Tift County Schools were among 25 school districts to be honored Tuesday for supporting their local economies and increasing the amount of local food they serve to their students through Farm to School programs.
According to a press release from the Georgia Department of Education, State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Georgia Organics Board President Rashid Nuri honored these Georgia school districts for taking the “5 Million Meals Challenge” and pledging to serve more local food in their cafeterias.
The press release states that in 2011, thanks to the hard work of dozens of Farm to School advocates, 3 million meals featuring locally produced food were served in more than 650 Georgia schools as part of a program to teach children where their food comes from and why that matters, and inspire them to eat more fruits and vegetables.
It further states that in October 2012, Georgia Organics and its partners launched the 5 Million Meals Challenge, a statewide effort to get 5 million meals made with locally grown food served in K-12 cafeterias across Georgia.
At a ceremony Tuesday at the state Capitol, Barge and Black presented the schools and school systems that have taken the 5 Million Meals pledge with “The Golden Radish Award.”
“Children learn better when their bodies and minds are fueled by nutritional meals. This program helps create a better school environment so that students can reach new heights academically,” said Barge. “It also helps us expose children to science through agriculture. We must teach our children about an industry that is so critical to Georgia’s economy in order to inspire the next generation of farmers and agricultural scientists.”
Black added, “With great programs such as the 5 Million Meals Challenge and Feed My School for a Week, students will discover the importance of agriculture through learning about the process that brings local produce and goods from an area farm to the cafeteria table, while at the same time receiving a healthy, delicious meal. These programs not only allow children more healthy alternatives and promote local producers, but also bring communities together for a great cause.”
The 25 school systems (so far) are: Appling County School System, Atlanta Public Schools, Baldwin County Schools, Bleckley County School District, Burke County Public Schools, Carrollton City Schools, City Schools of Decatur, Clarke County School District, Cobb County School District, Commerce City Schools, Crisp County School System, Fulton County Schools, Grady County Schools, Habersham County Schools, Harris County School District, Hart County School System, Jackson County School System, Madison County School District, Marietta City Schools, Newton County Schools, Pickens County Schools, Rockdale County Public Schools, Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, Thomas County Schools and Tift County Schools.
Tift County Superintendent Patrick Atwater told The Gazette Thursday, “We are excited about the opportunity it brings for our students and local farmers.”
According to the press release, the Centers for Disease Control has identified Farm to School as a key strategy in addressing childhood obesity. But it’s not just scientists and policy makers who are interested in farm to school — these programs are being implemented on the ground by thousands of people in Georgia. School gardens are the fun and public “face” of Farm to School, but there’s much more to it than that. Thriving Farm to School programs feature teachers who incorporate growing food into the curriculum and parents who volunteer an hour or two to help weed that school garden.
The press release states that Farm to School also involves chefs from the community conducting taste tests with students and farmers connecting directly with the schools by hosting farm tours or making guest appearances on days when their food will be featured in the cafeteria. And most importantly, it means that the nutrition staff — the dedicated workers planning and preparing the cafeteria food — take the extra time to plan and prepare healthy, local food that students love to eat.
For more information, visit GeorgiaOrganics.org.