Farm to table food movement celebrates success in Georgia

By David Pendered

The farm to table food movement was the unheralded winner in a ceremony at the state Capitol to recognize school districts that serve locally grown food to students.

Georgia-grown food products are being promoted in schools by state Superintendent John Barge and agricuture Commissioner Gary Black. Credit: Ga. Dept. of Agriculture

Georgia-grown food products are being promoted in schools by state Superintendent John Barge and agricuture Commissioner Gary Black. Credit: Ga. Dept. of Agriculture

The actual awards went to six districts in metro Atlanta, out of 25 awards statewide. These districts were honored for their pledge, in the state’s farm to school program, to serve more locally grown food in their cafeterias as part of the state’s formal farm to school program.

The ceremony highlighted the amazing rate at which the farm to table movement is growing. Georgia is pushing the school program as a complement to the national HealthierUS Schools Challenge, which has recognized 170 schools in Georgia.

The six local school districts that were recognized with a “Golden Radish” were:

  • Atlanta
  • Cobb County
  • Decatur
  • Fulton County
  • Marietta
  • Rockdale County

Two allies have emerged to improve the state’s school nutrition program and student awareness of the state’s agriculture industry –  school superintendent John Barge and agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

In 2011, Barge and Black launched the “Feed My School for a Week” program. It aimed to teach students the source of their locally grown foods, while providing them with locally grown foods in the cafeterias. All lunches served in participating schools had to include at least 75 percent of Georgia-grown foods.

The program resulted in 3 million meals that featured locally grown fruits and vegetables being served in more than 650 schools. The educational component of the program included lessons on the source of the food, and why its cultivation in Georgia is important to the state’s economy.

Last week, the two state officials co-authored an op-ed piece that extolled the virtues of locally grown foods:

  • “Farm to School programs not only boost economic development by supporting local farmers, but the programs also create learning opportunities for students taking science, agriculture and engineering classes. Students who are learning to grow tomatoes, collard greens and potatoes in school gardens watch weather forecasts, research healthy fertilizers and study how plants use photosynthesis to grow.”

The awards ceremony at the Capitol recognized 25 districts for their pledge to join in the effort to serve 5 million meals that include locally grown food.

The “Five Million Meals Challenge” grew out of an effort by Georgia Organics and its partners. Georgia Organics is a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable agriculture practices as well as locally owned farms in Georgia.

After the awards ceremony, which occurred March 5, Barge and Black released a combined statement:

  • Barge: “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. 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: “With great programs such as the Five Million Meals Challenge and Feed My School for 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 entire list of winners of the “Golden Radish,” according to a statement released by the state agriculture and education departments, and Georgia Organics, cites the following districts:

  • 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
  • Tift County Schools

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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