Agriculture commissioner tours AHS program

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Georgia’s agriculture commissioner seemed impressed by what he saw during his tour of Adairsville High School Thursday morning.

Commissioner Gary W. Black visited the Georgia Grown Test Kitchen school to speak to agriculture and art students about the importance of serving locally grown foods in school cafeterias and to receive a test kitchen sign painted by young artists.

He also toured the school garden and greenhouse and ended his visit with a Thanksgiving lunch featuring two Georgia-grown vegetables.

AHS was selected this year to be a test kitchen for Georgia Grown, a statewide program started three years ago by the Georgia Department of Agriculture to provide healthy recipes using Georgia-grown commodities in schools across the state.

“What your school has helped to pave the way for is to take and replicate these recipes for all school systems in Georgia,” Black said.

The department will use student input to “change these recipes just a bit so that it meets the palate correctly” and will match up the schools with suppliers of Georgia-grown products, Black said.

“It’s really the most direct farm-to-school program out there,” he said. “Y’all have really paved the way for it to be a success.”

Before introducing Black to the students assembled in the cafeteria, art teacher Jayme Laney said he was “excited” to see his students working on a project “as simple as a logo and sign” that Cafe Manager Glenda Wade asked them to create.

The sign was a wood pallet with vegetables and “Georgia Grown Test Kitchen” painted on it.

“I heard about this, and I knew it was going to be good,” Black said about the sign, noting he has the “absolute perfect place” to hang it in the agriculture department office across from the state Capitol. “... All of you that have contributed to this, I can’t thank you enough.”

Black talked to the students about the value of locally grown products.

“We started this five years ago because we believe that whatever’s produced in Georgia ... is the best product produced anywhere in America, and I think it can be the best product produced anywhere on the face of this globe,” he said. “... We’re using this [Georgia Grown] brand all over the state and all over the country, and it’s the coolest thing to see. Georgia’s just a good place to live, and we want to make sure that everybody understands the story of agriculture and our great products.”

“You might see some weird things coming up,” he said. “I don’t know what’s on the docket. ... Even if it might not be up your alley, please test it and try it because what we’re going to be doing is asking y’all to help us make this happen. ... What you tell us will make a difference for all 181 school systems in Georgia.”

He added the program, in its third year, now has 30 recipes that have been “proven ... by students just like you” and include ingredients “that [some people] never would’ve touched before,” like collards.

During the tour, agriculture students Andrew Martin and Alex Gossett and science teacher John Ford led a contingent that included Black, Superintendent Dr. John Harper and School Nutrition Director Pam Blakeney around the campus to see the agriculture department; the greenhouse, where plants are grown for school plant sales; and the outdoor classroom, which includes a garden that’s currently growing spinach and garlic, an aquaponics setup that most likely will grow strawberries in the spring and honeybee hives.

In the fall garden, agriculture students planted turnips, beets and radishes, Martin said.

“They came up pretty good, with the lack of rain we’ve had,” the senior said. “We got probably four or five garbage bags full of them.”

Ford told Black some students are putting together the aquaponics system as their final project grade for fall semester.

After the tour, the contingent enjoyed a turkey-and-dressing lunch featuring green beans from Pero Family Farms in the Tifton-Americus area and roasted sweet potatoes from Coggins Farms in Norman Park.

Martin said he thinks having Black visit AHS was “great for the school.”

“I think it brings publicity,” he said. “I think this is a good opportunity to show off some of our programs here and how successful they are, and I really appreciate Mr. Black coming.”

“We can show what we’ve been doing at the school,” Gossett, a junior, said.

He also praised the students for wanting to participate in agricultural programs and the administration for supporting them.