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Georgia School Gardens Nourish Healthy Habits

Administrator Audrey Rowe joining Bibb County School District and Alexander II Magnet School faculty and students in their school garden

Administrator Audrey Rowe joins Bibb County School District and Alexander II Magnet School faculty and students in their school garden.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 celebrated its fifth anniversary last month, and I can tell you it has made a difference!  I think back on the past five years and am proud of the strides we’ve made in giving students access to more local and healthy food in our schools.

Accompanied by FNS Administrator Audrey Rowe, I had a wonderful visit with two Georgia elementary schools this fall. Our trip to Alexander II Magnet School in Bibb County and Westside Elementary School in Houston County highlighted 2015 National School Lunch Week celebrations (October 12-16) and offered a great example of progress on the school meals front.

Our visit also gave us the chance to celebrate Farm to School month. Both schools are among the 40,000 schools nationwide that participate in the Farm to School program.  The two also participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows all students to eat breakfast and lunch for free.

Their efforts underscore the impact the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has had on our nation’s schools. While there, I was able to help harvest fresh produce with students, as they proudly showcased their gardens. At Alexander II Magnet School in Macon we also celebrated World Food Day, harvesting sweet potatoes and planting strawberries.  At Westside Elementary School in Warner Robins, students showed us how they use a hydroponic garden as part of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum. I could see the pride in the students’ faces as they told Administrator Rowe about growing food for their own cafeterias.

In Georgia, there are nearly 2,300 schools participating in the National School Lunch Program– serving more than 1.1 million lunches a day. Nearly 600 schools in the state participate in CEP, an important tool to combat childhood hunger.  Meanwhile, Farm to School programs impact 23.5 million students nationwide – one million in Georgia alone. These efforts encourage schools to purchase local produce and teach children about the food growing process. And I saw first-hand how students learn to grow nutritious food.

What I witnessed in these schools is what is taking place in many areas across the region: tremendous progress in our school meal programs. Students are eating healthier foods at school. They receive fruits, vegetables and whole grains with lean protein, less sugar and more low-fat dairy products.

Today, 97 percent of our nation’s schools meet the nutrition standards USDA introduced in 2010. And 70 percent of Americans rate school meals as excellent or good today, up from 26 percent in 2010.  The progress couldn’t have been more clear as I sat for a healthy lunch with students at Alexander II Magnet School and toured the school grounds with the Westside students.  Happy anniversary HHFKA!

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