As part of the Northeast Georgia Farm to School program, we organize quarterly trainings for all 14 counties’ school nutrition directors (SND) that we serve. This spring’s gathering was hosted by Banks County.
Stacey Morgan, Banks Co SND, and Julie Jackson of Banks Co Farm Bureau co-coordinated with NEGA Farm to School to plan a tour of 2 Banks Co farms, a lunch, and a training. 11 school nutrition staff representing 8 of the 14 counties attended the day’s events, as well as Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) and Georgia Department of Agriculture (GADOAg). They started with touring Red Dust Ranch located in Toccoa, GA. It is a family operated 70 acre farm that grows produce for its CSA, and raises poultry and hogs. After visiting a family farm that works with produce and livestock, nutrition directors toured The Veggie Patch in Commerce, GA. The Veggie Patch is a certified organic and naturally grown farm with over 30 acres producing leafy greens, vegetables, herbs, and fruit. They grow produce all year round and are a large supplier of fresh produce in Northeast Georgia. The purpose of the two farm tours was to allow nutrition directors and staff to see conditions of farms in our region, and to gain further understanding of how farm products are being grown and processed–important knowledge to have when buying produce for student meals.
After the farm tours, participants enjoyed a lunch made with local products provided by Banks Co Farm Bureau, who generously offered their office as a meeting place. The lunch was followed by presentations on resources to help strengthen each county’s farm to school program. Caitlin Bennet, Banks Co Cooperative Extension 4-H Agent, first presented on Farm Bureau and 4-H resources available to schools for enhancing farm to school activities. Many counties have both Farm Bureau and a 4-H Extension Agent who can help school faculty and community members engage youth in learning about gardening, food, and living a healthy lifestyle. The second presenter was Dr. Judy Harrison of UGA Cooperative Extension. She specializes in food safety education, and provided one of her food safety trainings to attendees, which focused on food safety from the field to the cafeteria. Because school nutrition staff are starting to buy and use more local produce in the cafeteria, they had many questions on how they know the food they are getting is safe or not. Dr. Harrison’s training, along with seeing farm operations firsthand, supplied them with useful information on what they should look for when buying produce from local farms.