November 2017 – School Nutrition Gathering – Local Procurement Focus

On Wednesday, November 15th, 20 professionals attended Northeast Georgia Farm to School’s School Nutrition Gathering at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s Athens Branch. Attendees included school nutrition professionals, a UGA Ag Extension Agent, local farmers, a UGA researcher, employees of Georgia Organics as well as employees from the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.

The gathering’s theme was local procurement. Kara LeClair, the Burke County’s Farm to School Dietitian, gave an outstanding presentation on Local Procurement in Burke County.  Ms. LeClair shared Burke County’s Request for Quotes (RFQ) documents as well as Burke County’s list of products, volume and specifications for farmers interested in bidding for a contract with the school.  Pamela LeFrois, an attendee and the School Nutrition Director in Barrow County called Ms. LeClair’s work “groundbreaking”. Stay tuned for links to Ms. LeClairs RQF documents.

Link to Kara LeClair’s presentation:

Local Procurement in Burke County

Links to RFQ documents:

Michael Wall, the Farmer Services Director at Georgia Organics, presented on the challenges that farmers face with working with school nutrition.  James and Phillip Franklin of Wide Bottom Farms shared their experience with Farm to School, both the successes and inherent challenges.

Kenny Creel, the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s Food Hub Manager, discussed the Food Hub at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and the attendees helped Mr. Creel with ideas for how the Food Hub and the Food Hub’s Instant Quick Frozen (IQF) line could help with local procurement within school systems.

Finally, Cara-Lee Langston, The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s Teaching Kitchen Coordinator, demonstrated how to incorporating culinary herbs into cafeteria.

The gathering brought to gather many key players within the local food movement.  Local procurement continues to be challenging but with some creativity, innovation and patience it certainly is possible!

Humble Vine Farms of Cleveland, GA, visits Hazel Grove Elementary


Andrew Linker of Humble Vine Farms in Mrs. Skinner’s 5th Grade classroom

On Friday, November 10th, the entire 5th grade enjoyed a visit from Andrew Linker of Humble Vine Farms in Cleveland, GA.  Andrew presented a slideshow of his farm, teaching the students about life on a farm and what it takes to be a farmer. As it turns out, Andrew uses EVERY subject he learned in school as a farmer, especially science, economics and math.  Mr. Linker brought in pumpkin puree for the students to try and students also learned how to save seeds from an heirloom pumpkin.


Meet Mrs. Lancaster, Rabun County Primary School Para-Pro and Farm to School Enthusiast!



Mrs. Lancaster poses with peas in the Rabun County Primary School Garden.  RCPS planted peas for the Georgia Organics Farm to School month  “Make Room for Legumes” campaign.

  • What is your role at Rabun Primary? I am a para-pro here.  I actually started as a substitute teacher soon after we moved back to Rabun County, then I had a long-term sub job with Heather Stockton.  I loved working with her and with the children, so I applied and got the job as her para-pro.


  • How long have you worked at Rabun Primary? 4 years


  • What does Farm to School mean to you and why is it important to you? Farm to School to me means teaching the children where their food comes from, that they can make healthy choices, and they can always have food if they grow it – and that is the goal, to teach them how to grow and how to cook healthy.


  • Can you highlight some of the exciting Farm to School efforts happening in your school? We are excited that several primary school classes have gotten plant seedlings from the high schoolers to grow in our garden.  We will be growing them, harvesting the vegetables, and then cooking in the class and tasting.


  • What are your top 2 Farm to School goals for this school year? Our top two goals for this year are to get  students in the garden on a consistent basis, and to get teachers to start using our new cooking cart.  Ok, I have three – the third goal is to get teachers thinking of the garden when they teach, to use gardening and cooking in their lessons.


  • If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why? If I were a vegetable, I would probably be an acorn squash.  Hard on the outside, but really soft on the inside.  Plus I love adding brown sugar and butter for a sweet treat that I can still count as a vegetable!


Much More Than This

By: Katie Sanders FoodCorps Service Member

Today is my last official day of service as a FoodCorps service member. These past 11 months have been challenging in many ways but it has flown by and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in Jackson County. As I write this I am running over in my head a list of to do and slowly but surely, I have crossed every item off. The garden and classroom are ready for students to return, my collection of items that I have used during my service have been returned, and all of the necessary paperwork has been signed and turned in. Just like that, with a few formal processes and a couple of forms and my service term is complete.

