The popular Ag Sack Lunch Program, which serves up free sack lunches to Nebraska fourth-graders and teaches them about where their food comes from, wraps up its seventh year in May. Nearly 5,000 students from 95 schools will have participated in the program this school year.
The Ag Sack Lunch program is designed to educate Nebraska fourth-graders—and by extension their parents–in a fun way about how important agriculture is to the state’s economy. Since its inception in 2010, the program has provided over 35,000 students with free lunches and an introduction to the state’s No.1 industry. Sponsors of this popular program include the Nebraska Soybean Board, the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, the Nebraska Beef Council and the Nebraska Corn Board.
Each year, over 20,000 fourth-graders visit the State Capitol Building in Lincoln as part of their curriculum. The Ag Sack Lunch Program ties into these visits by inviting teachers to participate in the free program, which educates youth on how their food is grown and produced.
Program sponsors budget for 5,000 free lunches a year, which consist of Nebraska-produced foods.
Each 20 minute presentation teaches students about the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy. Presenters are “Ag Ambassadors,” which consist of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students trained specifically to conduct these lunchtime sessions.
Through the Ag Sack Lunch Program curriculum, Ag Ambassadors inform students that one in four jobs in Nebraska has some connection to agriculture, beyond farming itself, such as equipment manufacturing and sales, building construction, transportation and supermarket retailers. They also explain the state ranks first in the country for cattle and calves, sixth in pork production, and that over one-third of Nebraska-produced grain is fed to livestock within the state.
All Ag Ambassadors come from farming families in Nebraska. Not only do they enjoying telling the students about where their food comes from, but they’re also able to provide examples of what life is like on the farm. Many of the fourth-grade students are from the state’s larger cities and towns, so may have little understanding about what farming and food production.
Two Ag Ambassadors are finishing their fourth years with the program. Morgan Zumpfe from Friend, and Emily Long from Springfield, said their experiences living and working on their family farms catch the attention of the students.
“It isn’t uncommon for many of these students to have never even been to a farm before,” Zumpfe said. “This is what motivates me to speak with the fourth-graders about Nebraska agriculture.”
Zumpfe believes it is important for students to understand how agriculture impacts their daily lives and that it is vital for a strong Nebraska economy. “I like to start my presentations by asking the students what agriculture is,” she said. The students often don’t know what the word means. “My favorite reactions from the students usually comes at the very end when they start to realize not only what agriculture is, but that it is so important to their daily lives,” said Zumpfe.
“I enjoy telling students about my career path and about all of the different opportunities for a career in agriculture. Hopefully this will spark some interest in them,” Zumpfe said. She will graduate in May with a B.S. in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication and will begin her career this summer with Cargill Animal Nutrition as a business management associate.
Emily Long agreed that growing up on a farm helps her tell the story of agriculture. “Students love hearing about what happens on farms,” she said. “It grabs their attention when I share what my family is currently doing back home on the farm. You can see them light up.”
She enjoys being able to teach students about an industry she’s so passionate about and that has such a huge impact on their lives and the state of Nebraska. “It’s a good feeling to know they’ll start to think about where their food came from as they’re eating or strolling through the grocery store with their families,” Long said.
One eye opener for the students is when Long talked about how many beef cattle there are in the state. “To put it in perspective for them, we always say we have a four-to-one ratio of beef to people in our state, then we’ll ask them if they could imagine having to take care of four cows and feed them every day before and after school. This is when you can see their realization and an appreciation growing in them for the need for farmers and ranchers.”
Long also graduates in May with a degree in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication. She’ll join Dow AgroSciences this summer as a seed sales trainee.
Fourteen UNL students served as Ag Ambassadors throughout the 2016-2017 school year. All are working toward agriculture-related degrees: Morgan Zumpfe, Friend; Kate Likens, Swanton; Sarah Wollenburg, Beatrice; Breann Zimmer, Pleasanton; Emily Long, Springfield; Claire Dressman, Superior; Savannah Schafer, Nehawka; Catherine Jones, Bellevue; Abby Steffen, Crofton; Emily Bergstrom, Wilcox; Morgan Schilling, McCook; Megan Murdoch, Murray; Megan Hamling, Garland; and Jordan Bothern, Lincoln.