Josephine Martin: leader in child nutrition

Josephine Martin: leader in child nutrition – Georgia school food service

Kent Taylor

Josephine Martin: Leader in Child Nutrition

Josephine Martin has been a leader and innovator in school food service for more than 30 years. She has inspired and encouraged others to make school nutrition programs part of the education process that can, as she puts it, help children “eat for life.’

Presently, Martin is the director of the Local Systems Support Division of the Georgia Department of Education, which has responsibility for several child nutrition programs, including school lunch, school breakfast, and the Child Care Food Program.

Her division also has responsibility for the Nutrition Education and Training Program (NET), donated foods, and a number of nonfood school programs, such as school statistical information and the state textbook programs. Modestly, she credits the success of these programs to a strong staff of administrators, consultants, and coworkers who have helped her along the way.

Has seen programs grow and change

Martin began her school food service career in the early 1950’s. She completed a dietetic internship at Duke University after graduation from the University of Georgia.

She had planned to enter hospital dietetics when the Georgia Department of Education offered her a job working with the school lunch program. She found that she “really preferred working in the wellness rather than the sickness side of food service’ and committed herself to helping children develop good food habits.

When Martin first came to work in the state, the National School Lunch Program was the only USDA school food program. It was the nation’s first official recognition that the health and well-being of children was a matter of national concern. Since then, she has seen the program grow in every direction, and she has been involved in the development of companion programs such as the School Breakfast Program, the Child Care Food Program, NET, and the Special Milk Program.

Martin explains that the major difference in today’s school lunch program from the 1950’s is one of logistics rather than philosophy. “The philosophy behind the school lunch program was to establish an effective nutrition program for children. Our goal has remained the same–how we arrive at achieving it has changed.

“Because of limited funding in the early years, we could not reach as many low-income children or provide the variety of foods we do now. Many schools had a couple of meatless menus a week and there was more cooking from scratch because fewer processed or pre-prepared items were available,’ Martin says.

Today schools offer salad bars, different entrees, and a nutritious variety of foods at low cost due to improved management and effective procurement methods.

In the 1950’s, most state departments of education conducted comprehensive training programs on a statewide basis. “Today the trend is to tailor training to meet individual needs. We are reaching more people with modern techniques, and food service professionals are learning to communicate better with students, parents, teachers, and co-workers,’ Martin says.

Another big difference in today’s food service programs is the availability of computers to perform many food service functions. But Martin does not feel there was less accountability with manual recordkeeping. “Our procedures are a lot more sophisticated now,’ she says, “but the Southeast Region of USDA always advocated complete accountability of funds and products.’

Was a leader from the start

After working for the state for 8 years in the 1950’s, Martin went to Columbia University Teachers’ College and in 1959 received her masters degree in home economics education. She returned to the school nutrition programs, this time working for the federal government.

She credits Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) official Martin Garber for convincing her to stay in school nutrition. “He had such enthusiasm for the school nutrition programs and helped me see what could be done to solve hunger and social problems,’ she says.

Martin worked from 1959 to 1961 as a Southeast area home economist in the AMS Food Distribution Section, a division of USDA that would eventually become the Food and Nutrition Service. She worked with school nutrition programs in nine Southeastern states, assisting in administrative reviews, developing training programs, teaching workshops for school personnel and providing technical help to state agencies. She also conducted many workshops for private schools.

“The chance to work at USDA gave me a much broader insight into the federal role of nutrition and allowed me to observe programs in other states,’ Martin says. At the end of her first year, she had the highest travel record of anyone in the region.

In the mid 1960’s, Martin saw the need for more permanent, direct appropriations and worked with other Southeastern state directors in support of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.

This act established the School Breakfast Program, provided assistance for purchase of food equipment, and established state administrative expense reimbursement. It was later amended to include the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Nutrition Education and Training Program (NET).

Martin is a longtime member and supporter of the American School Food Service Association (ASFSA). She was ASFSA Southeast regional director in 1956-57 and program chairman of the 1957 national convention in St. Louis.

This assignment was a major responsibility for, as Martin puts it, “some young kid from the South.’ She was ASFSA president for 1976-77 and, among many other achievements, helped implement nutrition education requirements in child nutrition legislation.

Martin has testified on the school nutrition programs at least 50 times before Congressional legislators in drafting or assessing child nutrition legislation. Even though she won’t take credit for it, she played a major role in establishing federal funding for free and reduced-price lunches, which were initially supported by general food assistance funds and local appropriations.

Josephine Martin has also led efforts to pass constitutional amendments in Georgia so state and county funds could legally support school lunch activities. In 1982, legislation was enacted to use state funding to support a salary base for school lunch personnel and to establish performance standards. In 1985, state appropriations will exceed $18 million for the school lunch program.

Feels school meals play vital role

Josephine Martin has seen a change in lifestyles over the last few years that make FNS programs more important than ever. “With more single-parent households and more women in the work force who have school-age children, school meals help insure that nutritional needs are met,’ she says.

Martin feels the success of the school food service programs is a team effort, with USDA, the ASFSA, state agencies, state boards of education, state and local school superintendents, and food service personnel all working toward common goals.

“In the 1970’s,’ she says, “all of us were dealing with the issue of insuring all groups had access to food. But now, our main efforts should be directed toward marketing the delivery of food services to ensure that children and the general population have access to wholesome diet.’

How does she feel about recent studies that have shown the relationship between food intake and chronic disease?

“It’s our challenge to take these findings and translate them into effective marketing programs encouraging better food habits for our children. We need to show how we can use school food programs to prevent chronic illness,’ Martin says.

Schools can set good examples by using lowfat toppings for salad, sandwich and potato bars. They can tell parents about food served at school (for example, why fruit is a good dessert item) and communicate with PAT’s and other parentteacher groups.

She challenges managers to offer more choices so children will eat foods that still fit within nutrition goals and meal pattern requirements. Managers must develop effective relationships with students and involve them in menu planning, food preference panels, and decisions affecting purchasing practices.

“The future depends on . . . working together’

For the future, Josephine Martin would like to see school food service personnel move toward better vocational and academic preparation that includes professional standards. She envisions a major community effort to insure that school food programs are correctly shaping food habits. But most important, she wants to see the continued effort to make school food programs nutritionally sound.

“The future depends on the community working together to utilize the nutrition programs for the health and well-being of its citizens,’ she says. “If we are to maximize the potential of our citizens, the nutrition leaders need to work and plan together to see that the recipients of our programs have access both to the highest quality food and to education that will allow them to establish good food practices.’

The National School Lunch Program has thrived under the leadership of people like Josephine Martin. She challenges us to look to the future to help our children have lifetimes of good nutrition.

COPYRIGHT 1984 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group