Community Health Works’ Peach County Farm to School program works to prevent and help reverse childhood obesity in our community by increasing children’s knowledge of, engagement with, and access to healthy foods. Childhood obesity is a complex problem that has stemmed from numerous contributing factors including children’s increased use of screen time, intake of sugary drinks, and perhaps most significantly, limited access to healthy food and nutrition education. With over 20% of Georgia’s children ages 10-17 being obese or overweight, children are beginning to experience the health consequences related to obesity like high blood pressure, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. However, CHW strongly believes that by educating children at a young age about proper nutrition and encouraging the development of healthy habits from the start, there is a much greater chance of preventing obesity and these related chronic diseases.
In November 2012, CHW was awarded a Farm to School Implementation Grant by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help Peach County Schools offer significantly more nutritious, locally-grown food items to K-12 students. Peach County’s rural landscape makes it a good fit for the Farm to School program as it provides access to a large agricultural community. The Peach County Farm to School program serves approximately 4,000 students in its three elementary, two middle and one high schools. With CHW’s experience with the Mulberry Farmers’ Market and other agricultural development initiatives, CHW offers technical assistance to school nutrition staff in procuring locally sourced food and connecting school administrators with local farmers and producers. To ensure school kitchens and food service staff are equipped to process and prepare locally sourced food, CHW has coordinated with a local culinary institute to train the staff on food safety and sanitation, knife skills, and various cooking methods that will be visually appealing and tasty to children.
More than simply providing access to fresh and healthy foods, the Farm to School program is designed to inspire students to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. The program incorporates nutrition education into the classroom and provides numerous opportunities for curriculum connections. CHW provides supplemental nutrition education in the form of printed educational materials, posters for the cafeteria, and general parental handouts to coordinate with Farm to School activities to increase parents’ knowledge of, and involvement with their children’s food choices. But to really engage students and enrich their learning experience, CHW has designed the program to provide educational enhancements which may include field trips to local farms, building school gardens, bringing a farmer to the classroom, or even healthy cooking demos and food tastings.