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Thursday February 11th, 2016 12:11PM

Farm-to-school programs now in 14 Ga. school districts

By Staff
ATLANTA - What began as a pilot program in Hall and two other Georgia school districts to get more more locally grown produce on school menus has now expanded to include 14 school systems in the state.

Georgia schools are on track to serve up an unprecedented amount of locally grown food to children all over the state during the current school year. Through an innovative program known as  Harvest of the Month, school districts are highlighting fresh, local food in the cafeteria as part of a program to teach children where their food comes from, why it matters, and inspiring them to want to consume it.

The pilot programs in Hall, Colquitt and Bleckley counties were announced last fall and state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black visited Wauka Mountain Elementary School in North Hall earlier this year to discuss the program.

Farm to school programs now exist in 14 school districts in the state with more coming on board each month thanks to an effort being led by Georgia Organics, the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, the Georgia Department of Public Health and others. In fact, the third annual Georgia Farm to School Summit, held in late February, saw a 100% increase in attendance in 2012, hosting about 200 people, up from 80 in 2011.

Alice Rolls, Executive Director of Georgia Organics, remarked on how farm to school has grown exponentially.  We started with two individual schools five years ago. Now, we are working with districts all over the state. It s clear that school systems want it, educators want it, and parents want it. Most importantly, it s a great strategy to improve the health of Georgia s children and economy.

As of late last week, these school districts were intentionally serving and highlighting locally grown food each month: Atlanta Public Schools, Bibb County, Bleckley County, Cobb County, Commerce City Schools, Cherokee County, Colquitt County, Decatur City Schools, DeKalb County, Dougherty County, Douglas County, Hall County, Gwinnett County, and Jefferson City Schools. In total, these systems are serving approximately 409,000 meals each month featuring a fresh, locally grown ingredient. Those meals over the course of the 9-month school year total over 3 million meals. Rolls says the total meals served using locally sourced ingredients is likely much higher.

Cleta Long, incoming president of the Georgia School Nutrition Association and Director of School Nutrition for Bibb County Schools, is one of the leaders in the state s farm to school movement.  Our objective in serving local food and participating in the farm to school program is to provide fresh foods from local farmers to enhance student learning. It is all about student s health and learning. Participation in the farm to school program has increased our student s consumption of fruits and vegetables and in our overall participation.

 It s all hands on deck to make Georgia kids healthier and support Georgia farmers, Rolls concluded.
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