I have written about this before, but it is necessary to mention again that measuring the effectiveness or impact of a year of service is difficult to do. Perhaps this was made even more clear to me in my last few weeks of service as I helped two other FoodCorps members in Athens with a farm camp that they hosted. This camp involved a small group of students, however they all came to us from quite diverse backgrounds and extremely varying levels of interest in actually attending camp. Daily activities included farm chores in the morning: harvesting, cleaning up beds, weeding, and garden interactive activities, games, and crafts after lunch. We quickly learned however that keeping a structured day was far less important than keeping the morale of the group up. To be fair, camp was hot (read: really extremely hot) and each day we were outside from 8 am to 4 pm, hiding in the shade and spraying ourselves with the hose whenever possible, and thus we didn’t blame our campers for the occasional crankiness. However, there were many days, especially in the beginning of camp when we felt defeated by a lack of enthusiasm from our kids and a general distrust of our camp plans. We were scrambling to make our activities more fun but still pointed and focused so that the campers would actually learn a few things while with us.

At the start of the second week we had almost reached the end of our rope with a daunting 5 days of  camp left, however something clicked that day. The kids came to camp ready for our activities and seemed even a little excited to be there. During down times the kids would create their own activities and play with each other. Slowly it was happening. Our camp was coming together. Although this did come and go in waves before camp finished, by the end of the second week we could see our kids starting to be more engaged and take more ownership in their participation. It took tiny baby steps but that, once again, is the mark of a year of service in this field of dealing with food and farming systems and education.

In the end our impact is so much more than these little silly farming activities and games. In the end, it will be much more than the frustrations and the struggles and will be more about the lessons learned and the relationships formed. In the end we hope that we have brought more awareness to the food system and brought about conversations with these kids that can impact their lives and the lives of others around them.

IMG_1099 2

Campers made a big salad one day with lots of fresh vegetables.


Butterfly catching became a really important pass time for our campers. 


The cold water from the hose was a staple for surviving the summer heat! 


by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

In about a week, I will finish two years of FoodCorps service.  I will complete my end of term evaluation, sign my exit paperwork, and collect all the garden-themed picture books and child-safe nylon knives lurking in every corner of my house to return to our office.  I will turn over maintenance of our school gardens to our very capable farm to school teams and some stellar parent volunteers, and wish and hope with all my might that the heavy rains don’t cause our tomatoes to split before students can taste them in August.

I will wish and hope with all my might that some small piece of my service–one of the hundreds of lessons taught, one of the thousands of taste test samples distributed or seeds planted–will stick with students, will actually help to accomplish the massive, abstract task of “changing our food system.”  But there’s no way to truly know, short of peeking into their homes to see if they’re asking their parents to buy greens for smoothies, or peeking into the future to see if they pursue culinary or horticultural interests as adolescents and adults.  Forgive me the trite food movement metaphor, but the inability to predict or control an outcome is precisely what makes farming–and farm to school–risky, thrilling, and life affirming.  You can plan your rows and your lessons, read up on integrated pest management and culturally responsive pedagogical practices, and give all your tender loving care to your seedlings and your students.  In the end, though, the bounty of the harvest is determined by your careful planning and attention and also by uncontrollable and sometimes unseen forces of the universe, in microorganisms, soil mechanics, and lucky weather.  

Faith in those uncontrollable forces makes this work not work but a vocation–a way to live.  We are dependent on the mycelia and microforces of our soils and our communities for growth and harvest.  By default, that dependence connects us with fellow humans and our natural and physical world, constantly reminding us of the necessity and the beauty of reciprocity.  Reciprocity between the physical, the vegetal, the animal, and the human grows our crops and grows our students.  Once again forgive my triteness, but we accomplish nothing alone.  As I close my service with FoodCorps, beneath the small worry that the tomatoes might split or the weeds might overtake the strawberry bed, I feel so much gratitude for the two years I was in a position that constantly reminded me of my niche in Northeast Georgia and in our greater food and educational systems, that constantly reminded me of the importance of both nuanced, thoughtful planning and of faith in reciprocity, as a way to garden, teach, and live. 

[In lieu of photos directly relevant to this post, enjoy some highlights from our 2017 Farm+Food Camp, co-hosted with Habersham County 4H in June!]












How to End a Year

By: Katie Sanders FoodCorps Service Member

I knew it would happen before I knew it, but nevertheless it is already the end of the school year and I am still shocked. I am still getting used to the month of May, let alone the fact that school is out and the summer season is upon us. The end of the school year was marked with the usual madness of end-of-year celebrations, award ceremonies and field day activities, however as a FoodCorps service member the end of the year also marked the last time that I would get to interact with the majority of my students. For my EJES students, it was the last time that I would be formally in a classroom with them and the last time they would have a lesson with me as Ms. Garden Katie. With this on my mind, my collaborative teacher at EJES and I decided to host a “garden celebration” with each of the 2nd grade classes as our end of year activity.

