During April, the featured vegetable of the month is carrots according to DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Nutrition Director Joyce Wimberly.
This year DCSD launched a series of district-wide nutrition initiatives aimed at getting students to eat healthier. Wimberly said the initiatives will also teach students about the fruits and vegetables served in their lunches, and where the food comes from.
“We wanted to increase the students’ understanding of how the food gets from farm to plate, and educate children about better food choices,” Wimberly said. “We also wanted to introduce some students to some fruits and vegetables they might not have exposure to.”
In addition to DCSD, other school districts including those in Decatur, Atlanta and Cobb and Gwinnett counties, are serving and highlighting locally grown food each month this year.
“I think even nationally, all of us nutrition directors are trying to find innovative ways to introduce students to different fruits and vegetables—we try to couple that with nutrition education,” Wimberly said.
Each month, the school cafeteria features a different vegetable such as carrots, spinach or green beans. Students are encouraged to go online to DCSD’s website and learn about the vegetable of the month, where it came from and why it’s healthy for them.
“We also have farm-to-school training for our school nutrition managers and partner with The Cook’s Warehouse in Decatur, who offer training for our cafeteria staff,” Wimberly said.
The farm-to-school effort is being led in part by Georgia Organics, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect locally grown food with families throughout Georgia. Also involved in the effort is the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Health.
“We started with two individual schools five years ago. Now, we are working with districts all over the state,” said Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. “It’s a great strategy to improve the health of Georgia’s children and economy.”
Allison Goodman, the school nutrition director at City Schools of Decatur (CSD), said the farm-to-school idea is based on a national movement.
Goodman said each class at CSD has a small garden where students grow food. She said having students plant fruits and vegetables that coincide with the featured food of the month is a good way to get them excited about what was being served in the cafeteria.
Goodman said when the program first began school officials were worried it would be difficult to find locally grown produce. However, she said once CSD began to look it found a wealth of local farmers willing to support the small school system’s needs. Like DCSD, The Cook’s Warehouse gives the CSD nutrition staff farm-to-table training.
“They bring local chefs together and teach my staff how to deal with fresh fruits and vegetables,” Goodman said.
“It has really been a big community effort to make the whole farm-to-school thing work, and it really has to be,” she said.
Although it is more expensive for CSD to feature locally grown food, Goodman predicts it will pay off in the long run by reducing childhood obesity and getting children outside in the garden.
“These days, children are sitting in front of a computer all day. It’s really making the cafeteria one more step in the educational process and exposing them to foods they’re unfamiliar with that they end up really liking,” she said.