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Hall, Gainesville schools recognized for nutrition efforts
Jacob Huynh, a first-grade student in Jennifer Parrish’s class at Gainesville Exploratory Academy, dumps his tray after lunch Tuesday with help from Carlos Herreda. - photo by RON BRIDGEMAN

Hall County second-graders love to dig sweet potatoes and red noodle beans because they are about 24 inches long, said Lee Lovett, who helps with the vegetable garden at Gardens on Green.

More than 1,000 students visit the garden during the growing season at the beginning and end of school, Lovett said. It is part of the county system’s program to teach students about plants and food.

“We’re just demonstrating for kids and letting kids dig,” Lovett said.

Gainesville schools have a similar program, which included five farm- to school lessons and an “aw shucks” event at Gainesville Exploratory Academy.

For their efforts, both school districts were among 53 from the state who were recognized last week with the Golden Radish award. Gainesville received a bronze award, and Hall County got an honorary. School nutrition departments were recognized for the work.

The Golden Radish Award recognizes school districts for all aspects of farm to school, from local food procurement to hosting taste tests to gardening with students. Districts were evaluated on their work in 10 different activities of farm to school.

Gold, silver, bronze, and honorary levels are awarded.

“We teach the children about the plant cycle, back around to the seed again,” Lovett said.

Nutrition lessons, composting, native plants and pollinators also are on the menu for instruction.

He noted that 32 people volunteer at the gardens for various chores, lessons and tours.

“We send the kids home with a radish that they plant,” he said, noting that radishes grow quickly.

At GEA, “fourth-grade students shucked the corn ‘relay-style,’ and the winning class received a trophy,” said Emily House, nutrition coordinator. “It was then cooked by the school nutrition staff and served as a choice to the entire school as a component of the school meal.

“The farm-to-school lesson was not only about shucking the corn, but also about looking at food from different perspectives, like as a scientist or a mathematician.”

House added the nutrition department gets local and Georgia produce weekly. Dishes with those products include spinach and kale, orange-glazed carrots, farmer’s garden salad, collard greens and fresh strawberries.

One city school, Enota MI Academy, has a vegetable garden. Gayla Pierce, science teacher and coordinator, said students plant vegetables for spring and fall gardens, preparing the soil, planting and harvesting the food.

The fall garden includes tomatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and basil — four or five different varieties.

“Right now, they’re harvesting tomatoes,” Pierce said. She said the garden has pear-shaped yellow tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. It also includes several species of lettuce, kale collard greens and Swiss chard.

The food is not used in a regular basis in the cafeteria, she said, because the amount and kinds of vegetables are irregular.

“It’s not predictable. I can’t tell them (cafeteria workers) ‘three weeks from now I’m going to have a bushel of this,’” she said.

She does conduct taste tests, though, and every child in the school gets to sample.

Pierce said she teaches what is a vegetable or fruit; the more colors on your plate, the better; fresh is better than processed; and nutrients we get from our food. Students also learn about plant parts, photosynthesis, pollination and germination.

Gainesville schools provide about 6,000 lunches per day, Penny Fowler, nutrition director, said by email.

Cheryl Jones, head of nutrition for Hall County, said it provides about 18,000 lunches per day.

Gainesville’s school nutrition department has received other recognition this year. The department’s cafeterias all scored 100 on health inspections last spring. The district was recognized by the USDA on a state level for its social media program and on a Southeast regional level for best practices in hazard analysis of critical control points.

“The HACCP best practice, was developed by the director of school nutrition, Penny Fowler, and implemented by the systems training manager, Teresa Wiley,” House said. “The process is similar to a health inspection and is conducted at all schools on a regular basis.”

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