Farm-to-cafeteria opportunities make for healthier, happier students
Georgia is revolutionizing its school lunch system with a determination to keep kids healthy and fight the unsettling statistic that more than 37 percent of the state’s students are overweight or obese.
First launched in 2011, the Feed My School for a Week (FMS) program helps facilitate the adoption of healthier recipes in cafeterias, bridge the gap in nutritional foods being served, and promote food and agriculture awareness among schoolchildren. As of 2016, the program consists of 19 schools with each accepted school committing to three years, although many are participating longer and expanding to include additional schools within the district.
“Our mission for the FMS program, the 2020 Vision for School Nutrition and the Georgia Grown Test Kitchen is to help build relationships between farmers, food-service purveyors, schools and communities,” says Misty Friedman, school nutrition/farm- to-school coordinator, Georgia Department of Agriculture. “Through our work, we are able to connect the vested farm-to-school partners to bring more local, seasonal Georgia fruits and vegetables to all students across the state.”
Local blueberries, strawberries, apples, green beans, peaches, Satsuma oranges, collard greens, as well as numerous proteins like beef, poultry, pork, fish and shrimp are just a few of the fresh produce items making students eager to pick up their lunch trays.
“The realization of how agriculture touches your life on a daily basis has been very impactful on our students and teachers,” Friedman says.
Since starting FMS for the 2015-16 school year, Donna Martin, director of the school nutrition program for Burke County Board of Education, found that “FMS made Blakeney Elementary School get really excited about everything local. Our students and staff tried new foods that we’re putting on the menu this next school year like white acre and purple hull peas.”
Martin also observed that one of the most successful parts of the program was the support gained from the school itself, including integration into real-life curriculum.
“We loved watching not only our students enjoy new things, but our teachers and staff were incredibly fired up, too,” she says “Additionally, we were able to continue working with a few of the farmers on a regular basis for our school meals.”
The positive outcomes of the school’s participation in FMS have been contagious, leading nearby systems and businesses to start buying local, further supporting local farmers and Georgia’s economy.
SOUTH JACKSON ELEMENTARY
Although another first-year FMS participant for the 2015-16 school year, South Jackson Elementary School has long been the cornerstone for farm-to-school activities in the county. The difference was FMS took a lot of activities to new heights including more events and hands-on opportunities, explains Debra Morris, director of school nutrition for Jackson County Schools.
“When school first started, we purchased locally grown seeded watermelons to talk with kids about the watermelon process. Then, after the kids sliced up and de-seeded the watermelons, the pulp was used to make slushies,” she says.
Additional educational activities included handling and preparing vegetables in their natural state while learning about how these foods were grown. Morris witnessed how, the next day when these items were served, the children were more apt to try them because they wanted to taste the product they had handled.
“The kids are now excited to come to the cafeteria. We’ve had several guest visits including farmers and the Watermelon Queen. Kids can’t wait to see what new development each day holds,” she says.
For Morris, the success derived from these intimate food experiences has instilled the confidence to take the program to another school the following year. And just like the kids she serves, she’s excited to share FMS with more students throughout the county.