Now the students are to become the masters — or rather, advocates.
Georgia Organics has been leading efforts to expand farm to school programs in the Peach State for years. But soon the organization will have a handful of new allies working on the issue across the state when it trains students to become farm to school advocates.
In July, the nonprofit will provide a four-hour training session to 30 teens to teach basic advocacy strategies and offer starting points for establishing and maintaining farm to school programs at school.
“Kids will get an opportunity to think about what will make sense for them,” says Jennifer Owens, advocacy director for Georgia Organics. “Does their school have taste tests? Are they able to bring food grown in the garden back to cafeterias?”
The student advocacy training is part of Georgia Organics overall mission to connect local farmers to the community. Along with overseeing farm to school programs, Georgia Organics offers assistance to the state’s sustainable farmers, works to provide and expand community food projects and conducts public education and outreach to spread the word about local food.
Farm to school has been among the nonprofit’s fastest growing efforts, which began in 2008 when staffers worked at one Atlanta school to educate students about what was being grown in the campus garden. “We did taste tests with the kids, so they could taste what was growing around them,” Owens recalls.
Momentum quickly spread. These days, the nonprofit oversees farm to school programs at 14 school systems in the state, doing things such as helping to provide fresh local food on school menus and training nutrition directors to craft meals using locally sourced ingredients.
Georgia Organics also is part of the state’s farm to school alliance, working with partner organizations and government agencies to develop strategies to promote farm to school throughout the state.
More than 3 million meals were served featuring locally grown produce in the last school year, Owens says. Next year, the non-profit hopes that number will be raised to 5 million meals. Owens attributes that success to the larger concerns people have about children’s health, and the fact that Georgia is uniquely situated to tackle some of the driving issues with its own resources.
“There’s something about childhood obesity in the news every single day, and our state unfortunately is facing very high rates of childhood obesity,” Owens says. “We have this weird juxtaposition in the state of Georgia. Agriculture is our No. 1 industry.”
Teaching students about that industry — and helping them bring its resources to their own schools — will be part of the advocacy training. During the session, students will learn about food production, including the history of the food system, its effect on the body and the environment and the farm to school movement.
Students will be taught leadership skills to help them explain why sustainable food is important, and analyze was to mobilize people to effect change. The students will develop an action plan and take it back to their school system to implement, including through peer-to-peer education to get other young people involved.
“We’re basically going to add them to our tool box,” Owens says of the advocates.
Owens is optimistic that farm to school and other local food programs will help lower the state’s childhood obesity rates, which are among the highest in the nation. While Owens admits obstacles remain, she says the fact that a range of partners and government agencies have come on board to spread this work is evidence momentum is there to make an impact.
“In the grand scheme of social change, a lot of ground has been covered in a matter of five years on this issue,” Owens says. “We’re a farming state, that’s what we do. There’s no reason we should have trouble.”
Don't miss the rest of the Inside Track: Click here to find out how a teen mystery novel is taking on childhood obesity. Also check out a guest article about a PreventObesity.net Leader who is educating families about eating healthy, and be sure to get the info for an upcoming webinar looking at advocacy efforts following the Weight of the Nation documentary.