Friday may have been the last such day in the month of July, but it also marked a first as an event never before held locally took place at the Baldwin County Board of Education office.
Professionals based in a range of different, but related fields came together in the middle of the day for a Farm to School symposium, hosted by the Baldwin County School District’s nutrition department to discuss ways to expand school nutrition out of the cafeteria and into classrooms.
“I just wanted to use this opportunity to get everybody together. We have a whole new wellness program this year with a real high concentration on spending energy and focus on school gardens and our farm to school initiative,” said Susan Nelson, Baldwin County school nutrition director at the start of Friday’s program.
She noted that a lot has already been done to integrate nutrition into the daily curriculum, beginning with the creation of the school district’s new wellness coordinator position filled by A’Keti Mayweather who would speak more on her efforts since joining the school district later in the symposium. Nelson stressed that the farm to school movement is not just about having a school garden, but showing teachers innovative ways to incorporate both agriculture and nutrition in their lessons to students.
The symposium was attended by school nutrition employees, teachers, and some current as well as prospective community partners that can assist in the nutrition-to-classroom integration. Cheryl Giddens, a representative from the Georgia Department of Education, told those in attendance things like the school gardens and community partnerships can open doors for students that were not available before.
“I’m really excited to see Baldwin County take its Farm to School program to the next level,” she said. “All of you have a part to play in that, and it can be super great for our children. Farm to School is a program that is so beneficial for our children because it gives them the opportunity to have the best, the freshest, and most nutritionally-sound food that they can have and it’s grown right here in their community.”
Representatives from the Georgia Farm Bureau, the Green Market, Comfort Farms, and others were all on hand to learn more about the growing Farm to School movement. They were told that partnerships between schools and their organizations don’t have to just be about selling produce to the nutrition department, but also by coming into schools and teaching students about their jobs. Field trips are another way the two entities could partner together.
Nelson also introduced Donna Sapp, her counterpart with the Laurens County School System who has been implementing Farm to School in her district. Sapp stated that a schools’ primary mission will always be to educate children, but nutrition departments are in place to help that mission along.
“We’re here to support that because a hungry kid can’t learn,” she said. “If they’re dealing with their little growling bellies they can’t get that curriculum and instruction that’s so important for them.”
Sapp went on to say that implementing a successful Farm to School program is all about getting “superstar” teachers to step up and volunteer to bridge the gap between the garden and the classroom.
In closing, new school district wellness coordinator A’Keti Mayweather highlighted another aspect of the Farm to School program.
“We want to make sure kids understand where food comes from and the importance of consuming healthy foods,” she said. “What we’re asking is that today when you leave you consider becoming a volunteer with this program. When you leave today we’re hoping that you’re not just leaving with this information and do nothing with it, but you’re leaving and saying, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of Farm to School.’”
Mayweather also discussed a few Farm to School-related events taking place throughout the first half of the school year with a major emphasis in October, which just so happens to be National Farm to School Month. Each school will participate in different creative contests and taste tests with different harvest of the month items.