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Behind The Conference: Jessica Black

jblack-confThe 19th Annual Georgia Organics Conference is nearly upon us! In anticipation of the featured In Depth Workshops and Educational Sessions, we reached out to presenters for some additional information about their topic.

In this edition of Behind The Conference, we spoke with Jessica Black, former National Director of the Healthy Schools Program for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation who currently directs the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project for Pew Charitable Trusts.

Saturday Educational Session
Track 5: Farm To School Tools
Jessica Black – Making School Food Policy Work
Saturday, Feb 27, 2016 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Jessica will guide educators, farmers, school nutritionists, parents, community advocates, state agency reps, and community members through the maze of school nutrition policy. Read the full session description here.

Who or what inspired you to join your field and how?

I started working in pediatric nutrition and grew increasingly concerned about the environment my patients were having to navigate in their schools and communities. I transitioned to working on nutrition policy such that I could move ‘upstream’ and help make healthy options more accessible to more young people.

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What is the best evidence that healthy school initiatives are working?

There’s a growing evidence base. We can say with very little uncertainty that schools are serving healthier meals and kids are eating healthier. There are really solid studies looking at pre and post data around school meals and we can say that since the implementation of new standards, kids are eating more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

What are the biggest opportunities for school nutrition policy and reversing the childhood obesity epidemic?

There is a tremendous amount of energy around making sure kids have access to healthy food . 75 percent of parents are supportive of strong school nutrition policy. There’s a great opportunity to leverage that support from parents and move policy forward.

 

Can you share a school food success story from Georgia?

There are a battery of phenomenal food stories from Georgia. Georgia has quite the powerhouse of school nutrition professionals!

Donna Martin, Director of the School Nutrition Program at Burke County Public Schools, is a farm to school champion. A few years ago, the school football coach came to Martin because he was concerned that athletes weren’t getting enough to eat. In assessing the program, the right options were available but they needed nutritional education, and what they really needed was a supper program.

In response, they implemented a couple of innovative programs. They labeled food in the cafeteria with nutritional information. They made cards for students to direct them towards menu items with the calories and nutrients suitable for their needs. So, students who are taller and actually have higher caloric needs can choose specific entrees and sides to best meet their personal nutritional needs. Most importantly, she also implemented a supper program and almost all of the team participated.

A couple of years later, the school won the state title in football, and the coach credited the school nutrition director for the success. What a great moment!

Why are you excited to present about your topic and what are some key takeaways attendees will get from your session?

School nutrition programs serve over 200 million meals per year to over 1.2 million young people in Georgia and many of the most successful program are working directly with local farmers to serve healthy and delicious foods.

The most important takeaway, though, is to get involved.  If you haven’t been in cafeteria, helping with taste tests, developing recipes, joining focus groups, then you’re missing out. There’s a huge opportunity to get involved and form a team to identify challenges. And if you have thoughts afterwards, talk to your school nutrition director and think creatively and constructively about solutions.

There are a lot of things that could come out of that but it starts with working together.

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