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Farm to School pilot program launches at CJH, JHH
Pictured left to right: Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS) School Nutrition Director Blaine Allen; RCPS School Nutrition Training and Operations Manager Chef Lisa Dailey; Georgia ACRE Collective Project Manager Emily Hennessee; RCPS School Nutrition personnel at C.J. Hicks Elementary Beth Long, Jennifer Montgomery, Manager Kimberly Barrett, Shelly Shipp, Deborah Kay; Director of Community Collaborations at Georgia Organics Chef Kimberly Della Donna; RCPS School Nutrition personnel at C.J. Hicks Elementary Icilda Davis (not pictured: Monica Abraham); Georgia ACRE Collective Project Manager Dory Cooper. The Georgia ACRE Collective and The Common Market held a training January 17, 2024, at C.J. Hicks Elementary to launch the new Farm to School program at RCPS.

Conyers, Ga. – Something fresh is growing at Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS). The district is prepped to launch a new local foods pilot program supporting small farms led by people of color, women and others historically excluded from market opportunities while exposing students to more locally grown, nutritious food. The program recently kicked off with new recipe development and nutrition training workshops held January 17-18, 2024, at C.J. Hicks Elementary and J.H. House Elementary, celebrating Georgia-sourced fruits, vegetables and meats.

Georgia collard greens, hydroponic lettuce, blueberries, pasture-raised pork, and grass-fed beef—rare features for farm to school programs—were among the featured items prepared by school nutrition staff during these workshops. The training agenda included hands-on cooking demonstrations of new recipes for collard greens and blueberry crisp. Participants also made grass-fed beef sliders and pork carnitas while discussing ideas for successfully implementing the program, emphasizing the importance of culturally appropriate menu items. Later this year, students will have a chance to participate and give their own feedback through taste testing events.

The pilot program, which officially takes root this school year, is funded by a grant from The Georgia ACRE Collective, a new initiative led by nonprofit The Common Market Southeast and other food and health organizations, that aims to shift institutional food procurement toward local, values-based purchases. The funds increase the amount of local, culturally significant food included in school meals and demonstrate how local food dollars catalyze economic opportunity for Georgia farmers and increase student access to fresh, healthy foods.

“We are so excited to support innovation within the RCPS school nutrition department and to honor our state’s small, sustainable growers in the process,” said Emily Hennessee, program manager of The Georgia ACRE Collective. “Through this work, we hope to build the case for statewide adoption of a local food incentive program for school meals across Georgia.”

“Farm to school is a win for kids and local Georgia farmers – kids eat nourishing food in meals and snacks, participate in hands-on activities and learn about the importance of where our food comes from,” said Blaine Allen, School Nutrition Director for RCPS.

The training workshops were facilitated by health educator Chef Asata Reid and Director of Community Collaborations at Georgia Organics Chef Kimberly Della Donna, as well as members of the Georgia ACRE Collective.

“Georgia Organics is thrilled to work with the ACRE Collective and Rockdale County Public Schools on this unique project,” Della Donna added. “School cafeterias have untapped potential to build demand among our next generation of consumers for delicious, fresh, and sustainably-produced local food while offering tremendous financial support to a local food system that nurtures the land and our communities.”

“It is a great pleasure to be partnering with Rockdale County Public Schools,” said Alexis Edwards, owner of the woman-led R&G Farm of Dublin, GA, which supplied hydroponic lettuce greens as part of the workshop. “Opening up a child’s world to farm-fresh greens and helping children understand that lettuce comes from a farm and not the grocery store has become a real passion of mine.”

The Georgia ACRE Collective works to advance agriculture, community, resilience and equity through values-based procurement. The Georgia-based initiative centers on garnering purchasing commitments from Atlanta-area anchor institutions, while shifting procurement to producers that share the institutions’ values. The purchasing power of these Atlanta institutions creates economic opportunity for sustainably grown food produced by Black farmers, women farmers and others historically excluded from wholesale markets. Made possible with support of The Rockefeller Foundation, the ACRE Collective is a collaboration between The Common Market Southeast, The Conservation Fund’s Working Farms Fund, Georgia Organics, Health Care Without Harm, and the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University.