The grant will allow Tift County Schools to build on its current efforts to provide agriculture and nutrition programs that are experiential, educational, and better connect local and regional food to students in the system’s 13 schools. The program will provide a plan to increase local capacity, build community support, provide better metrics for existing efforts, establish baselines for future outcomes, and serve a variety of local fresh food throughout the school year. Proposed activities include retrofitting a school bus to serve as a farm bus/rolling classroom, retrofitting the canning plant to be able to preserve local tomatoes and irrigating the school farm to expand the growing season and increase yield.
“We're thrilled to receive this because our students will learn where the nutritious fruits and vegetables come from and that they are grown locally,” said Craig Matthews, CTAE director. “We'll be able to serve these local foods in our cafeterias.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said more than $5 million in grants for 82 projects spanning 42 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands that support the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program. The program helps schools purchase more food from local farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local food for school children and supporting local economies. According to USDA's first-ever Farm to School Census released earlier this year, school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future.
"USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects," said Vilsack. "These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers."
Farm to School activities have already been taking place in Tift Schools. The most recent project included a partnership between elementary and high school students. Tift County High students in the Advanced Construction program built frames for raised vegetable beds and installed them at Charles Spencer Elementary School. Then TCHS Agriculture students worked with the elementary students to teach them how to plant and care for their vegetable gardens. What they are growing, including broccoli, onions and turnips, will be served in their cafeteria.
“Partnerships like this one are great to see in action,” Matthews said. “It lets our older students teach younger ones what they have learned in the classroom, makes the elementary students use math and science skills while showing them how their food is grown. Then they get to see the importance of healthy eating.”
Other schools are also participating. Northeast Campus students planted a large winter garden and Len Lastinger Primary has raised beds that parents help with. The School Nutrition Program and FFA students taught all third graders about fruits, vegetables and healthy eating at the Annual Children's Farm Day.
The grant will help students in all grade levels and the new programs will start next school year.