Houston students can receive three free meals a day this year

Last week, the Houston Independent School District announced that it will be able to offer every student three free meals a day this school year as the city recovers from Hurricane Harvey.

That’s millions of dollars for a single district in a state where public schools have struggled to get the state and federal support they need to better serve all students in the form of free breakfast in the classroom, expanded reduced-cost lunch and improved quality of ingredients.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Houston school district, which has more than 210,000 students, received approval Aug. 30 from the Texas Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to let students apply for a waiver that could cover the cost of all three meals that a school serves each day. (Many schools offer a third meal for after-school programs, including tutoring and athletics.)

This means that tens of thousands of parents can focus on putting their homes and lives back together with one less thing to worry about.

Houston is about to become the largest free school breakfast and lunch test case in the country; we’ll get to see what happens when students get fed during the day, no matter how much money their parents make.


Ready-to-drink Soylent hits Austin stores (no, it’s not people)

Meal replacement drinks have been around forever, but it wasn’t until Rob Rhinehart’s Soylent debuted in 2013 that they became cool. Soylent originated as a powdered drink you would order online and then mix at home. Many, many people experimented with eating only Soylent for weeks or months at a time, if only for the hilarious blog posts.

A few years ago, Soylent started selling a liquid, ready-to-drink version online. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it, either. That bottled Soylent must be selling pretty well, because the company is now testing retail sales in Los Angeles and, starting last week, Austin.

Two dozen 7-Eleven locations in the Austin area are now selling four flavors of Soylent: Original, Cacao, Cafe Coffiest and the new Cafe Chai. Each drink is designed to provide the vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates and protein that the body needs. They cost $3.99 per bottle.


Why Bastrop County farmers started a farmer-to-farmer relief program

I was relieved to hear that Austin-area farmers aren’t doing as badly as you might expect after such a major storm last month. For one, they didn’t have most of their fall crops in the ground yet, so Harvey will delay their season but not wipe it out completely. And, the rain and winds weren’t as damaging as some other storms we’ve had in recent years, including one that caused $130,000 in destruction at Tecolote Farm or the one that nearly wiped out Dewberry Hills Farm.

Farm-1-1 is a farmer assistance program based near Cedar Creek in Bastrop County that started two years ago after flooding left many area farmers with downed fences and wind-torn buildings. Directors (and farmers) Vivian and JoAnn Smotherman have since organized a network of farmers to help one another when emergencies like this strike.

Although they hadn’t had any major calls in the first few days after Harvey hit, they expect to hear from farmers at some point who have some damage on their property. “Farms suffer greatly during these kinds of tragedies,” Vivian Smotherman says. “When you’re talking about a herd of cattle or goats and losing your fencing or your entire crops got flooded, this can be just as devastating.”

When Farm-1-1 gets a call from a rural landowner who could use a hand, they activate their network to find farmers with equipment and labor to lend. “New farmers sink way too much money into equipment,” she says. “We try to catch people before they get so far into debt. You don’t have to go buy a tiller or a brush hog or a post-hole digger that you’ll use once. Call us up, and we’ll get one over to you. Pooling equipment reduces costs throughout the community.”

In the two years since they started Farm-1-1, the Smothermans have helped 40 to 50 farms in some way or another, and they are always accepting donations to help run and grow the program. They even run a farmer thrift store to help people sell and buy equipment. If you want to learn more about Farm-1-1 or inquire about getting assistance or how you can help lend a hand, go to farm-1-1.org.

Other local farmer assistance programs include Texas Farmers Market’s emergency relief fund, and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has a comprehensive list of other disaster funds for farmers and ranchers.


Blue Bell serves up a new flavor perfect for banana split fans

In honor of last month’s Banana Split Day, Blue Bell released its newest product: banana split sundae ice cream.

You probably already know that you can make ice cream using bananas (and nothing else!), but this is regular ice cream that is flavored with bananas and then mixed with all those classic banana split toppings: crushed pineapples, maraschino cherries and chopped roasted almonds. You’ll also find swirls of strawberry and chocolate sundae sauces in this new flavor.

A note about banana splits: David Strickler, an ice cream scooper at a pharmacy in Pennsylvania, is noted as the first person to serve three scoops of ice cream with a fresh banana in 1904, which is right around the time bananas become more widely available in the U.S.

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