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Tift County Schools Named “Outstanding District” for Farm to School

 
Tift County Schools was given the “Outstanding District” Golden Radish Award, the highest level of recognition in the state for farm to school programs. Tift County School System includes farm to school in their Wellness Plan and the Board of Education’s Strategic Plan for Improvement. The School Nutrition Department’s mission is to expose, educate, and elevate the quality of meals served to 7,600 students in the district’s 12 schools. They have created one of the state’s most robust and innovative programs focused on agricultural and nutrition education, supporting local farmers and getting students excited to eat delicious, healthy, fresh, local foods.
Georgia’s Departments of Agriculture, Education and Public Health, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and Georgia Organics came together at the historic Georgia Railroad Freight Depot to celebrate over 40 percent of Georgia school districts with excellent farm to school programs. Seventy-five school districts, serving more than one million students in Georgia, are now participating in farm to school. These districts served more than 97 million school meals with local food items during the 2016-17 school year.
Tift County Schools was also recognized at the Platinum level for their accomplishments during the last school year, which include:
• The School Nutrition Department purchased a cow from a student and had it processed by a local community partner. The meat provided meals for four days to over 300 students at Omega Elementary School.
• The district supports a 15-acre farm where students learn how to plant, maintain, and glean crops on a larger scale. Students also learn how to extend the life of their harvest at the county’s state of the art canning facility maintained by an FFA instructor.
• Local farmer Len Lastinger taught students how to harvest eggs from the schools laying hens. The corresponding omelet taste test was a big hit!
The Golden Radish Award publicly recognizes school districts for all aspects of farm to school, from local food procurement to hosting taste tests and gardening with students. This year, the Golden Radish partners awarded 26 new school districts and welcomed a new partner-UGA Extension. “UGA Extension is so excited to promote healthy eating habits and incorporate Georgia’s great agricultural food products into our school lunchrooms,” said Associate Dean for UGA Extension at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Laura Perry Johnson. “This is a natural partnership that benefits us as well as the school kids who get to enjoy these tasty and nutritious products.”
Districts of all sizes are utilizing farm to school programs to teach academic standards in school gardens, support the local economy through local food purchases for school meals, and fight childhood obesity and other preventable food-related diseases. “Access to fresh, locally grown food is not just important for students’ physical health – it’s part of their academic development as well,” said State Superintendent Richard Woods. “When children eat fresh, healthy meals, they have the fuel they need for a successful day of learning.”
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black notes that while farm to school efforts support academic achievement, they also help build a strong agricultural economy. “Feed My School For a Week, Georgia Grown Test Kitchen and the Golden Radish Awards are all great ways for school nutrition to support Georgia producers, and we are excited as to what current and future award winners will accomplish as we work toward our 2020 Vision for School Nutrition in Georgia.”
Department of Public Health Commissioner J. Patrick O’Neal, M.D. champions healthy food access for children and supports farm to school efforts. “The vitamins, minerals and health benefits from local fresh fruit and vegetables, not only allow our children to be physically healthy, but research has shown that healthy eating is also key to brain development,” said Commissioner O’Neal. “Here in Georgia, we are leading the nation in identifying ways to increase early brain development, and healthy nutrition is an enormous part of that.”
Georgia Organics founded the state’s first farm to school program in 2007. Since then, communities across the state have embraced the benefits of bringing students and fresh, local food closer together. “It’s astounding that over 40 percent of our school districts are actively involved in The Golden Radish Awards after only four years of establishing the program,” stated Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls. “This is an exciting trajectory given the great impact farm to school has had on child nutrition, farmer prosperity, rural development, local economies and public health.”
The 2016-17 school year was a record breaking year of farm to school growth in Georgia. The Golden Radish school districts collectively:
● Served over 97 million meals that featured locally grown and raised foods
● Conducted 8,204 taste tests
● Taught 7,263 standards based lessons
● Tended 885 school gardens
● Engaged students in 3,794 hands on cooking activities
● Involved parents and community members in 1,339 farm to school activities.
 
Pictured are Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls, Superintendent of Tift County Schools Patrick Atwater, School Nutrition Director of Tift County Schools Vanessa Hayes, Georgia Department of Health Commissioner Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, UGA Associate Dean for Extension Dr. Laura Perry Johnson and Georgia State Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods.