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October is “National Farm to School Month!” In 2010, Congress designated this month as a time to promote “Farm to School” initiatives, which occur in schools across the country. The goals of “Farm to School” programs are to provide opportunities for students to enjoy locally grown produce and to educate them about the healthfulness of fruits and vegetables.  During the month of October, signage will be displayed in Newton County School System (NCSS) cafeterias highlighting locally grown fruits and vegetables that are offered to students at various times during the school year.

So far this school year, locally grown watermelon, Vidalia onions, cucumbers, and green bell peppers have been offered to students as part of school lunches. In the coming months, students can expect to see other locally grown items on school menus including different varieties of apples, sweet potatoes, and strawberries. When locally grown items are available, signage is posted on cafeteria serving lines to identify items as “locally grown” and provide interesting facts and nutrition information about the produce. Information about the local produce and a local “farmer highlight” are also included on the “School Food Services” webpage of the district website.

According the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), consuming foods that are locally grown supports local economies and can encourage healthy eating habits. Eating local foods also has benefits for the environment and for taste; local foods travel a shorter distance, use less fuel for transport, and may retain their flavor better than foods that travel a greater distance.  According to the National Farm to School Network, offering local produce on school menus is an excellent way to encourage students to participate in the School Lunch Program and to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables provide many important nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. They also contain minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, and dietary fiber.  In addition, fruits and vegetables are naturally lower in fat and calories than many other food choices and have long-term health promoting benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases and cancers. However, despite these benefits, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many children and adults to not consume the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

The SNP Department hopes that highlighting local produce on school menus will encourage students to try and enjoy a variety of healthful produce at school as well as encourage healthy eating habits outside of the school day. To find out more about seasonal produce grown in Georgia, visit the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association website at http://gfvga.org/. For information on the nutrients in specific fruits and vegetables, visit Fruits and Veggies More Matters at http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/vegetable-nutrition-database.

For more information, please contact Brittany Bingeman, SNP Wellness Coordinator at bingeman.brittany@newton.k12.ga.us.