For a week last year, students at Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy were fed with Georgia-grown products through the “Feed My School for a Week” program.
This year, the Georgia Department of Agriculture hopes to see more schools, like Wauka Mountain, jump on board the initiative.
Last week, Commissioner Gary W. Black announced the department is accepting new applications for school districts interested in participating — a collaboration between the Agriculture Department and the Georgia Department of Education to get locally grown products into school cafeterias.
“After last year’s success, we wanted to further expand the program. Not only does it allow students to learn about where their food comes from, but also how it is grown here in Georgia and how it makes its way to the final destination in a school cafeteria,” Black said in a press release. “It is about offering fresh, healthy foods that are locally produced while raising awareness about nutrition.”
Last year, Hall was one of three counties that piloted the program, and nutrition leaders said it’s something they’d like to expand.
“We’re looking at what we did last year and where we want to go with it,” said Andrea Thomas, nutrition director for Hall County Schools. “We’re at the very beginning stages of it.”
Last year, more than 1,600 students from Bleckley, Colquitt and Hall counties were directly involved, and more than 7,500 school lunches were served using 34 school gardens.
“Children learn better when their bodies and minds are fueled by nutritional meals. This program helps create a better school environment so that students can reach new heights academically,” State School Superintendent John Barge said. “It also helps us expose children to science through agriculture.”
Gainesville City Schools is planning on applying for the program as well, but, like Hall County Schools, is in the beginning stages of the process.
“It’s something that we’re very interested in and that our board has expressed interest in,” said Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer. “We are definitely looking at all the details that are coming out and are interested in doing it.”
In addition to new school systems participating this year, the state agriculture department plans to continue working with first-year participants for the next three years. During this time, last year’s participating counties will continue building their farm-to-school approaches, illustrating sustainable farm-to-cafeteria efforts while continuing to identify needs and best practices.
“The Department of Ag would like to see it spread and we’re looking at that possibility,” said Thomas. “That is the plan, but we’re taking the time to create some interest in the program.”
Applications are due into the Department of Agriculture by Oct. 19.
No timeline, nor participating schools, have been identified from local systems.
“The conversation has started, but I don’t know the timeline,” Dyer said. “That will be dictated by the application process.”