By David Pendered
Atlanta Public Schools has won a top state award for its efforts to serve students locally produced, farm-fresh food.
Atlanta was among seven school districts in metro Atlanta recognized by Georgia Organics in an event Monday at the state Capitol. Georgia Organics presented its Golden Radish Awards to school districts it determined are doing an outstanding job in providing farm-to-school foods.
Atlanta’s recognition was especially poignant. The district accepted a Golden Radish Award for trying to improve the quality of food served to pupils, even as court testimony continued a few blocks away in the trial over the cheating scandal.
The award also is significant because a number of Atlanta schools are located in areas where students may not get much fresh food at home, because not all neighborhoods have grocery stores that supply fresh foods. The shortage of fresh foods has been linked to various health issues.
“Poor nutrition can cause health problems, overweight and obesity,” said Georgia Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald “Half or more of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and farm to school programs have been shown to increase student consumption of these foods. The Georgia Department of Public Health has been a long-time partner and supporter of Georgia’s farm to school efforts and we’re pleased to see the movement’s leaders recognized today.”
According to Georgia Organics, the Golden Radish Award recognizes districts for farm-to-school efforts that include:
- Buying food that’s produced locally,
- Hosting taste tests,
- Gardening with students to show them that they, too, can grow their own foods.
Volunteers and Atlanta school officials have been working for several years to increase the amount of fresh foods served to students. In 2010, the district’s Farm to School Task Force presented a report that included a number of recommendations.
Atlanta’s former director of sustainability, Mandy Mahoney, was among the presenters.
Mahoney chairs the board of Georgia Organics and now serves as president of Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance. Her interest in the farm-to-table food movement includes making cheese from local, raw milk.
“We are so proud of the school district leaders being recognized through the Golden Radish Award,” Mahoney said in a statement. “In reviewing the applications, it’s clear that farm to school programs are popping up all over Georgia, and that Georgia school districts are committed to continuing to grow and support thriving programs.”
According to APS, the district was recognized for the following initiatives:
- “Locally grown food items featured in school meals 177 times this year. Local items included: romaine lettuce, carrots, strawberries, and apples. All schools also offered locally grown food two to three times a week as part of the reimbursable meal plan;
- “Fifty-three edible school gardens evenly distributed throughout the district, including one high school garden with a greenhouse on school grounds.
- “Students who participated in 3,396 taste tests of 85 different locally grown fruits and vegetables this year, including grapefruit, muscadines and green bell peppers.”
Atlanta was recognized at the gold level of the Golden Radish Award. Here are the other local winners:
- City of Decatur
- Fulton County Schools
None in metro Atlanta
- Cobb County School District
DeKalb County School District
Gwinnett County Public Schools
Marietta City Schools
School districts across the state participate in farm-to-school food programs. An interactive map on Georgia Organic’s website indicates that the greatest participation is in the urbanized northern part of the state.
The greatest concentration is in metro Atlanta, stretching east to Athens.
Other participants in north Georgia include Union County High School, in Blairsville; Northwest Whitfield High School, in Tunnel Hill; and Georgia School for the Deaf, in Cave Spring – which is in the process of starting a garden that will provide produce for student meals.
In south Georgia, participating districts include Chatham County, at the district level; Skyview Elementary School in Lizella; Tift High School, in Tifton; and Associate of Dougherty County, at the district level.