Healthy-Food School Programs

 When students come first, healthy food naturally follows

In October 2018 Ei along with Ei Strategic Ally Feed & Seed hosted the Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health and World Hunger. During the final exploration session at the Clemson organic student farm, Feed & Seed Chair Mary Hipp shared on the amazing healthy-food school programs at Greenville County Schools as well as up the road 20+ miles at Spartanburg County Schools, District Six.

Inspired, Ei Founder Holly Elmore traveled to Greenville in May 2019 to meet the masterminds behind the healthy-food school programs and tour their respective operations. Mary was generous with her time, connections and spirit as she hosted Holly for two consecutive days of meetings and tours.

The two diverse school systems arrive at a common goal of serving the respective district’s students healthy, delicious food on a daily basis. With a commitment to locally sourced food, the school systems directly support local farms who in turn contribute to local soil regeneration.

Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services

Greenville County Schools (GCS) Food and Nutrition Services (FANS) Director Joe Urban created the #schoolfoodROCKS social-media branding for the incredible school-foodservice operation under his direction. Passionate about establishing healthy-food school programs as the standard across the nation and beyond, Joe uses GCS FANS’s success to inspire other school systems to evolve their food programs.

The evolution of the GCS FANS-food program inaugurated in 2010 with the support of then Superintendent Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher. Soon-to-open A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School was designated as the pilot for the healthy-food program. Ron Jones was hired as a GCS FANS Culinary Specialist to develop and oversee the pilot.

Once the FANS healthy-food program grew into standard-operating practices, Ron left GCS FANS for his current position, Director of the Office of Health and Nutrition at the South Carolina State Department of Education. In the meantime, Joe was promoted to GCS FANS Director.

On May 15, 2019 Joe, along with FANS Coordinator of Operations Paula Wambeke and Culinary Specialist Brian Hickey, hosted Mary and Holly for an introductory meeting on GSC FANS’ impressive healthy-meals program. Following the program history and current scenario education, the group toured the Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School cafeteria and enjoyed an amazing lunch.

GCS includes 100 school facilities and special centers while FANS operates 93 commercial kitchens. The 750 FANS-foodservice professionals serve approximately 80,000 meals daily while school is in session for a total of 14 million meals annually. Thus, FANS beholds strong purchasing power with national broadline distributors and requires them to carry locally sourced, often organic, products via their supplier contract. Thanks to GCS FANS’s high culinary standards, Greenville-area foodservice operators may also purchase locally sourced products from the broadline distributor.

The RiA Magazine article, #schoolfoodROCKS: indeed, school food does rock in Greenville County, SC!, gives an in-depth synopsis of the GCS FANS development as well as the ingredients for success. A section in the Holly Elmore Images FB album, Greenville, SC, gives a pictorial recap of the GSC FANS’ cafeteria tour and lunch.

Spartanburg County Schools, District Six

Under the leadership of Spartanburg County School District Six (SCSD6) Superintendent Dr. Darryl Owings, a culture of excellence infiltrates the district’s entire spectrum of operations. With the strong support of the nine-member School Board, Darryl ensures the SCSD6 adheres to their mission to always put the children first.

The SCSD6 administrative offices as well as the main district campus are located in Roebuck, SC on a sprawling 292-acre tract of land. Intertwined within the SCSD6 facilities are natural wetlands, wooded areas, and walking trails available for students and the community.

Over 2016 and 2017, the South Carolina (SC) Conservation Bank purchased a total of 120 acres of family-owned land from Charles and Mary Moore’s descendents. In 2016, Upstate Forever protected the land with a conservation easement to set aside the land for educational and agricultural purpose. The Spartanburg County Foundation owns the protected land while Upstate Forever administers the property. In a long-term agreement, SCSD6 leases 16 acres to use as an organic farm to grow produce for the district schools.

Per the Upstate Forever site, partial funding from the South Carolina (SC) Conservation Bank offsets some of the costs involved in placing the easement, making the land donation, and endowing the property’s perpetual care. The entire tract of land is known as the SCSD6 Farm at Cragmoor.

A natural extension of a healthy-food program is a farm-to-school focus supporting local agriculture. In 2016, SCSD6 evolved the farm-to-school focus to a campus-to-cafeteria endeavor with the construction of a greenhouse on the backside of the Dorman Freshman Campus.

In 2016, SCSD6 took possession of the 16-acre plot of land destined for the district’s organic-certified farm within their Farm 2 School program. For the first year, farm staff tested the land to determine what could be grown crop-wise and officially opened as an operating farm in 2017. The SCSD6 Farm at Cragmoor is the foundation for creating a hyper-local food system for SCSD6. On October 4 2019, the Farm at Cragmoor received its USDA Organic Certification.

On May 14, 2019 Darryl, along with SCSD6 Deputy Superintendent Dr. Greg Cantrell, hosted Mary and Holly for an introductory meeting in the district’s offices. Afterwards, Darryl and Greg took Mary and Holly on tours of the campus greenhouse followed by the SCSD6 Farm at Cragmoor where healthy, organic food is grown for the school cafeterias. The locally grown, healthy-food commitment at SCSD6 was evident and impressive. Subsequently, Holly and Mary visited the Farm at Cragmoor on several occasions to witness the movement from planning to implementation stages.

While GCS FANS supports local farmers via its broadline-distributor contract, SCSD6 grows its own organic, healthy food for student meals. When the schools are closed in the summer, the Farm at Cragmoor operates a popular local farmer’s market that provides the county with a hyper-local food option.

The RiA Magazine article, Spartanburg County School District Six: a culture of EXCELLENCE!, gives a synopsis of SCSD6 as well as the history and development of the Farm at Cragmoor into a viable organic farm; the article, When students come first, healthy food naturally follows, documents the Farm at Cragmoor segue from the planning | investment stage into a fully operational farm, complete with organic certification. The Ei FB album, Spartanburg County School District 6, includes pictorial recounts of the numerous Farm at Cragmoor visits.