Bridging the Gap: Georgia's Farm-to-School Cafeteria Pilot Nurtures Local Farmers and Nourishes Students

The pilot, founded by The Georgia ACRE Collective, kicked off on August 1st at Marietta City Schools

In a effort to bring locally grown, nutritious food to students' plates, The Georgia ACRE Collective has introduced an exciting farm-to-school cafeteria pilot program. The initiative, which launched on August 1 at Marietta City Schools, is set to revolutionize the way students access healthy meals while also supporting local farmers in the state.

Cultivating Nutritional Excellence

Marietta City Schools (MCS) kicked off this visionary program by hosting a nutrition and culinary skills workshop for its cafeteria staff. The workshop focused on incorporating Georgia-grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and locally raised meats into the district's student meals. Spearheaded by the Georgia ACRE Collective, the workshop marked the commencement of the local foods incentive pilot at two MCS schools, aiming to both boost small, family farmers within Georgia and increase student consumption of locally produced, nourishing food.

A Taste of Georgia's Bounty

The August 1 workshop engaged school staff from Marietta High School and the 6th Grade Academy in recipe development sessions. From crafting fresh kale salads to cooking up mouthwatering, culturally relevant dishes like chicken chimichurri and beef picadillo using pastured poultry and grass-fed beef from local Georgia farms, the school staff is becoming adept at incorporating locally sourced ingredients into their cafeteria offerings.

Participating staff members immersed themselves in various activity stations, honing knife skills and learning to create delectable items like kale and chicken salad wraps. The event was an opportunity for cafeteria staff to appreciate the value of fresh, local, and sustainable food in school meals, all while executing recipes without relying on pre-frozen and cooked meat products.

Empowering and Educating

The workshop featured experts from the field, including Kimberly Della Donna, Director of Community Collaborations at Georgia Organics, a member of the Georgia ACRE Collective. Della Donna conducted a knife skills training session, demonstrating the art of cutting kale and watermelon. Meanwhile, Asata Reid, a seasoned chef and nutrition educator, shared insights on working with fresh meat while adhering to stringent food safety protocols.

Della Donna expressed her enthusiasm for the untapped potential that school cafeterias hold in nurturing a new generation of consumers who appreciate locally sourced, sustainable, and delicious food. She highlighted how this endeavor can simultaneously bolster local food systems and communities.

Seeding the Future

The pilot program's funding stems from a grant provided by the Georgia ACRE Collective, a new initiative led by The Common Market Southeast and various food and health organizations. The program aims to create opportunities for large-scale procurement from local mid-size farms operated by historically marginalized groups, including Black farmers and women farmers.

Starlit Roots from Keysville, GA; Hunter Cattle in Brooklet, GA; and Cornucopia Farms from Avera, GA are among the many farms that will be supplying fruits, vegetables, and meats to MCS schools. This initiative aligns with the Collective's core goal of empowering Metro Atlanta institutions, such as schools, universities, and hospitals, to weave sustainability, equity, and corporate social responsibility into their food procurement practices.

Emily Hennessee, program manager of The Georgia ACRE Collective, emphasized the transformative potential of this approach. By integrating food purchasing standards that resonate with core values, institutions can shape public health outcomes, stimulate regional economies, mitigate climate change, and enhance racial equity.

A Fresh Perspective on Food Access & Education

Cindy Culver, Marietta City Schools' Director of Nutrition, spoke passionately about the pilot's significance. She articulated how the program is a vital stride towards ensuring every student in the district has access to fresh, nutritious food. Culver underlined the growing gap between students and their awareness of food origins and highlighted the pilot's aim to enlighten and illustrate the ease of accessing locally sourced foods within the school itself.

Following the workshop, MCS plans to conduct student taste tests this fall to garner feedback on new menu items crafted using locally sourced products. Upon receiving input from students, these items will be seamlessly integrated into the cafeteria's regular offerings.

A Vision for the Future

Emily Hennessee further highlighted the innovative nature of this pilot. She sees it as an avenue to collaborate with schools' nutrition departments and honor Georgia's small, sustainable growers. Through these collaborative efforts, she envisions building a compelling case for the widespread adoption of local food incentive programs in schools across the state.

The Georgia ACRE Collective's pilot program stands as a testament to the power of local partnerships, sustainable food systems, and the transformational impact of nurturing our communities through nourishing, locally sourced meals.

To learn more, contact Emily Hennessee at

Common Market Nutrition Workshop 24 Blog
Representatives from Marietta City Schools and the Georgia ACRE Collective. Photo courtesy of Marietta City Schools