Renee De Shay
Effingham County School District, a two-time Platinum level Golden Radish Award winner, is the recipient of the 2019 Organic Radish Award. This is the second year; Georgia Organics has awarded the Organic Radish Award which recognizes a school district that is working with sustainable and/or Certified Organic farms through procurement and/or education.
Effingham has an accomplished Farm to School program. When considering which program to honor with the Organic Radish Award, Effingham County stood out for several reasons. They use certified organic sourcing in their cafeteria, they incorporate organic standards and sustainability into their curriculum, and they support their school lunch program through an organic produce box giveaway.
Their keys to success include mentorship from Farm to School Champion Scott Richardson, Federal Programs Director, Food & Nutrition Director, and Career Technical Agriculture Education (CTAE) Director at Warren County School System, partnership with an organic farm, and the passion and ingenuity of Jessica O’Leary, Effingham School Nutrition Director and leader of their Farm to School program.
Effingham has several school gardens where students work in greenhouses, planter boxes, or in-ground gardens. They also do cooking in the classroom, taste tests and general lessons with students. The district farm allows students to gain hands-on experience in agriculture mechanics, veterinary science, and horticulture. The Effingham Board of Education is very supportive of their efforts and gives assistance where needed.
O’Leary works with Heritage Organic Farm to source for her cafeterias and her organic produce box program. Heritage Organic Farm was the first farm in Georgia to become certified organic and they continue to be a leader in the field. “We have been working with the Effingham School System and Jessica O’Leary for four years providing students and parents with information on the importance of organic food and providing nutritiously balanced organic food boxes to the families,” said Farmer and CEO Shirley Daughtry. “I am proud of Jessica [O’Leary] for leading the school system in this endeavor. She has certainly deserved the Golden Radish Award,” she said.
O’Leary’s support of certified organic produce has reaped benefits for Effingham’s school lunch program while supporting organic growers and healthy eating. “The farm sold organic produce boxes to the public through a subscription and I thought that was neat,” said O’Leary. Knowing that most students in her district had never eaten organic produce, O’Leary saw the boxes as an innovative opportunity to bring that experience to students and their families. The produce boxes also served as an incentive to participate in the school lunch program. Each year, they have purchased 52-56 organic produce boxes and awarded them to four lucky students at each school during October for Farm to School Month. “It was a way to thank our customers for eating with us and give back to the community as well,” said O’Leary.
As Effingham continues to develop its program and promote organic practices, Jessica hopes to turn the school nutrition garden on the district farm into a production garden. “While we use the produce from the garden in the cafeterias, we hope to be able to grow more each year to use,” she said.