By Renee De Shay
Dr. Linette Dodson is a keynote speaker at this year’s Farm to School and Early Care Education Summit. Linette is the Director of School Nutrition for Carrollton City Schools in Carrollton, Ga and has been for nearly 20 years. Throughout her tenure, she’s built an award-winning nutrition and Farm to School program. Carrollton City Schools’ Farm to School program includes STEM-focused school gardening, an after school culinary club, locally-sourced food from more than 25 farmers, hundreds of taste tests, community collaborations, farm field trips, and even a food truck for school meals and celebrations. It should come as no surprise that Carrollton City Schools won Platinum recognition and the Outstanding District Award at the 2018 Golden Radish Awards.
Linette earned her PhD from Iowa State University. Her research focused on registered dietitians in school nutrition leadership roles and dietetic students’ interest in school nutrition leadership. She serves on the Georgia Dietetic Licensing Board, the Georgia School Nutrition Association (GNSA), and the Department of Public Health’s Internship Advisory Board.
Linette is a warm, engaging speaker with years of experience in nutrition and Farm to School.
Could you give a short “teaser trailer” about what you will cover in your keynote?
“Obviously, it will be about creating a sustainable Farm to School program, but specifically about incorporating the classroom, cafeteria and community, really for the purpose of educating the whole child.”
Tell me about your Farm to School journey.
“We dabbled in it before 2013, with nutrition in the classroom. Then in early 2013, we received our first USDA funded school grant, which allowed us to be more purposeful in Farm to School.”
The grant gave Linette the resources to build the infrastructure of Farm to School, train staff, hire a food service manager, and focus the nutrition education on academic standards. They received their second USDA grant in 2017, which provided more resources for schools and teachers delivering nutrition education. Linette feels the program is integrated well into their schools, especially the elementary schools. They are now working on growing the Farm to School program in their middle schools.
“A lot of people think Farm to School is school gardens, but it’s a lot bigger than that,” said Linette. “Farm to School has that, but to be a more inclusive program, it has to be evident in more areas than just school gardens.”
Excellent Farm to School programs like the one in Carrollton City Schools don’t happen overnight. “It’s been a process,” Linette said, “You kinda have to figure out where the best place is to start for you.”
For Linette, the meal program was the easiest place to start because she could control procurement, the type of food served, and staff training. From there, she tackled nutrition education in the classroom and started building community support for the program. She found the most challenging piece was getting people to understand what she was doing with school nutrition.
For us, it was really making the connections between the classrooms, cafeteria, and community—bringing all of that together,” she said.
Why would you encourage school staff to attend Summit?
“I think for the staff, it’s very rewarding to attend the summit. Our school staff looks at Farm to School in a lot of different ways. They’re the front line people delivering it and I feel like it gives us a more balanced approach if we have different levels of staff that attend. It also gives them more buy-in and ability to discuss and support Farm to School at the school level.”
Being able to understand and discuss farm to school is important to Linette. “That’s been a focus of ours,” she said. “We want our employees to be able to talk about the Farm to School effort, and to be able to talk about it in the community.”
What are you most excited about for Summit?
“The ability to network is huge. The more we all share about successes at Farm to School, the better we’ll be able to do it.”
Linette finds others’ experiences with Farm to School encouraging. “I like to share what we’re doing, but I also like to hear what other people are doing,” she said. “It’s a continual improvement process, and we don’t think we’ve achieved all there is to achieve with Farm to School. We want to continually move forward.”
Presented by Georgia Farm to School Alliance and Georgia Farm to Early Care and Coalition, hosted by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning and Georgia Organics.
The farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) and farm to school movement connects early care providers, schools, and local farms in an effort to serve healthy meals and snacks, improve student nutrition, and increase farm and gardening educational opportunities. This year’s Summit welcomes early care providers and staff, teachers, school nutrition staff, students, parents, farmers, distributors, and others interested in learning more about Georgia’s farm to ECE and farm to school community.