Fellow kindergartener Raven Harris also picked up a serving of fresh peppers and pears for lunch. At least one local or regional fresh food is featured each month in Rockdale County schools.
CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools was one of 25 school districts in the state honored for increasing the amount of local food served to students.
State School Superintendent John Barge, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Georgia Organics Board President Rashid Nuri recently honored 25 Georgia school districts for taking the 5 Million Meals Challenge and pledging to serve more local food in their cafeterias through Farm to School programs.
“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,” Barge said in a press release. “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.”
In 2011, 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, according to the Georgia Department of Education.
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.
“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,” Black said in a press release. “These programs not only allow children more healthy alternatives and promote local producers, but also bring communities together for a great cause.”
School distritcs were presented The Golden Radish Award for their efforts.
“Our School Food Services department is comprised of a great team of employees in every school across the district,” said Richard Autry, superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools. “While maintaining a self-sustaining financial model, the people in our SFS department do an outstanding job of keeping our students well-nourished so they are ready to learn by providing over 3.4 million healthy meals each year. They go beyond serving the daily nutrition requirements by participating in programs such as Farm to School and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Grant in order to expose children to a variety of fresh and healthy food to begin a lifestyle of making healthy food choices. We are proud of our food services team and this state recognition for their commitment to a healthier life for our young people.”
Peggy Lawrence, director of School Food Services for RCPS, said schools focus on fresh produce items and eggs, and she works with produce vendor Royal Foodservice to purchase as many items as possible from the region, including parts of North Carolina and Florida.
She said one local or regional item is featured each month on its menus. Additionally, schools post a biography of the farm on the serving lines on the days that the item is being served.
“It is a way for students to make the connection between farm to table, for them to understand the valuable contribution that farmers make to our economy and our society, and it gives students an appreciation and, hopefully, a taste for fruits and vegetables that are so important to our overall health,” Lawrence said. “Oftentimes there is a disconnect between food and where it comes from with our students.”
She said Rockdale schools have participated in the Farm to School program for several years, even though it is just now being strongly encouraged at the federal and state levels.
“Busy family lives do not always allow for the opportunity for children to garden at home. This is a small way to help make that connection for our students,” Lawrence said. “There is so much more we can and hope to do with this program as we move forward.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified Farm to School as a key strategy in addressing childhood obesity.