Chefs and farmers have something in common. Both are passionate about high-quality, healthy foods. When the two join forces, everyone wins – especially when consumers are students in the Bondurant-Farrar Community School District. Literally feeding a healthy future is what this collaborative arrangement is all about.

Bondurant-Farrar CSD nutrition services staff

David Walker, nutrition and custodial director for Bondurant-Farrar, secured two Local Food for Schools grants – one for fruits, vegetables and produce and one for proteins – through the Iowa Department of Education and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Local Food for Schools grant program.

David Walker
David Walker

The grant program aims to provide a variety of procurement and agricultural education opportunities that will improve access to local foods in school meal programs, help improve child nutrition and health, help strengthen farm economy, and have an overall positive effect on all Iowa stakeholders from the producers to child nutrition program participants and agriculture business students.

And Walker knows a prime opportunity when he sees it. He has been in food service in Iowa for over 40 years, starting his culinary journey at age 14 as a dishwasher at a Mr. Steak restaurant. He attended culinary school at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, was a chef for Kinseth Hospitality Companies and worked in contract food service in the hotel industry. Then he discovered his culinary heart belongs to the kids. He has been with the Bondurant-Farrar district for nine years and counting.

students in cafeteria

“I love school food service,” Walker said. “I love the kids. I love to work with the kids and be in the cafeteria with them and get their feedback every day. I love being in service to their good nutrition and helping them learn healthy eating habits for life.” 

The district's enrollment is approximately 2,725 K-12 students. It serves breakfast and lunch daily to about 400-plus students in each of five different schools in the district. Walker wanted to keep the process simple with this first local food buying experience, so he purchased 12 cases of apples each week from Storybook Orchard in Story City and then let the students know the fruit was grown locally.

Pizza Burgers

“Students really enjoyed the apples,” Walker said. “They noticed there’s a big difference in apples coming from Story City versus all the way from the West Coast.”

When Walker first started in the school food service business, it was just on the cusp of major regulatory changes where fruit and vegetable servings were mandatory for students.

“We were getting a lot of negative feedback, especially from the kids,” Walker said. “Now you see them eating a lot more of those fruits and vegetables because they have changed the way they eat. It’s neat to see them going through the salad bar and taking more than what is required. We run a Caesar salad on Thursdays and some of these elementary and intermediate kids will fill half their tray with the salad!”

The Food for Schools grant to purchase proteins allowed Walker to expand his ability to buy local food beyond just produce. So, he contacted Prudent Produce food hub in Elkhart who contacted Shivers Farms, a nearby family farm specializing in beef production. A beneficial collaboration for all was born, and for Bondurant students, beef doesn’t come any more local than five miles up the road. 

“It was very simple,” Walker said. “The co-op made things very easy and all the billing went through them. It helped ease the administrative lift.”

Walker said Bondurant-Farrar students drive by Shivers Farms and go to school with children from that farm family.

“It’s fun for the students to have that aspect, to know the family and make that connection,” Walker said. “Kids today don’t always know where their food comes from. They don’t know that a chicken comes from a farm. Some think it comes from a drive-through lane. It’s fun for them to see that those cows they see on the Shivers Farms actually produce the hamburger they eat in school.”

Bondurant-Farrar CSD lunch sign

Walker posts signage in the cafeteria to help educate students about local food when meat from Shivers Farms is being served. Local beef served in pizza, sloppy joes, tacos, hamburgers, spaghetti and loose meat sandwiches are crowd favorites.

“When I first got into school food service I thought I could make a lot of cool things the kids could eat, have some fun menus and make some things that maybe they have never eaten,” Walker said. “But they also want the basics like chicken and sloppy joes and that’s great, too.”

Walker also includes information in their district publications about buying and supporting local foods. He said acknowledging and celebrating local foods contributes to community pride and he offers encouragement for other school districts to buy local.

“This particular program was very simple and very easy to implement,” Walker said. “It’s easy to fill out the grant and easy to get approval. I recommend it. Everybody should participate.”

View photos from Shivers Farms and Bondurant-Farrar schools

Welcome to Shivers Farms, home of fresh, high-quality local foods and a whole lot of joy

Bondurant-Farrar CSD lunch tray
Karley Shivers proudly displays a school lunch that includes local beef raised by her family at Shivers Farms.

Established in 1963, Shivers Farms is on a mission to provide high-quality farm fresh pork, beef and eggs from their farm to your table. This dedicated farm family has been doing so for multiple generations and they are excited to include the students in Bondurant-Farrar schools among those who benefit from their labors.

“We are excited to get our beef into the local school,” Emily Shivers said. “It’s fun to go to the Farmers Market in town and have our niece’s and nephew’s friends ask if we’re related to Karley or Conner. Their faces light up because they are making a connection that we are the ones putting food on their table.”

If passion, enthusiasm and love for one’s profession have anything to do with success, then Ben and Emily Shivers are set for life and so are the animals and crops in their care. 

It takes only a moment to get the message from Ben Shivers’ hearty handshake or his wife Emily’s friendly eyes, warm greeting and radiant smile. Both raised on a farm, they exude an accessible calm, happy, confident sensibility. They are the youngest farmers in this multigenerational operation and they represent all that is hopeful and good about hard work and commitment to farming and the quality products they produce. True to form in concern for community, Emily Shivers became interested in giving everyone the opportunity to eat farm fresh meat.

Shivers with David Walker
Local farmers Ben and Emily Shivers, in partnership with David Walker, nutrition and custodial director for Bondurant-Farrar Community School District, now supply locally raised, farm fresh beef for school lunches.

“During the pandemic, everyone was scared they wouldn’t have meat or eggs,” Shivers said. “I posted on social media that we raise farm fresh meat, and the rest is history. We now have over 700 customers that buy our meat in bulk from several states, even some in Florida!”. The family also sells their products at three Farmers Markets a week from May through September.

Ben and Emily agree that raising their own family on the farm is a priority, so Emily left her job in town to devote full time energy to that mission. They believe children learn so much more about life while living on a farm. Their children know chores must be done no matter the weather and their young children already help with feeding livestock and gathering eggs.

Bedrock to their lifestyle and daily work is the strong connection and love of family. Spend a minute witnessing Ben and Emily tending to their own exuberant young ones (Brody, age 3, Briggs, age 2, and Oakleigh, 9 months) or view Facebook posts sharing involvement in a local food bank, or check out their online General Store and the joy is obvious. That kind of joy is contagious. Such good things have a way of multiplying indefinitely, touching everything in their path.

It’s no stretch then, to think there are connections between this farm family’s decisions, from work ethic to business practices, dedication to family to community involvement, agriculture methods to humane treatment of animals, and the effect on the cattle, pigs, chickens and crops they produce. All told, it is connected to farming as a privilege and calling, in service to health and the mission to share the benefits with others.

“We love what we do and we wouldn’t do life any other way,” Shivers said.

Fortunately for the students in the Bondurant-Farrar Community School District, Shivers Farms is right up the road.

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