School cafeteria lunches have a reputation for being bland and boring. But at Sharon Elementary in Forsyth County and other schools across the state, students and staff enjoy a lot of tasty surprises on the cafeteria menu.
Sharon Elementary participated in the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Feed My School for a Week program and made it a year-long celebration. The school kicked off the program with a Dress Like a Farmer Day, and it wrapped up in April with a week-long cafeteria menu consisting of at least 75 percent Georgia-grown products.
“We worked with our produce vendor to ensure that as many fruits and vegetables as possible were Georgia grown,” says Valerie Bowers, director of the School Nutrition Program for Forsyth County Schools. “We highlighted menu items grown and processed in Georgia so students could make that connection.”
Feed My School Week
Throughout Feed My School Week, students had the opportunity to engage in taste tests and sample local products, after which they gave cafeteria employees feedback about new foods they tried.
“We served a tomato, cucumber and basil salad in the cafeteria, highlighting the fact that the basil was grown in the school garden,” Bowers says. “Recipes were made for home use, and students were encouraged to try making the salad at home. We also sampled blueberry juice from Georgia and talked about apples from north Georgia.”
Along with Sharon Elementary, other Georgia schools are making agriculture education a priority.
Schools in Madison, Grady, Bibb and Chatham counties all hosted mini ag expos, allowing students to interact with local farmers, products and industries in their communities. In Bibb County, students were treated to a traditional low-country boil made with fresh Georgia shrimp, and each planted their own tomato plant with the help of Master Gardeners.
Grady County’s expo featured representatives from the county’s largest agribusiness industry, logging. Students there also had the opportunity to learn about about growing their own food by planting a tomato with help from Georgia Master Gardeners.
The Bleckley County School System has been participating in the Feed My School program for three years.
For the third year, they focused not only on fresh Georgia produce, but products produced by agribusinesses in the state. Students learned about Frito-Lay, Naturally Fresh and Cheerios, all of which have a presence in the state.
Kathy Peavy, school nutrition director at Bleckley County Middle School says the program has been the perfect way to turn the cafeteria into a true learning lab for students.
“Seeing the excitement on the students’ faces has made this so enjoyable,” she says. “They’re thrilled to learn about the location of where the food is grown, have the chance to taste that product and then make a connection with the farmer.”
Since the initial year at the middle school, Peavy says they’ve served a Georgia-grown product in the cafeteria every month, plus during the Summer Feeding Program.
“This year, Bleckley County High School is participating, too,” she adds.
A Farmers Market At School
Back at Sharon Elementary, they closed out Feed My School Week with a farmers market in the school parking lot. It was free for vendors and a way to get school families exposed to locally grown foods.
“The impact on our school was enlightening. The kids and staff were very excited about the program throughout the whole year,” says Randi Weimer, a Sharon Elementary PTA member who helped coordinate the farmers market. “Even the parents who joined their students for lunch were able to see their enthusiasm for trying new things. The students know a lot more about where their food comes from now that they have been exposed to Feed My School.”
Bowers says that students are far more aware now of the Georgia Grown logo and its meaning.
“They are beginning to make the connection between the food they eat and the fact that a lot of it is grown here in our state, in some cases very close to home,” Bowers says. “As we work to expand the farm-to-school concept in our district, I hope students and parents realize the quality and care that goes into their school meals.”