The traditional thinking about farm-to-school programs is that they only thrive in suburban or urban school districts with plenty of money and resources.
But the Warren County School System proves once that farm-to-school programs are for everyone, no matter what their school system looks like.
This week the Warren County School System, which has a total enrollment of around 640 students from kindergarten through 12th grade — and only one school building between them — was recognized for its Farm to School program’s pioneering work bringing fresh produce and agricultural awareness to the students.
The school system received both the Georgia Organics Golden Radish Organic Radish Award for excellence in organic production methods and the inaugural Outstanding Extension Farm to School Program Award from Golden Radish partner University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
UGA Extension established the new award to honor the teaching of cutting-edge agricultural techniques that prepare future farmers for leadership and prosperity.
“UGA Extension is proud to be a partner in the Golden Radish program to promote healthy eating, ag literacy and the entire farm-to-school concept,” said Laura Perry Johnson, associate dean and director for UGA Extension.
“I was particularly excited to present the inaugural Outstanding Extension Farm to School Program Award to Warren County. It epitomizes what a vital and integral part of the local community Extension is designed to be. This is a perfect example of Extension providing expertise and partnering at the local level to make positive change.”
The award also recognizes an exemplary partnership between an outstanding Georgia farm-to-school program and county Extension staff.
Warren County Extension Coordinator Tammy Cheely and Scott Richardson, technical education and nutrition director for Warren County Schools, accepted the award at the 2018 Golden Radish ceremony at Atlanta’s Georgia Freight Depot on Oct. 22.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn valuable job skills while also learning about how to eat fresh and eat healthy,” Richardson said. “We are so honored to win these awards. Our school system values hard work, dedication, and healthy living … Our partnership with UGA Extension has allowed our students to see the real-world applications of the lessons they are learning in the classroom and on the school farm.”
The Warren County School System stood out among the 84 applicants because of what they’ve been able to accomplish by building partnerships in the school system, with UGA Extension and throughout the community.
“Partnerships multiply our efforts,” Cheely said. “We always accomplish more together.”
The program started in 2015 with an initial grant from the Georgia Soil and Water Commission. Since then, students and staff have built 26 raised beds and expanded the program onto a 3-acre production garden.
The school system has integrated farm-to-school curriculum into every grade level at the school, and the technical education program has partnered with the schools’ food service team to grow commonly used ingredients for the cafeteria.
The result is that every Warren County student eats something that was grown on the school campus at least three times a week.
In the coming years, Richardson hopes to expand the system’s traditional agricultural education to sixth through eighth grades and add fruit trees to the school’s property.
“When other schools look at Warren County, I think they can learn a lot about being efficient with school garden plans,” said Becky Griffin, UGA Extension school and community garden coordinator and Golden Radish board member. “They are putting food on the table for students during the lunch period; they’re not just taste testing. Warren County shows that it’s a doable system. You can actually supply your lunchroom from the garden.”
Across the state, there are about 1,000 school gardens and hundreds of farm-to-school programs. The growth of these programs is a testament to their impact on students’ diets and their understanding of the natural world, Griffin said.
The Golden Radish Awards recognized a total of 84 school systems across the state, up from the 75 school systems recognized in 2017 and the 30 school systems recognized in 2014, according to Georgia Organics.
The Golden Radish Awards honor Georgia school districts for best practices in farm to school programs. Best practices include local food procurement, exposing students to new foods through taste tests and incorporating cooking and gardening activities into class curriculums. This year, Golden Radish Partners included Georgia Organics, and the Georgia departments of agriculture, education, public health, early care and learning and UGA Extension.
For a full list of school districts that were recognized, visit GeorgiaOrganics.org. For more information about the school and community programs offered through UGA Extension, visit ugaurbanag.com/gardens.