Middle Ridge Elementary School kindergartener Thomas Campbell in Sara Thelen's class picked up a tangerine for lunch recently. State officials recently presented the Newton County School System with The Golden Raddish Award for being one of the 25 school districts in Georgia for increasing the amount of local food it serves students. Staff Photos: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON --The Newton County School System was one of 25 school districts in the state honored for increasing the amount of local food served to students.
State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and Georgia Organics Board President Rashid Nuri recently honored 25 Georgia school districts for taking the 5 Million Meals Challenge and pledging to serve more local food in their cafeterias through Farm to School programs.
"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," Barge said in a press reease. "It also helps us expose children to science through agriculture. We must teach our children about an industry that is so critical to Georgia's economy in order to inspire the next generation of farmers and agricultural scientists."
In 2011, 3 million meals featuring locally produced food were served in more than 650 Georgia schools as part of a program to teach children where their food comes from and why that matters, and inspire them to eat more fruits and vegetables, according to the Georgia Department of Education.
In October 2012, Georgia Organics and its partners launched the 5 Million Meals Challenge, a statewide effort to get 5 million meals made with locally grown food served in K-12 cafeterias across Georgia.
"With great programs such as the 5 Million Meals Challenge and Feed My School, students will discover the importance of agriculture through learning about the process that brings local produce and goods from an area farm to the cafeteria table, while at the same time receiving a healthy, delicious meal," Black said in a press release. "These programs not only allow children more healthy alternatives and promote local producers, but also bring communities together for a great cause."
School districs were presented The Golden Radish Award for their efforts.
"The Newton County School nutrition staff is always looking for ways to introduce new food to our students. By promoting fruits and vegetables grown in Georgia and Newton County, not only are we able to provide different food for the students, we also have a role in educating them about Georgia agriculture," said Jan Loomans, director of Operational Services for NCSS.
This school year, the NCSS School Nutrition department has offered students locally grown green bell peppers and cucumbers as part of their entree salads. Students also have enjoyed local apple varieties such as Pink Lady apples grown in Mercier Orchards, a north Georgia farm located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When local produce is offered on the menu, point-of-sale signage is displayed on the cafeteria serving lines for students to view interesting facts and nutrition information about the locally grown item, according to NCSS.
The department plans to continue to expand its offerings of locally grown produce to students. Currently, it's working with a local Newton County farmer to obtain fresh, local strawberries for students to enjoy this spring. Department staff hopes that offering local produce and educating students about it will encourage students to eat fruits and vegetables that they may otherwise be reluctant to try.