This may not be true for all kids, but most of us have had close-up personal experience with at least one young person who would be content to go through the formative years eating nothing but potato chip and catsup sandwiches, Count Chocula, and buckets of blue Kool-aid.
Most parents know that lifelong food habits take root early in life, which explains why so many of us will go to nearly ridiculous ends to make healthy food attractive to our children.
The good news is that there are exciting agricultural changes happening in Montezuma County’s schools and at the Cortez Farmers Market through Montezuma School to Farm, a program that is partnering with RE-1 Schools to educate students about healthy food choices. Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP) gets kids in Dolores, Mancos, and Cortez outside and teaches them how to plant, grow, harvest, prepare, and sell the food they raise. Students also receive lessons in composting, irrigation, prepping and planting a bed, harvesting, canning and cooking.
On 3 acres of school property at Cortez Middle School, students – with the help of a team of dedicated teachers and Americorp workers – are growing carrots, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, corn, potatoes, beets, radishes, zucchini, pumpkins and melons, sunflowers, garlic and green onions, hot peppers, wheat and amaranth. They plant in the spring, harvest in the fall, and learn to prepare and enjoy the fruits of their labor. What is not prepared and eaten in class is sent to the RE-1 distribution center where it is returned to the schools for use in their cafeterias. Similar projects are also happening in the Dolores and Mancos schools.
During the summer months, MSTFP runs the Youth Farmers Apprenticeship Program which utilizes help from middle school student volunteers and Americorp workers to keep the garden watered, tended, and picked. The food is sold at the Cortez Farmers Market by the young growers. The money from their sales is funneled back into the School to Farm program. Upon completion of the summer program, each student receives a $100 stipend. It is gratifying to watch our home-grown kids grow their food and sell it back to their community.
Patrick Alford, an Americorp volunteer with MSTFP, works with the local students growing food. He explains his commitment to the program: “It’s come to a point in society where it’s very easy not to buy or eat local or organic, so I think that MSTFP works to reverse this progression back towards a more local and sustainable food system and provides students with a framework in which they can become a part of this movement.”
Corinne Damore-Rome, a current M-CHS freshman and a recent School to Farm summer participant reflected recently on her experience: “It was a great way to learn about farming and the environment and a great way to get involved in the community.”
Recently the School to Farm kids picked their tomatillos and made green salsa with them. Tomatillos look like green tomatoes wrapped inside papery husks, but they are actually not related to the tomato. When the outer husks get tight, the fruit is ripe. Tomatillos have a sharp citrus-like bite which can be tamed by roasting and which complements spicy foods. Their texture is firm and crunchy, similar to biting into an under ripe pear. It’s a gutsy fun food that is versatile and out-of-the-ordinary.
Here’s a green salsa recipe featuring tomatillos and jalapenos. It comes from the Montezuma School to Farm Project recipe cookbook (available for sale). This salsa can be used with chips as a dip or spooned over practically anything. Try it inside or over a burrito; or pair it with eggs, chicken, or pork. You can also use it as seasoning in soups and stews. Serve warm or refrigerated.
Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 5 minutes Makes 2 cups
Roast 1 dozen whole husked tomatillos and 1 jalapeno, stem and seeds removed, by broiling on an oiled baking sheet for about 5-8 minutes or until the tomatillos burst and skins are slightly blackened. Cool briefly.
Blend in a food processor or blender the roasted tomatillos and jalapeno along with any juice remaining on the baking sheet plus ¼ C cilantro and ¼ C water. Keep it chunky.
Stir in one small onion, finely chopped, a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.
Find out what middle-schoolers in Montezuma County are learning: When you start with good flavorful ingredients, locally raised and organically farmed, you finish with great food. The students of Montezuma County welcome you to the table to share in the celebration of good food, grown by your kids.
For more information about the work of Montezuma School to Farm Project or to purchase a cookbook, contact program director Sarah Syverson at (970) 903-8831.