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Local Farm to School Initiative Honored by Mayor Tomlinson and Georgia Organics

Image courtesy of Farm to School.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has issued an official proclamation to declare October Farm to School month in Muscogee County. The National Farm to School Network has been at work locally for some time, and continues to provide children in Muscogee County with meals featuring fresh produce every day.

Anne Randle is the committee chair for the Columbus Food Oasis project, as well as head of the University of Georgia's Agricultural Extension program for our region. Randle has seen the development of the Farm to School program locally, and believes in its importance tremendously.

"Farm to school programming has several long-term outcomes for our students," said Randle. "First of all, when they apply the knowledge they get in the classroom to problem-solve in the garden or kitchen, they are more likely to grasp and retain that knowledge. They start performing better academically."

Randle said the impact of this type of educational program extends far beyond the classroom, and knows the longterm benefits will continue to develop in the students' lives as they mature.

"Students also are gaining life skills that will follow them after school, like learning how to grow their own food and prepare healthy meals," Randle explained. "They become better consumers and healthier adults."

Muscogee County is seeing positive results in their classrooms, which has led to further development of the program for this year.

"When we start to see these results in the classroom, school administrators work harder to make these programs available to more students," said Randle. "We are already seeing more gardens being planted, more field trips being planned, and more community organizations reaching out to help."

Trying to secure food for a large school district is a challenge. There are 32,000 students in 54 schools in Muscogee County, which can make it difficult for the Farm to School program to only utilize goods from local farms. In 2017 though, Muscogee County's Nutritional Department sourced over 6,000,000 meals from farms across Georgia.

Randle explained that Columbus' Farm to School program has worked to include local farms when possible.

"We realize that working with smaller local farms is important, too," said Randle. "In 2017, several local farms, like Jenny Jack Farm in Pine Mountain and Busy Bee Farm in Midland, provided field trips, visits to classrooms, and produce for cooking demos and taste tests. We want to get them more involved this year."

"Students also are gaining life skills that will follow them after school, like learning how to grow their own food and prepare healthy meals. They become better consumers and healthier adults."

Randle said she has been amazed by the way the employees of Muscogee County School District have contributed to the success of the program.

"I have been so impressed by the work our teachers and administrators are doing to make this happen," Randle mentioned. "When our kids get to work in a garden or go on a field trip, or even just get fresh Georgia blueberries in the lunch line, all that takes months to plan. These folks are spending their summers and nights and days off to make these opportunities possible for our students. It takes leaders to make good things happen, and there is a lot of good happening in our Muscogee County schools."

It takes leaders to make good things happen, and there is a lot of good happening in our Muscogee County schools. -Anne Randle

Jon Jackson is a local farmer who has been involved in the development of Columbus' Farm to School initiative. He believes that Farm to School will greatly impact the sustainability of our local food industry in the future.

"It's imperative we encourage children to take on Agriculture," said Jackson. "If we don't nurture this into our children we will lose big in the upcoming year as our aging farmers sell off their farms and we have no one to replace them."

In addition to teaching children the importance of local agriculture, Jackson knows that providing these meals is crucial to the health of local students as well.

"For many kids the school lunch is the most important meal of their day and possibly the healthiest meal they will eat for the entire day," explained Jackson. "Having local farms support the schools ensures that children have access to nutritional food every day."

Image courtesy of Farm to School.

Jackson has seen that encouraging local ownership in our agricultural region is another product of the Farm to School program.

"Growing local creates ownership in the community, it creates jobs and it fosters the desire to support the the sustainable farming movement directly," Jackson told us. "By buying from local farms, schools can help create the network for farming communities to set a certain portion of their growing season aside that will directly contribute to the nutrition plan of the school district." 

It's imperative we encourage children to take on Agriculture.  -Jon Jackson

In her proclamation today, Mayor Tomlinson acknowledged the positive benefits of the Farm to School initiative and declared October Farm to School Month. Also included in the proclamation (seen below) was an announcement that Muscogee County School District has been declared the recipient of the Golden Radish Award by Georgia Organics. Given out every October, the Golden Radish Award recognizes educational organizations "doing extraordinary work in farm to school."

Tomlinson's proclamation esteemed the school district for receiving the award as well as acknowledged the hard work and dedication of Muscogee County School District's staff and educators that have banded together to make Farm to School a success locally.

An unofficial copy of the Mayor's proclamation declaring October as Farm to School Month. Image courtesy of Farm to School.

Randle is ecstatic to have Farm to School Month officially recognized by the mayor, and see the Muscogee County School District being esteemed for their efforts. "We love to share this GOOD news about our schools," said Randle.

There is still work to be done, but Jackson knows the future of America's Agriculture depends on the success of national and local programs like Farm to School.

"Children will most likely leave their areas and move on to universities and big cities to never return," he said. "A successful farm to school program will plant the seeds in each child to protect the farming community when they become adults and they seek to have sustainable foods for their children." ◼︎


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