Georgia Organics and FoodCorps Take On the Healthy Food Challenge in Georgia

September 29, 2014

“Eat your vegetables!”

It’s an age-old phrase that rings throughout many American households during almost every meal.

While many parents touting this phrase are tasked with implementing creative methods to nourish their kids with more fruits and vegetables daily, an increasing number of families living in underserved communities have limited access to healthy food options.

The challenge of providing citizens equal access to healthy foods has become a prominent public health discussion in recent years, and is even beginning to impact children and their families throughout the state of Georgia.

In an effort to provide a strategic and sustainable solution to this problem, Georgia Organics, a not-for-profit organization devoted to promoting sustainable foods and local farms in Georgia, launched this month a collaborative partnership with FoodCorps to expand the reach of its Farm to School program.

The Farm to School program, established in 2007, is Georgia Organics’ childhood nutrition initiative designed to increase local food in school meals and offer students hands-on cooking and gardening lessons. The objectives of this initiative dovetailed seamlessly with the nationwide efforts of FoodCorps, a team of AmeriCorps leaders working in limited-resource schools to educate students about nutrition and help them grow up healthy.

“Georgia Organics partnered with FoodCorps as a way to provide more boots on the ground to build and tend school gardens, expand hands-on nutrition education programs and connect schools with farmers,” said Erin Croom, Georgia Organics’ Farm to School program director. “Last year, we underwent a competitive multi-state process to secure FoodCorps service members for Georgia, which now includes eight service members working with several of our partner organizations throughout the state.”

Through the Farm to School program, Georgia Organics serves as the host site for FoodCorps’ emerging leaders, also called service members, which will dedicate one year of service to helping improve our state’s food systems throughout five school districts impacting nearly 15,000 students.

While FoodCorps service members have only been on the job for three weeks, they have already made significant impacts in their communities through activities such as installing gardens alongside local students and conducting nutrition education lessons with teachers.

The Northeast Georgia FoodCorps service members, Somer Ladd and Ian Rossiter, have already worked with every 8th grader in Habersham County, teaching a social studies lesson about hoe cakes and hosting a taste test with locally grown peaches from Jaemore Farms. Connie Roberts and Rachel Waldron in Athens, Georgia have planted vegetable seeds in a local school’s greenhouse with its students. This creative partnership has even hit close to home for FoodCorps service member, Sarah Dasher, who returned to her own middle school to teach students about healthy food options and nutrition.

“All eight of our FoodCorps service members are either Georgia natives or long-time residents who came for school and chose to make Georgia home,” said a FoodCorps fellow, Stephanie Simmons. “We anticipate their investment in the communities they’re serving will have long term benefits and extend well beyond their service year.”

In only a few shorts weeks, the Farm to School program and FoodCorps service members have touched the lives of countless children, helping them both understand and seek out healthier food options in their daily lives – an important behavioral change in students that program director Erin Croom says is easier to achieve than one might believe.  

“There’s a common misperception that kids won’t eat vegetables,” Croom stated.  “The fact is that kids will absolutely eat kale, spinach and carrots, and even go home begging their parents to buy these foods if they have a chance to grow it and eat it. A lot of adults are still scratching their heads on how to trick kids to eat healthier and the trick is simply this: if we want healthy kids, we have to invest the time with children in an edible garden, learning about local foods and cooking simple, healthy foods that are delicious.”

Georgia Organics remains steadfast in its commitment to getting kids engaged with their food at school, at home and in their communities. Through its unique partnership with FoodCorps, the organization is deepening its impact by offering hands-on support to teachers, cafeteria staff, farmers, students and parents.

Although the Farm to School program is poised for great success, the organization still needs the support of all Georgia citizens to carry on the message of providing healthy foods to foster a healthier generation of children throughout the state.

Here are a few examples of how anyone can get involved and support the Farm to School program:                                                                           

  • Celebrate Farm to School Month in October by participating in Grow, Radish, Grow!, Georgia Organics statewide efforts to have families grow and eat radishes. Once signed up, participants will receive easy lesson plans, growing tips and recipes on radishes for any age!
  • Ask teachers and school leaders about starting a garden or farm to school program. Visit the Farm to School section on the Georgia Organics website for more information.
  • Cook with your kids and eat a meal together. Families are stretched for time and funds, but with a little practice, you can make some great, cost effective and healthy meals in less than 20 minutes. Check out Georgia Organics’ Pinterest page for lots of delicious, kid-friendly recipe ideas. 
  • Donate! Georgia Organics is seeking support for its Farm to School program and the expansion of FoodCorps Georgia. Go to www.georgiaorganics.org/join to learn more.

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