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DeKalb County Revising School Wellness Policy

Advocacy Group Seeks Farm-to-School Ideas to Help Promote Healthy Eating Choices, Fight Childhood Obesity

 

If you’ve ever wanted to put ideas about healthy eating choices on the table of those who make decisions about food served to your children in their school cafeteria, now is your chance.

DeKalb County is in the process of revising its school wellness policy. All of the nation’s school districts that offer a federally funded school meal program are required by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 to update their wellness policy. DeKalb’s new policy could go into effect as soon as the next (2012-2013) school year.

A work group has been formed with the goal of including consistent messaging about smart food choices and nutritional education into the revised policy. Members of the group are seeking to do this by writing Farm-to-School (F2S) initiatives into the new policy. The work group consists of members of Georgia Organics, the DeKalb County Board of Health, the DeKalb County School System and various community champions, including concerned parents.

The group meets the first week of each month to discuss content and policy language for the revised policy. To help develop that content and language, Georgia Organics is holding a series of town hall-type F2S meetings to solicit ideas for the work group to consider.

 One of those town hall meetings was held last week in the cafeteria at Oak Grove Elementary school. About three dozen parents, teachers, cafeteria administrators, wellness advocates and regional farmers, attended. Among those at the meeting were several parent volunteers and students in the Dunwoody cluster: Tina Wilkinson (Vanderlyn Elementary), Stephanie Ratway (Dunwoody Elementary) and Danny Kanso and Robert Galerstein (leaders of Grow Dunwoody and seniors at Dunwoody High School).

DeKalb is in the running to be one of the first districts in Georgia to have F2S language as part of its wellness policy, Erin Croom, F2S coordinator for Georgia Organics, told the crowd. To help everyone understand what a wellness policy is, Jennifer Owens, advocacy director for Georgia Organics, distributed an explanatory wellness policy handout.

The discussion that followed centered around why a wellness policy is important (it’s a tool to help fight childhood obesity and ensure schools meet nutritional guidelines), why F2S is important (some children have never had fresh vegetables such as broccoli) and themes to incorporate F2S into a wellness policy (encourage schools to serve locally grown food and decrease the availability of processed food).

Croom then led the group through a discussion of the current county wellness policy and asked for F2S ideas for each section of the policy.

Several of the ideas offered by attendees included:

Nutrition Education: Teach students where food comes from by arranging student visits to farms, invite farmers to visit schools and offer extra nutrition training for teachers and administrators. (I couldn’t help but think of the program at Peachtree Middle School in which one of the classes performs real organic gardening tasks in the Community Garden at Brook Run Park).

Nutrition Programs: Provide healthier ala cart selections and allow food grown in school gardens to be served in school cafeterias.

The next F2S meeting will be held in South DeKalb and is open to all county residents. The date and location will be scheduled this week. If you are interested in attending and want details about the meeting or just want more information about F2S initiatives, contact Croom by email at: erin@georgiaorganics.org.

If you are not able to attend the meeting and want to offer F2S suggestions for the work group, Croom said she needs those by Feb. 8

Croom believes the work group will complete its draft in the spring. After that, she said the county’s school nutrition director will submit the final draft to the school board, which will then vote on it. Croom said she isn’t sure when that vote will take place.

 

The Third Annual Georgia Farm to School Summit will be held Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday Feb. 25 in Columbus at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center in the Historic Columbus Iron Works. The schedule includes a series of educational sessions and speakers aimed at empowering the farm to school movement in Georgia toward more widespread accomplishments that combat obesity, improve student learning and support local economies. For information about the conference, visit the Georgia Organics website.

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