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Hosting the First Lady’s American Garden Tour!

Burke County Public Schools had the honor of hosting First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her American Garden Tour. Speaking on behalf of our district, we were both ecstatic and honored to share with Mrs. Obama just a small piece of what we do every day here in Burke County. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), there is no greater calling in life than to be able to teach children to live a healthier life, and it is so exciting to have a First Lady who shares the same passion as we do. 

In our school district, we successfully implemented all the great changes that came with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. We serve School Breakfast to over 76% of our students; which we operate as either breakfast in the classroom or grab-and-go in our schools. We serve culturally-appropriate lunches to over 89% of our students every day, and we are confident they are not only picking up the food, but they are EATING it!

Our Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant Program—offered to all of our elementary students—exposes each student to over 65 unique fruits and vegetables. Our Supper Program, implemented 5 years ago, has helped to increase our graduation rate to 94%; this particular program makes afterschool programming, such as tutoring and athletics, more appealing. The Summer Feeding Program visits over 100 bus stops, serving every child, ages 0-18, for the entire summer.

We also offer nutrition education and wellness for all of our students: non-instructional physical activity breaks, alternative fitness resources, in class cooking demonstrations tied to common core, and raise funds with nonfood fundraisers. Our Farm to School Program has helped to tie all the pieces together by teaching children not only where their food comes from, but how it connects to their education, and ultimately their health. Our local farmers have started growing food for us, which has improved the consumption for both students and staff. The success we have seen in the lunchroom inspired us to move outside of the cafeteria, starting a bi-monthly, on-campus farmers market. And last year, the students came up with the idea to plant a school garden.

During Mrs. Obama’s visit, she met with our STEM students and helped them in their seeding and planting project in the greenhouse. The students then led the First Lady to the garden where they planted seedlings of peppers, cucumbers, asparagus, tomatoes, and squash, differentiating between spacing and volume. Students then hypothesized that plants would grow differently according to how much space is between each plant and if having less or more plants in a raised bed would cause different growth.   

Talking with the First Lady and Al Roker about the Burke County school nutrition program as students enjoy a healthy school lunch.

After planting in the garden, the students headed up to the picnic area to eat lunch. Our menu for the day, sourced almost entirely of local goods, included an entrée choice of local herb baked chicken with local cornbread, BBQ sandwich with whole wheat bun, or chicken fajita salad with whole wheat crackers. For sides, the students had the options of local cabbage, local collard greens, local baked sweet potatoes, local squash casserole, local cucumber and tomato salad, local aquaponic salad with homemade ranch dressing, a melon skewer, local ranched potatoes and carrots, kiwi, candied apples, oranges, or local strawberries.

The students were thrilled that Mrs. Obama could join them for lunch. Students never pass up a chance to tell you their opinion on school lunch. And their opinion you ask? We let the empty trays speak for themselves! We could not pass up the opportunity to showcase a school lunch from our Burke County kitchen and help to represent all school nutrition programs nationwide. We proudly shared our school lunch with the First Lady. While it is hard to pick out just one favorite part of this experience, I can say that sharing an email from Deb Eschmeyer with my staff the next day made the top 5—“The First Lady LOVED your [Burke County SNP] food and we all were so impressed by the quality and flavor.”

We cannot say “thank you” enough to the First Lady and her team for taking time to recognize our district’s hard work. Mrs. Obama is a lovely and gracious woman trying to make a difference in our nation—and what a better place to start than with our children. This is our chance to help mold the future that our children will endure for the rest of their lives—it goes without saying that regardless of political stance, personal or religious beliefs, that is a statement that we can all believe in.