agriculture.
"As we get to this generation these kids aren't involved as directly with agriculture," said Jeremiah Rieken with Gottsch Cattle Company. "It's important for them to understand how healthy beef can be for you."
Gottsch Cattle Company provided the animal for Thursday's homemade beef chili, and it was freshly packed the day before by Custom Pack, Inc. in Hastings.
Custom Pack owner David Dirks says they've been in the community over 60 years, and this was a new way to continue to be a part of it.
"It's very important for the local economy to have that right here," said Dirks. "We have the best beef right here, why not put it in the schools?"
Lunchtime Solutions says providing healthy meals is a priority, but making sure kids understand food doesn't just come from the grocery store is essential too.
"It's important to get that connection with the food and where it actually came from," said Gracey. "It's nice to say that it was locally produced in the county that you live in."
Gracey says lunch is freshly prepared on-site each day in five of Hastings eight schools. Lunchtime Solutions manages food service operations in 38 school districts in several states.