Local Food Procurement Toolkit Launches in Farm to School Month

October 14, 2014

Georgia Organics’ Farm to School program is making great strides in fostering a healthier generation of Georgians one student at a time. From school gardens and farm field trips to taste tests and cooking lessons, the organization’s effort to make healthy eating accessible, fun and even trendy is already taking hold among students across the state.

The success of any Farm to School program is deeply rooted in a school’s ability to cost effectively source fresh, locally grown foods for school meals each week. In a time where schools are forced to do more with fewer resources, keeping healthy food options on the cafeteria line while meeting budgetary guidelines often becomes a maze many district nutrition directors aren’t equipped to navigate.

Working in conjunction with Georgia SHAPE, the Governor’s initiative to increase physical activity among Georgia students, and the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Chronic Disease Program, Georgia Organics launched its Local Food Procurement toolkit to help guide district nutrition directors through the process of sourcing food from local farms. The toolkit arrives just in time for school faculty members and students to celebrate the benefits of local and healthy foods during Farm to School month this October.

The procurement toolkit, crafted by Georgia Organics’ in-house Farm to School program specialists, provides a step-by-step overview of entering the local food procurement process in Georgia, complete with guidance on finding farms, researching product availability, tips for working with food distributors and advice on engaging with school nutrition staff members, among many other topics.

“We believe every school district should have equal access to healthier and more cost efficient local food options for all Georgia students,” said Emily Rose, Georgia Organics’ Farm to School coordinator. “The Local Food Procurement toolkit provides Georgia’s nutrition directors a clear and detailed path to success in building a customized food procurement strategy that fulfills the nutrition and budgetary requirements of their district.”

While there are currently 30 school districts buying from local farms throughout the state, there are a few standout schools that have already embraced the concept and even taken it to a new level of procurement known as hyper-local purchasing.

As outlined in the procurement toolkit, many districts consider local food anything that is grown and sourced within Georgia. Habersham County School leaders felt they could do better and created a procurement strategy that gives preference to farmers within 50 miles of the school district. The county is currently partnering with 10 local farmers that meet their definition.

This hyper-local purchasing has led to real community buy-in and support for the program, and students are able to enjoy the hands-on component of the Farm to School program by regularly meeting farmers who have grown their food at least once a month. Farmers are also invited to host school taste tests with seasonal fruits and vegetables they’ve grown.

Whether schools are following the traditional local food procurement guidelines, or taking their food sourcing efforts hyper-local, nutrition directors across Georgia all agree the most rewarding part of the process is seeing the increased desire among students to learn about the food production and distribution process in their home state.

“One of the best things that came out of the program for Bibb County is the increased awareness of Georgia Grown items and their availability within our own community,” said Cleta Long, Bibb County school nutrition director. “Our students are eating and enjoying these items and learning the connection between what they are eating and the importance of agriculture and their environment.”

In addition to the launch of its new procurement toolkit, Georgia Organics will be celebrating Farm to School month for the remainder of October through its Grow Radish Grow! initiative, a statewide effort to help kids across Georgia learn about radishes by growing and eating them at home.  

Nutrition directors interested in accessing the Local Food Procurement Toolkit can visit Georgia Organics online to learn how to begin sourcing local foods for their school district. 

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