5 Million Meals Campaign Brings Food to Students

Fewer things worry parents, healthcare providers, and educators more than the nation’s rising childhood obesity epidemic.

More and more, those searching for a solution have honed in on farm to school programs, which are one of few efforts that show improved long-term eating habits, while enriching educational experiences.

On Oct. 2, 2012, Georgia Organics and its partners launched the 5 Million Meals Campaign, a statewide effort to get five million meals made with locally grown food served in K-12 cafeterias across Georgia. The launch took place at the Atlanta premiere of the documentary "Cafeteria Man," which screened at Georgia Public Broadcasting's studios.
Thanks to the hard work of dozens of farm to school advocates, three million meals featuring locally produced food were served in more than 650 Georgia schools in 2011 as part of a program to teach children where their food comes from and why it matters, and inspire them to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“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,” said State School Superintendent John Barge. “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.”
The Centers for Disease Control has identified farm to school as a key strategy in addressing childhood obesity. But it’s not just scientists and policymakers who are interested in farm to school -- these programs are being implemented on the ground by thousands of people in Georgia.

Five years ago Georgia Organics' efforts started with two individual schools.

“Now, we are working with districts all over the state. It’s clear that school systems want it, educators want it, and parents want it. Most importantly, it’s a great strategy to improve the health of Georgia’s children and economy,” says Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics. “In partnership with nutrition directors around the state who have shown incredible leadership, teachers, students, and state agencies including the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Department of Agriculture and Georgia Department. of Public Health and others, we know we can get five million meals with locally sourced food served to Georgia students.”

School gardens are the fun and public “face” of farm to school, but there’s much more to it than that. Thriving farm to school programs feature teachers who incorporate growing food into the curriculum, and parents who volunteer an hour or two to help weed that school garden.

Farm to school involves chefs from the community conducting taste tests with students, farmers connecting directly with the schools by hosting farm tours or making guest appearances on days when their food will be featured in the cafeteria.

And most importantly, it means that the nutrition staff -- the dedicated workers planning and preparing the cafeteria food -- take the extra time to plan and prepare healthy, local food that students are willing to eat.

After all, if the kids don’t eat it, what’s the point of serving it?

Cleta Long, incoming president of the Georgia School Nutrition Association and Director of School Nutrition for Bibb County Schools, is one of the leaders in Georgia’s farm to school movement. “Our objective in serving local food and participating in the farm to school program is to provide fresh foods from local farmers to enhance student learning. It is all about student’s health and learning.  Participation in the farm to school program has increased our student’s consumption of fruits and vegetables and in our overall school lunch participation.”

Among others, Atlanta Public Schools offers local produce at least once a month, and, by the end of the year, will feature Georgia-grown lettuce in all of their salad bowls district-wide. In addition, at least 13 other Georgia school districts offer local produce in school meals at least once a month.

“There is so much more ground to cover to make these connections between schools, farmers, and other community partners. The 5 Million Meals Campaign will provide an exciting and measurable way to engage more school districts, more parents, and more students to grow farm to school in Georgia,” said Rolls.

For more on the 5 Million Meals campaign, click here.