This past summer nearly 40 Nebraska educators and school counselors learned firsthand about agriculture, including the pork industry, when they took part in the first-ever Nebraska Food Project.

The weeklong educational and professional development experience was designed for high school agriculture science teachers, middle- and high-school family and consumer science teachers and school and career counselors at all levels.

“The Nebraska Food Project evolved from conversations with students in both urban and rural classrooms where it became apparent that there was a significant disconnect in their understanding of where their food comes from,” said Carol Ringenberg, director of health sciences and human sciences and education/family and consumer with the Nebraska Department of Education.

The Nebraska Food Project, funded in part by the Pork Checkoff, was designed to help bridge this gap, with the interactive tour increasing educators’ awareness of Nebraska’s food industry. Participants explored career opportunities in food production and learned about how food production can impact hunger, food costs, consumer rights and natural resources.

“The Nebraska Food Project is designed to deepen educators’ and students’ knowledge and appreciation of the level of expertise demonstrated by those involved in agriculture, as well as agriculture’s role in providing economic vitality in the state,” said Larry Sitzman, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association.

Serving up Food for Thought
This experience provided teachers and school counselors with knowledge and skills to help students differentiate between factual and non-factual information about food. “It also helped them make informed decisions about their personal food choices,” said Kyla Wize, youth education director with the Nebraska Pork Producers Association.

Participation also helps educators develop classroom resources, such as lesson plans and learning activities that can be used in schools to promote further understanding of human food production, nutrition and careers.

“The National Food Project provided a platform to build trust between teachers and partners that will yield opportunities to collaborate in the future,” Wize said.

Pork-related tours included:
•Central Plains Milling of Howells, where participants learned about feed for swine, cattle and poultry.

•Blue River Pork of McCool Junction, where participants learned about how pigs grow and how farmers care for the pigs from birth to market weight.

•Farmland Foods of Crete, which included a tour of the plant from harvest to packaging.

The Nebraska Food Project's pork-related seminars included:
•An overview of pigs and pork in Nebraska presented by Jane Stone and Larry Sitzman, Nebraska Pork Producers Association.

•An overview of housing and equipment used in the pork industry presented by Gary McDuffee, Hog Slat.

•An introduction to animal well-being and transportation presented by Jim Fiala, Hormel Foods Corp.

•An overview of swine genetics presented by Tom Rathje, DNA Genetics (formerly Danbred North America).

•An overview of farming and finances presented by Dick Zach, Farm Credit Services of America.

Learn more
To learn more about the Nebraska Food Project and other educational efforts for youth in Nebraska, please contact Kyla Wize, youth education director with the Nebraska Pork Producers Association at kyla@nepork.org.