Barrow County School System is not new to the world of Farm to School. School Nutrition Director, Pamela (Pam) Lefrois, became inspired by farm to school efforts in Habersham County after learning about them from her friend and colleague, Andrea Thomas, School Nutrition Director in Habersham. In 2014, Pam discovered she had extra funds and decided to use them by hiring a new School Nutrition Coordinator to focus on Farm to School. Nicole Trunk, who became said Coordinator, “was the most experienced with Farm to School of the bunch”, according to Pam. Prior to joining Pam’s team in Barrow County, Nicole spent 14 years as a Cafeteria Manager in Habersham County where she worked closely with Teri Hamlin, former Farm to School Director of Northeast Georgia Farm to School. Nicole says:
“I learned a lot just following Teri around. We went to Georgia Organics Farm to School Conferences. I even helped present at one in Jekyll Island. So when I came to Barrow, I knew some stuff, but not the people here. So it’s been a little slow-going connecting with people. Finding farmers and that kind of thing. But it’s all coming together now. The pieces are fitting”.
And fitting they are! Farm to School has taken off in Barrow County in recent months.
But Pam says that Farm to School in Barrow began slowly. She and Nicole both learned more “through going to meetings with Georgia Organics and the Golden Radish Award — that’s where we learned a lot about Farm to School. And it really blew up this year when we went to the [Northeast Georgia Farm to School] meeting in Gainesville City [this past May]…We came back from that meeting with a lot of ideas. We met with the Winder Housing Authority and we met Lee Baine there who is a teacher here that does our STEAM program. We started talking about it and he was like, I can hook you up with some people. He’s been a great asset. And things really took off from there.
Nicole adds, “[Lee’s] connected us with teachers. We didn’t realize how many teachers have gardens. Some type of garden. It might be a little pot or a raised bed, but there was more than what we thought was going on. So many [teachers] don’t connect nutrition with [Farm to School]. But hopefully that’s changing”.
The Barrow County School System Nutrition Team has some exciting things on the menu, so to speak, for the 2016-17 school year. Activities that connect the cafeteria and classroom — such as students growing radishes in their garden, harvesting them, and then taking them to the cafeteria to help prepare, cook, and taste them — will continue and expand this year. School Nutrition will also continue to promote the local produce appearing on the lunch line. Nicole is excited to add more farmers to their list of local produce providers. She recently met a farmer in Maysville, GA through friend and colleague Debra Morris, School Nutrition Director of Jackson County School System, and purchased sweet potatoes from him to use in Barrow County Schools.
Pam says, “One goal this year is to have produce from Sims Academy come into the classroom at an elementary school and the kids can watch a video on how it was grown, then they get to see the produce in real life and touch it and talk about how it’s the same produce they just watched the video on. Then they can take it to the cafeteria to prepare it and taste it”.
Her biggest goal is to get teachers excited about Farm to School “so they can get students excited about it”. Last year they had each cafeteria manager go into each classroom in their school and do a nutrition lesson once a month. This year, the lessons are to be centered around farming. “So now we’ve got the teachers involved so when I talk about Farm to School they know what I mean”, Pam explains.
Nicole adds to the year’s goals: “We got our first newsletter out. We posted it to our Facebook Page. My biggest goals are getting more local produce, highlighting it on the menu, and getting the gardens going. There are several gardens starting this year. I really want to get them going. We’ve already purchased 2 tower gardens for schools”.
She says they will continue working with their Georgia Taste Test Kitchens at Bramlett Elementary + Apalachee High School.
Outside of Barrow County School System, the county will get a new 4-H County Extension Agent by October. The new agent will hopefully have experience with Farm to School and will be on board to assist schools with their gardens.
A large community center is also being constructed in Barrow County. Eight government agencies are partnering to bring The Wimberly Center to Winder. Among other organizations, this center will host a Boys and Girls Club, a community garden, and a community kitchen. The kitchen will have a Kitchen Manager, to help care for the garden and use the fresh produce in community meals. Pam Lefrois is on the committee to hire the Kitchen Manager, who they hope to have in place by October.
Pam and Nicole are thrilled not only by the growth they’ve recently seen in their Farm to School programs, but also by the potential to spread Farm to School in Barrow County even further through expanding their own efforts in School Nutrition, partnering with teachers, farmers and community members, and working with local agencies to make fresh, nutritious, and local food more prevalent and accessible for all Barrow County children.
They want to educate kids and their parents about local produce – where to get it and how to grow it and cook it. Pam continues, “And showing them that, you know, kids don’t even know that tomatoes make ketchup. The older generation, which I’ll include myself in, had to help with gardens at home, and help with canning, but kids now don’t know. My kids who are 29 and 34, they don’t know. Have no idea where food comes from”. Pam’s motivation comes from wanting to “help the local farmer and educate the kids about how food is grown. And that everything doesn’t come from the grocery store miraculously”.
“Or the drive thru”, Nicole chimes in, “I’m with Pam, but my big thing is teaching the kids where it comes from. That it all doesn’t come through the drive thru”.
Nicole’s advice to schools wanting to get more involved with Farm to School: “Starting with the basics. I can’t do it, you can’t do it. We can’t do it by ourselves. You need to start a committee. And get the school community involved. And then you can do it together”.