Bringing the farm to Peach County schools puts local produce in cafeterias

jmink@macon.comMay 29, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- It’s lunchtime at Hunt Elementary School, and 8-year-old Robert Jones has not touched his hamburger.

Instead, the second-grader is gnawing a peach, which was grown a few miles from the school cafeteria. Nearby, 10-year-old Kevin Cervantes has chewed his peach to the pit.

“I like how they’re grown in Peach County,” the fifth-grader said.

Every student in Peach County received a piece of the fruit Wednesday as the school district began a two-year grant, which will place fresh produce in school cafeterias. The $100,000 Farm to School grant went into effect in November, funding culinary training for cafeteria workers and new kitchen equipment, said Maggie McCune, director of public outreach for Community Health Works, which funneled the federal grant into Peach County schools.

On Wednesday, officials began placing fresh produce in the school cafeterias. The grant also covers educational materials and opportunities, such as field trips and school gardens.

“All year long next year, they will have locally grown produce in schools,” McCune said, keeping an eye on students’ lunch trays. “They’re eating (the peaches) before they eat their hamburgers.”

Lane Southern Orchards provided about 1,100 pounds of peaches to the schools. Next year, the Peach County farm plans to place different food -- from pecans to kiwis -- on students’ lunch trays, spokesman David Lane said.

“If it doesn’t taste good, they’re not going to eat it,” he said. “I’ve been looking around, and they’re eating it.”

The fresh food affects not only students. As parent involvement coordinator at Hunt Elementary, Shonda Fobbs knows fruit appeals to school employees, too.

“This is probably one of my healthiest meals all day,” she said. “It’s one of the best ideas.”

The grant is aimed at curbing obesity rates among children and raising awareness of healthy eating and local produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sponsored the grant, gave more than $4.5 million to 68 projects across the nation. Additionally, new USDA guidelines require school cafeterias to offer healthier foods.

“It’s a huge impact,” Peach County Nutrition Director TiSharkie Allen said about the grant. “A lot of kids are not used to seeing the type of produce we’re providing.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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