Dougherty County is in the heart of southwest Georgia, and southwest Georgia is in the heart of Georgia farm country. Its proximity to so much agriculture makes the county a crucial proving ground for farm to school programs. Blaine Allen, School Nutrition Director of Dougherty County School System (DCSS), has teamed up with Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, a social justice organization that advocates to spearhead farm to school efforts in the region.
Southwest Georgia Project (SWGAP) began its farm to school initiatives out of a desire to help small farmers reach a larger market. Through their partnership with DCSS schools, the schools have introduced new vegetables, held taste tests, and built school gardens tied to core curriculums.
“We feel that it is our obligation, our responsibility, to not only find markets for our farmers, but to help shift the way we think about food in this region,” Daa’iyah Salaam of SWGAP recently told a cafeteria full of community members.
DCSS serves 21,000 meals every day. Their nutrition department’s farm to school goal is to purchase 20 percent of the produce served from farms within 100 miles of the county. Directing resources to those kinds of local purchases would give the region’s economy a huge boost. SWGAP is also seeking to establish a processing and distribution center so that products don’t have to travel all the way to Atlanta to get washed, cut, and packaged before heading back to Albany’s schools. Besides the economic advantages, Allen, the DCSS nutrition director, sees another benefit: produce that is recently harvested is much higher in nutrient content. “Farm to school will create a healthy student body in the Dougherty County School System,” he said.
In early May, Georgia Organics partnered with DCSS and SWGAP to lead a Community Meeting for parents, teachers, school nutrition staff, and others interested in current farm to school work and in helping craft the future vision for farm to school in their community. We also helped lead a Farmers’ Forum for several local growers to meet directly with Allen and discuss what they can grow for the school next year.