Where’s the beef from? Hernando schools hope to say ‘here’ more often.


Starting a farm-to-school initiative has been more complicated than district officials expected.

By Jack EvansPublished Earlier today

SPRING HILL — As the eighth-graders filed to their tables, Jan Costa patrolled the lunchroom at Challenger K-8. The meat company director was looking for a break in the teenage conversation, a place to sidle up to a table and employ his booming, Bronx-inflected voice in the service of making kids appreciate their beef nachos.

“I hope you enjoy your meat,” he told one table of blank stares. “It came from a local farm up in Ocala.”

“It’s all grass-fed,” he proclaimed to another set of stone-faced boys.

This was the tough crowd.

It was Fresh from Florida Plate Day at Challenger, highlighting that the milk the students drank was regionally produced, as were their squash and fresh salsa. So was the beef that topped their nachos, which came from the company Costa owns, Marion County-based Florida Fresh Meat Company.

It marked the first such event for the Hernando County School District under its farm-to-school initiative, which aims to bring locally produced food into cafeterias and educate students on where their food comes from.

The elementary students who filled the lunch room earlier were curious and engaged, said Costa and Andrea McClellan, who represented Tampa-based milk supplier M&B Products. And a few unenthused eighth-graders did nothing to dampen Costa’s zeal for spreading the gospel of local eating.

“This probably excites me more than the biggest accounts we’ve ever had,” he said.

A $40,000 federal grant jump-started the farm-to-school efforts last year, and the district’s food and nutrition department has continued the push.