Champion collard greens were on the menu at Loganville Middle School Thursday and, judging by the participation, the leafy green vegetable was well received. Of course, the chance of winning the $25 gift card might have had something to do with the enthusiastic response.
“This is part of the Farm to School initiative. This is a cafeteria activity where we’ve contacted a local farmer in the community and we’re featuring his produce, which is champion collard greens today, in an initiative expose students to locally grown food that can actually taste good,” said Brandon Walker, head of LMS FFA program. “Students are filling out surveys for a chance to win a $25 gift card as an incentive. Eventually what we want is for locally grown food to actually be served in the cafeteria – hot line and salad bar.”
Walker said LMS is currently working with two different farmers right now.
“We have to work out the economics but we really think that locally grown food is better for our community and for our health,” he said.
Christy Bowman, principal of LMS, said the middle school is a pilot school in the national Farm to School initiative. The champion collard greens were supplied by Back River Farms from Loganville.
"We have a second farmer who will be contributing as well," Bowman said. "And we will do the same thing. These students are tasting the food and completing the survey to see if they would like to have it served in the cafeteria."
In addition to experimenting with local farmers supplying produce to serve to students, students are also growing their own produce at the school and even have a aquaponics project in the greenhouse.
“The (aquaponics) equipment was obtained from the University of Georgia,” Walker said. “We had some success with lettuce over the summer. We’re now looking to move it though because the greenhouse is getting too crowded – we need to make some room.”
Walker and Judy Ashley of Walton County Cooperative Extension are participating in the Summit on Georgia’s program on Feb. 21-22. Walker will describe how LMS 2-year pilot program models feasible ways to create and sustain a school garden while advocating for fresh produce in the cafeteria. Included will be ways to teach students the valuable skills of growing their own food. Ashley also will be addressing the conference on how the project is booming in Georgia. Last year more than 3 million school meals were served with local food.
According to the Farm to School website, Georgia is the 6th largest producer of vegetables in the U.S., but Georgia's children rank as the 3rd most obese and overweight. This translates into more sick days at school and soaring health care costs. The Farm to School programs are looking to find solutions that address both good health as well as local economies.
The Georgia Farm to School Program was established in 2007 by Georgia Organics, a member supported non-profit organization. The mission is to integrate healthy, sustainable and locally grown food into the lives of all Georgians.