Dairy farmers and blueberry farmers are visiting several Fulton County school cafeterias as part of the Farm to School Initiative, led by the district’s School Nutrition Program.
Since 2011, the the district's School Nutrition Program has focused on increasing student access to healthy, locally grown foods.
Each month a local food — food that is grown, raised and produced in Georgia or a state bordering Georgia — is featured on the cafeteria menus. The cafeteria also posts educational information about where the product is farmed and the nutritional benefits.
“The Farm to School program is a terrific opportunity for students to connect the dots between the agricultural process and where the cafeteria’s high quality food is produced,” said Alyssia Wright, executive director of school nutrition, who led the Farm to School implementation in 2011.
During the 2012-13 school year, Fulton served over one million meals that included locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. So far this school year, all school cafeterias have highlighted farm-fresh watermelon, apples, hydroponic bibb lettuce, cucumbers, kale, cabbage, zucchini, and most recently, strawberries.
To expand the initiative, the School Nutrition Program has teamed up with the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc. (SUDIA) and local Georgia blueberry juice manufacturer, Southern Press and Packing, with support from the Georgia Blueberry Growers Association, Georgia Blueberry Commodity Commission, and the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, to link Georgia farmers to students.
Both dairy farmers and blueberry farmers are visiting school cafeterias to display information about the agricultural process, where Georgia grown food comes from, nutritional benefits, and how the food gets to the school cafeterias.
Currently, there are 242 dairy farms located in Georgia that produce over 1.5 billion pounds of milk each year that makes its way into Georgia schools. It only takes two days or less for milk to travel from the farm to a nearby processing plant where it is packaged for stores.
"We all know that healthy students are better students," said Molly Szymanski, director of school programs with SUDIA. "Milk and dairy foods play a critical role in a healthy, well-balanced diet for children. Milk and other dairy foods contain essential nutrients, including protein, to help build strong muscles active kids need. Penny per ounce, you can’t get a better source of nutrients then wholesome milk."
Georgia’s blueberry production is significant as Georgia is the second largest blueberry producing state in the U.S. with fresh blueberries being harvested from mid-April to the end of July.
Southern Press and Packing uses these fresh blueberries to make a delicious and nutritious 100% fresh, not-from-concentrate blueberry juice with no sugar added.
“We are thrilled to produce blueberry juice locally and make it available to our community’s own children and families,” said Shawn Davis of Southern Press and Packing. “We know that this juice is packed with fresh Georgia goodness.”