Fewer things worry parents, health care providers and educators more than the nation’s rising childhood obesity epidemic.
More and more, those searching for a solution have honed in on farm-to-school programs, which are among the few successful efforts to show improved long-term eating habits while enriching educational experiences.
Five years ago, Georgia started with two schools with such programs. Now, we are working with 16 districts from across the state. Nutrition directors have embraced farm-to-school programs because they, like parents, are committed to feeding children the healthiest, freshest foods they can afford.
Teachers have implemented farm-to-school programs because they know hands-on techniques, such as using measuring cups while cooking, are a more effective way to teach.
They’re teaching fractions while their classes are outside, planning their next garden. They’re teaching measurements while planting carrot seeds one-half inch deep.
Studies are now confirming what educators and nutritionists have known for decades: that students learn better when they are well-fed. That doesn’t mean when their stomachs are full. In the world of farm to school, well-fed refers to food that is full of nutrition, and free of substances that can cause children to be distracted or hyper-active, like too much sugar.
Most important, this is a great strategy to improve the health of Georgia’s children and economy.
Thanks to the hard work of dozens of farm-to-school advocates, 2011 was a historic year. Three million meals featuring locally produced food were served in Georgia schools as part of a program to teach children where their food comes from and why it matters, and inspiring them to eat more fruits and vegetables.
We think we can expand from 3 million meals to 5 million meals by the end of the 2013 school year, but only with a lot of help from a lot of different people.
School gardens are the fun and public “face” of farm to school, but there’s more to it than that.
Thriving farm-to-school programs require teachers who incorporate it into the curriculum, and parents who’ll volunteer an hour or two to help weed that school garden.
It also takes nutrition staff – the dedicated workers planning and preparing cafeteria food – to take the extra time to plan and prepare healthy, local food that the students are willing to eat.
After all, if the kids don’t eat it, what’s the point of serving it?
Atlanta Public Schools and thirteen other Georgia school districts offer local produce at least once a month.
So far, 16 school systems have risen to meet our “5 Million Meals Challenge” and have pledged to use local food in their cafeterias. They may not serve it every day, every week, or even every month, but every bit helps.
By reaching our goal of 5 million healthy meals in Georgia schools this year, we can make sure all of our children eat the healthy, nutritious food that they need to thrive in school.
If you like the ideas of healthier children and prosperous farmers, tell anyone involved in your school’s leadership that local, chemical-free food is better for our children and for our community.
To learn more, go to www.georgiaorganics.org.
Alice Rolls is executive director of Georgia Organics, an organization that connects organic food from Georgia farms with Georgia families.