On September 1st NEGA Farm to School hosted it’s first school nutrition gathering of the school year for all 14 county school nutrition directors (SND) that it serves. It was hosted by Rabun County School Nutrition Director, Cindi Dean, with 10 other counties being represented. The day started with a brief presentation by Misty Friedman, School Nutrition Coordinator at the Georgia Department of Agriculture and coordinator of the Feed My School for a Week program, updating SNDs about the resources GA Department of Ag has for school nutrition programs. Directly following, all attending the gathering went on a tour of Osage Farm in Dillard, GA.
Ricky James, owner and farmer of Osage Farm, kindly took a few hours out of his busy schedule farming about 600 acres of land spread throughout Rabun County to give SNDs and NEGA Farm to School staff a tour
of his farm. It started at the Osage Farm stand off Highway 441 where attendees were able to see the produce that is sold. Then, there was a driving tour with some stops of various plots of land that James owns and leases to grow produce like: tomatoes, cabbage, corn, squash, and beans. James comes from an agricultural family and has been farming in Rabun County since he was 11-years-old. The first plot of land he purchased was on Osage Mountain, near Scaly Mountain, and his farm has grown from there to what is now about 500-600 acres. It is a family business with his wife and children helping farm and manage the farm stand. James does not grow winter crops, so he only has a need for 20 or 30 other full-time employees; however, during growing and harvesting season he employees around 200 people to help prepare the soil, plant, harvest, package, and deliver produce. Only 3-5% of the produce that is grown and harvested at Osage Farm is sold at their farm stand; the rest is distributed to neighboring cities and markets. SNDs were excited to tour the farm because they all receive Osage products in their cafeterias, as it is arguably the largest produce farm in Northeast Georgia.
Following the farm tour, SNDs enjoyed a fresh local lunch with Osage vegetables and Leah Lake Farm lettuce made by Chef Charles Maddrey. The afternoon was a time for SNDs to share about their farm to school successes and challenges. They have a difficult job having to follow all of the government rules for procuring food to feed the children of Georgia on a small budget, and being asked to support farm to school by buying local products that are often more expensive. With that being said, it is important for them to be able to share with one another what is working and what isn’t. During the few hours of sharing information, SNDs heard about new resources, event ideas, and opportunities to get volunteers involved in the cafeteria. We thank all of them for the hard work they put in each day to feed children nutritious food, and we commend the strides they have made in buying and promoting more local products and getting involved in farm to school programming at their schools.