Locally grown: Hamilton County Schools focus on nearby farms for food

Locally grown: Hamilton County Schools focus on nearby farms for food

August 31st, 2012 by Rachel Bunn in Local Regional News

Zeke Smith grabs a cup of watermelon Thursday grown by local farmers as one of his lunch selections Thursday at McConnell Elementary. Hamilton County Schools are observing local food week.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Watermelon grown by local farmers is offered to students at McConnell Elementary as one of their lunch selections Thursday as the Hamilton County Schools observe local food week.

Watermelon grown by local farmers is offered to...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Kristen Eppig was the most popular person Thursday in the McConnell Elementary School lunchroom.

Supervisor of nutritional services at Hamilton County Schools, Eppig carried trays full of watermelon as part of Tennessee's "Local Food for Local Schools" week. Around the room, kids yelled, "Over here! Over here!" and gathered around her tray when she came by their table.

"Local Food for Local Schools" is part of the state's Farm-to-School program, which works to create partnerships between local producers and school systems.

Hamilton County Schools purchased 516 watermelons through their produce provider at Mayfield Farms in Athens, Tenn., according to Eppig.

"We wanted to pick something that our schools didn't serve every week and, being in the South, since we're not going to have access to watermelon soon, we thought it was a good choice," Eppig said.

Schools had the option to serve the watermelon at any point during the week. At McConnell, watermelon was served Wednesday and Thursday, as well as the previous week, said cafeteria manager Tammy Miller.

"It's not as popular as the grapes," Miller said. "But it has been popular."

McConnell first-grader Alexis Gervais said she was happy to see watermelon in the lunchroom.

"It's really tasty. I really, really like it," she said. "I got excited when I saw it."

However, some students were less enthusiastic about the fruit, choosing not to get the watermelon and picking from other options.

"I didn't get watermelon today because I don't like it," said Evan Posey, a kindergarten student. "I had a hamburger and lemons."

Though "Local Food for Local Schools" is a state-sponsored initiative, and the county chooses from about 10 locally grown items as part of its regular meal options, Eppig said the school system may organize its own program.

"It's something we do all the time anyway, but featuring a specific farmer or product like this, it's something we would do again," she said.