Georgia apples, peaches, corn, beef and other locally grown food will be part of the curriculum for Colbert Elementary School students in Madison County as part of the Feed my School for a Week program, Sept. 23-27.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture launched the Feed my School for a Week program to teach students how Georgia agriculture affects their lives and the importance of eating well.
“This is really a year long focus on local agriculture,” said Madison County Extension agent Adam Speir. He helped connect the school with the local farmers and 4-H Club members who will be introducing students to the world of agriculture.
“Even though Madison County is rural, many of our students are removed from the farm and don’t have an understanding of agriculture’s impact in the cafeteria, on their community and on their lives," he said.
Colbert Elementary School is one of five schools selected for the this year’s program, which provides school administrators with the support they need to source locally produced food to supply their cafeterias for a week.
Georgia Department of Agriculture officials also tapped West Chatham Elementary in Savannah, Skyview Elementary School in Macon, Sharon Elementary School in Cumming and Southside Elementary School in Cairo for the program. They will be providing locally sourced meals this spring.
Misty Friedman, school nutrition director for Madison County Schools, and Becky Wheless, school nutrition director for Colbert Elementary School, decided to provide locally grown food this fall because school lunch participation is higher in the fall. However, focusing on locally procured food during the fall did mean Friedman had to spend more time this summer preparing for the one-week, local food blitz.
Her preparation included everything from processing and freezing fresh berries and peaches that were picked this summer at local farms to finding farmers who had enough corn planted to provide the cornmeal she needed to make hundreds of honey corn cake squares.
Despite the planning involved, building a menu from Georgia-grown produce for hundreds of students was surprisingly easy. More than 90 percent of the items on next week’s menu — from the sloppy Joes, to chicken fingers, to homemade peach sauce — are made exclusively from Georgia products.
“It hasn’t been as big of a challenge as I thought it would be, at all,” Friedman said. “When you sit back and look at it, supply-wise, there’s not a reason why we can’t do this all of the time.”
But while planning the Georgia-grown menu was a big part of the Feed my School for a Week festivities, it was only the beginning.
In addition to learning about the counties where each menu item was grown or raised, students will use agriculture to learn about math, science, health and social studies.
“It’s really more of a year long effort,” said Sandra Seymour, Colbert Elementary School principal. “A lot of books will be read with agricultural themes.”
In addition to learning about Georgia agriculture, students will learn more about their home county. Farmers and other community members' reach will provide field trips and in school presentations about farming in Madison County.
“We’re having a good time and the kids are learning a lot already,” Seymour said. "We have an art contest occurring this week, an essay contest for later in the fall, taste-testing using Georgia commodities and agricultural-related field trips planned for all grades throughout the year … We have so many people from the community wanting to get involved. The community has been really excited about this.”
The school will cap off their week of local, food-related activities with a Colbert "Mini-Expo" on Friday, Sept. 27. Students will rotate among exhibits, farm animals and farm equipment brought in by local farmers, Georgia 4-H’ers and Georgia agricultural commodity and trade groups.
For more information on the Feed your School for a Week program, visit www.agr.georgia.gov/feed-my-school-for-a-week.aspx.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)