For our garden party we chose to make garden pizzas. Each student was given a tortilla “pizza” with pizza sauce and cheese. They were then allowed to put on toppings such as shredded spinach and chopped bell peppers. From our farm field trip to Rocking W farm a few weeks ago, we were lucky to be able to also serve fresh ground beef (cooked of course!) as a topping along with fresh radishes and rosemary that the students picked from our school garden just before we started cooking. It really validated our efforts in garden education when students were begging me for extra spinach and were encouraging each other to taste the radishes!


For refreshments we made garden mint lemonade from freshly squeezed lemons, simple syrup and fresh mint from the garden as well. We tossed all the ingredients in a blender with water and lots of ice to create a tasty herbed slushy! The kids went crazy for it and it is definitely a recipe I will be using in the upcoming hot summer months.

While I was (and continue to be) quite sad that the year has come to an end, I am also excited for my students to continue their garden learning in the future and I hope they are able take all the fun times we shared in the garden with them wherever their future studies take them.


Sweet Spring

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

Only two weeks remain in our Habersham school year, and after clearing the hurdle of Milestones testing, we are more than ready to celebrate spring.  The almost universal favorite herald of the vernal season–the sweet, voluptuous strawberry–has been our go-to method of celebration.  Whether it’s for a schoolwide taste test, in a smoothie, or straight from the garden, strawberries are brightening our plates and our smiles, and reminding us there’s always a reward at the end of a winter spent prepping for milestones and eating Brassicas.






Lettuce Eat Fresh

By: Katie Sanders FoodCorps Service Member

When trying to get fresh produce on the lunch line it can often take a good amount of planning, organization, and communication between myself and the cafeteria staff. We coordinate what produce is in season with what can be purchased at a cheaper price and in a large enough amount to feed the entire school on the lunch line. It can be a more arduous process than one might think.

However, sometimes you can skip that whole process when a day like today happens. This week at South Jackson Elementary we had an abnormally large amount of students choose to eat a side salad with their lunch which completely depleted the amount of lettuce that the cafeteria had to serve for the next day. Luckily for us our student grown school garden was currently flourishing with mixed lettuce heads! After my cafeteria manager mentioned the lettuce shortage, we were able to harvest ~6 lbs of lettuce that was promptly washed, chopped, and served fresh on the lunch line.


Look at all those beautiful greens!


Mr. Lush and our cafeteria manager, Mrs. Sinde Chambers, posing with me and our fancy lettuce. 


As always our students were extra impressed and excited to eat something that they had grown themselves and many commented on how tasty the greens were!

Mindfulness in the Garden

By FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

Springtime brings fresh rain, beautiful blooms, and for Georgia educators, the high-stakes, demanding period of Milestones testing.  In the weeks directly before and during Milestones, it’s infeasible for most testing classes to get out and learn in the school garden–there’s simply too much material to cover to devote time to the slower paced, experiential learning for which gardens are best.

But that doesn’t mean testing teachers and their students must miss out on enjoying the delights of spring in the garden.  At my elementary schools, we practiced what we call “Mindfulness in the Garden.”  Teachers sign up for fifteen minute slots, and I walk students through various calming and centering activities.  Some of our favorites include:

  • practicing a bit of plant-inspired body movement.  We start small and close to the ground as seeds; move our feet and wiggle our toes as our roots start to grow; stand up straight as our stem reaches to the sky; spread our arms wide as our leaves capture sunlight; open our eyes wide and smile as beautiful flowers; and finally hop into the shape of our favorite fruit (my personal favorite banana).
  • lying or sitting, in the shade or the sun, in a place where we will not disturb anyone near us.  We close our eyes (or not, if someone doesn’t want to), and take five deep breaths.  We then start to notice everything we can hear (cars, birds, breeze in the grass); smell (mud, a hopefully faint whiff of our compost tumbler); and feel (sunshine, wind, the Earth supporting our bodies).  We take a few moments to appreciate how wondrous it is to have a body and to simply exist on a Tuesday afternoon.
  • reading garden-inspired poetry.  A particular favorite is Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera by Francisco X. Alarcón.  We usually read each poem in both English and Spanish; if we don’t all speak both languages, we take the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the sounds of language, separate from its meaning.

Practicing mindfulness in the garden calms and centers our brains, so we are better equipped to deal with the real and important stressor of testing.  It also helps our garden become a more dynamic aspect of our school landscape and culture, a place for mental and emotional well-being, as well as physical and intellectual development.