Forsyth County Schools receives fourth consecutive farm-to-school award
From left, Valery Bowers, FCS School Nutrition director; Kimberly Davis, Coal Mountain Principal; Barbara Martin, Coal Mountain Cafeteria Manager and Denise Webb, Coal Mountain Science and Engineering Teacher were honored Monday for winning the Golden Radish Award. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

For the fourth year in a row, Forsyth County Schools has been recognized for its farm-to-school program, which runs in cafeterias, gardens and classrooms throughout public schools in the county.

On Monday, Georgia’s Departments of Agriculture, Education and Public Health, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and Georgia Organics came together to celebrate the 75 school districts throughout the state that received the Golden Radish Award, an annual accolade given to school districts that meet certain farm-to-school criteria.

This is the fourth consecutive year FCS has received the award, according to Valerie Bowers, director of FCS’ School Nutrition Program.

“The reason we apply [for the award] is because it ties into our efforts of teaching kids about nutrition and agriculture and our efforts of providing them a broad range of information about where they get their food,” she said. “We are very proud we’ve received the award every year since its [inception,] and this is the second year we’ve won silver. It’s a countywide award, but this year we highlighted Coal Mountain Elementary and its farm-to-table efforts.”

Collectively in the 2016-17 school year, Golden Radish school districts served more than 97 million meals that featured locally grown and raised foods, conducted 8,204 taste tests, tended 885 school gardens, engaged students in 3,794 hands-on cooking activities and involved parents and community members in 1,339 farm-to-school activities.

Bowers said FCS was included in all of those numbers.

“Our school gardens are wonderful classrooms because it’s not just about food and not just about planting something,” she said. “It’s also about watching things grow and learning about [plant and animal] lifecycles. There are so many things to learn in gardens, also, such as square foot gardening, which teaches math, or geography, because you can teach about where plants and food originated from.”

Bowers added school gardens and incorporating locally grown food are a good way to teach students in less traditional ways.

“The gardens are a great way to get students outside and get them to learn in a different type of environment,” she said. “It ties together thoughts and concepts and actual examples of how agriculture works, which is important since so much of our farmland is turning into subdivisions. The [farm-to-school] program teaches [students] sustainability and where their food is coming from.”

The programs also often get students eating healthier than they might otherwise, Bowers said.

“They realize how good local food tastes, how important it is to have sustainable gardens and farms and how they can purchase within a certain radius to maintain that,” she said. “If they enjoy what they’ve grown, they have a better appreciation for healthy food.”

Bowers added the Golden Radish Award adds validation to FCS’ programs, too.

“We are very proud,” she said, “but we know there are other award [levels] and this year, we’re striving for gold.”