Pine Street Elementary School student Sean Stokes smells his fresh squash snack before tasting it. This year, students at C.J. Hicks, J.H. House and Pine Street elementary schools are enjoying daily fresh fruits and vegetables provided through a special grant. -- Special Photo
CONYERS -- Hundreds of Rockdale County students are getting healthy snacks at school this year and trying new fresh fruits and vegetables, like kumquats and more colorful versions of carrots and cauliflower.
Three Rockdale County public schools -- C.J. Hicks, J.H. House and Pine Street elementary schools -- are among 146 schools across the state that were awarded a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for the 2011-12 school year.
C.J. Hicks received an allocation of more than $43,000, J.H. House more than $30,000 and Pine Street more than $28,000 to fund fresh fruits and vegetables for students every day.
"This is a great opportunity to expose children to healthy snack options on a daily basis," said Peggy Lawrence, director of School Food Services for Rockdale County Public Schools. "The students might not like everything they try, but it does introduce them to many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, which support a foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits."
So far this school year, students have tried a variety of fresh and unusual fruits and vegetables, including asparagus, blackberries and kumquat, as well as carnival cauliflower and rainbow carrots, which are colorful versions of the normally white and orange foods. They also get more common foods like strawberries, bananas and squash.
"We work with our produce vendor to select the fruits and veggies for the following week," Lawrence said. "They give us a list of available items that are a bit off the beaten path in terms of what we normally order, items that are just for this program. We look over the list, confirm availability and then order from there."
Jennifer Ford, an RCPS dietitian, develops a PowerPoint presentation each week that has some information about each product, including nutrients contained in it, its country of origin, how to eat it and so on, to supply to each school for use in announcements and for teachers to pull up on their smart boards in class.
"We have gotten some menu ideas from this as well," Lawrence said.
The program is authorized and funded under Section 19 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and has expanded in recent years as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill.
It is available in selected low-income elementary schools. Schools must have at least 50 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunches in order to apply for the grant through their state Department of Education.
The three schools in RCPS were selected based on the percentage of free and reduced lunches and a grant application, Lawrence said.
"My only wish is that I could have it in each elementary school. It is a wonderful program, giving children exposure to the wonderful, colorful world of fresh fruits and vegetables," Lawrence said. "We plan to continue applying for this grant funding and hope to be able to expand the program to other schools which meet the grant criteria."