Local agriculture is finding its way onto the plates of students in Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 and the effort is not only benefiting the students, but local growers as well.
For the second year, the local district participated in Colorado Proud School Meal Day on Wednesday, Sept. 14. The program, sponsored by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, is designed to celebrate Colorado agriculture and to educate schoolchildren about healthy eating, according to the department of agricultures website.
Last year, the local district, along with LiveWell Montezuma, embraced the program, supplying students with a variety of food grown in the state. This year, officials decided to take the program one step further and involved as much food from Montezuma County as possible.
The result was a menu filled with the flavor of Southwest Colorado. From ground beef brought in from Hayes Ranch in Hesperus, to lettuce, tomatoes, corn and melons grown in Montezuma County, the local menu, featuring tacos, salad and melon medley, celebrated local ag and pleased young critics.
I love tacos, said 5-year-old Jamy Loy, a kindergartner at Kemper Elementary School. And I love cantaloupe. I love it a lot.
The celebration of Colorado Proud School Meal Day is one step closer to developing a sustainable food to school program in the local district.
It is all about promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles, said Kim Welty, with LiveWell Montezuma. There are great benefits to supporting local ag but also with providing our students with access to local, nutritious foods.
Re-1 is not the first district to embrace the idea of fresh produce in schools. Both Dolores and Mancos school districts have developed school gardens.
The program is really off and running in the area, Welty said. We want to get our producers and our school districts to really work together to get this great food into our classrooms.
Wednesdays meal throughout the district included 500 pounds of ground beef from Hayes Ranch in Hesperus and 20 pounds of tomatoes, 30 pounds of lettuce, 150 ears of corn, 143 pounds of cantaloupe and 384 pounds of watermelon from Montezuma County producers.
Laurie Hall, who owns Seven Meadows Farm with her husband, Rusty, and provided the lettuce for the meals, said the opportunity to be involved in the local school district is an invaluable opportunity for ag producers.
It is fantastic, Hall said. Weve been hoping for years to be able to help get local produce into the schools.
Hall said local producers hope the program continues to grow.
We would all like to see produce in the schools as much of the growing season as possible, and beyond, into storage crops, Hall said. It is certainly a benefit to all of us farmers, but the true benefit is to the kids because it is real food.
To encourage students to know where their food comes from, posters were put up in each cafeteria with pictures of the producers, proclaiming Know your farmer, know your food.
Producers involved in the meals included Andy Carter, Steel Wheel Farms, Mary Vozar and Paul Bohmann, Confluence Farms; Lee Hill, Garden of Weeden; Hayes Ranch; Tom and Leita Hughes, McElmo Melons; Jerri and Rick Goodall; Rusty and Laurie Hall, Seven Meadows Farm; Nancy Nard, Nancys Garden; Cheryl Floyd, Floyd Farm; and Vic and Gail Vanik, Four Seasons Nursery.
Prompted by Colorado Proud School Meal Day, the district is stepping out to create Tasty Tuesdays for the last two weeks of September and first two weeks of October. For four weeks, local produce will be featured in the school cafeterias on Tuesdays.
We want to do a little more than just this one day, said Sandi Vanhoutean, food service director for the Re-1 district. We want to feature the produce as much as we can at the end of the growing season.
Though the district is excited about bringing local food to the cafeterias, Vanhoutean said cost considerations do play a part in how much locally grown produce will wind up on students trays.
It is a lot more expensive to bring in this food, she said. Even with the breaks we are given from the producers it is a larger portion of our budget than if we just ordered the food from our normal supplier.
Wednesday, the school spent roughly $0.75 a pound more on beef, and $5 a pound on lettuce, as opposed to $0.71 from a supplier.
We do make concessions to serve local food, but we make it work in the budget because we feel it is important, Vanhoutean said.
Much credit is given to food service employees across the district who adjust their plans to work with whatever food is available from local producers.
The ladies in the kitchen really roll with the punches a lot, Vanhoutean said. Im placing orders and bringing them the food the day before it needs to be on the menu and they are making it work.
Welty said LiveWell Montezuma and the district hope to cultivate a close relationship with local producers and intend to bring even more fresh food into the schools in the future.
It is a real work in progress of getting growers to think ahead and develop these relationship and be able to provide produce at the amounts and the price the school can afford, Welty said. We are working to create a long-term sustainable, strategic plan. I think we will get there.
Kim Lindgren, LiveWell food coordinator, said part of the process is encouraging producers to plant more produce so more will be available for schools.
We started the project this year after people had planted, Lindgren said. So there are a limited number this year that have extra produce. People are very excited and willing to do some planting for the future.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at email@example.com.