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A Good Seed Makes a Good Crop

Ashley Rouse describes her job this way: “I kind of wear 47 hats.”
The Leader oversees the APS Parents’ Farm to School Coalition, which aims to bring fresh, local produce to school cafeterias in Atlanta. Rouse connects farmers to cafeteria vendors, oversees training for cafeteria managers on how to prepare meals with fresh produce and finds ways to introduce salad bars on campuses.
Beyond the cafeteria, Rouse works with nonprofits and organizations such as Georgia Organics and the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation to engage schools, parents and kids about the benefits of farm to school programs. She spreads the word about the importance of local fruits and vegetables in the community, including by promoting the use of SNAP benefits to purchase produce and sitting on the board of several Atlanta farmers markets.
Oh, and she also grows her own food.
Rouse and her husband maintain a four and a half acre farm in East Atlanta Village, where they raise animals such as hens and goats and grow seasonal vegetables. Their current crop includes radishes, lettuces, turnips, herbs, peppers, egg plants and green beans.
“We’ve had the best crop of late planted wax beans and green beans, the fillet ones, and they are absolutely delicious,” Rouse says, adding she hopes to store them for the winter. “I have got to figure out how to preserve the sweetness of this green bean right now.”
Rouse always has been around fresh food, having grown up in a small town in Georgia where her parents grew their own food. The mother-of-three began her own farm-to-school crusade about six years ago, when her oldest daughter started elementary school. Rouse was struck by the poor quality of the food in the school’s cafeteria, and met with school officials to brainstorm improvements.
Eventually, Rouse and a teacher started a school garden. It now has 21 raised beds that provide fresh quality produce for the school. Teachers also use the garden as a learning tool, and in the summer the beds are auctioned off for families to maintain.
Rouse sees the gardens as a great way to teach kids about where food actually comes from, something many of them don’t get growing up in an urban setting. She says her kids often come home and announce that their friends’ parents won’t know what a vegetable like a radish is.
“Everybody should know how delicious a radish is, you know? We are here because of food,” Rouse says. “Everybody needs food, everybody loves food.”
Radishes are especially helpful educational tools, as they can be used in lessons to teach kids about how seeds grow. In one lesson, Rouse gives students different types of radish seeds, and the kids monitor their sprout as it grows. Some grow quicker than others, and it’s up to the kids to figure out why.
“I wish you could see some of the kids’ faces light up when they plant a seed and watch it grow,” she says. “It becomes a little investigation.”
It’s moments like that which keep Rouse motivated to keep wearing her 47 or so hats, she says, adding that she hopes to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to more Atlanta residents, especially those in underserved communities.
“I think you build community through sharing food with other people,” she says.