Farm to School making ground

MOSCA—Who has the child at heart? San Luis Valley food service directors do! Eight of them showed up on an early snowy morning last week to meet with local farmers to plot out a path to farm to school and fresher, more local produce for their kids.  

Tammie Rempe from Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services Food Buying Program led the first farm to school pre-bid meeting Tuesday in the San Luis Valley.

“This is an awesome opportunity for food service directors and farmers to partner together to bring locally grown foods into our school food programs; I think overall you are going to see that there is good response.”

Farm to School is a school-based strategy that focuses on creating a healthy school food environment. Farm to School cannot happen without farmers that till the land and tend to the animals. Farmers representing potatoes, carrots quinoa, beets, lettuce, spinach and mushrooms told their stories.

Adam Ring of Ring-a-Ding Farms in Howard is a small producer of triple-washed baby greens and said that if SLV and Chaffee County schools steadily ordered from him it would be a game changer.

Liza Marron and Nikki Kasper of the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition have been working with the “Child at Heart” Food Service Directors Network in the SLV and Chaffee for many years. They have gathered data to find that between the Valley’s 14 school districts there is collectively more than a million dollars of annual steady income that schools spend on produce. If this money could stay in the region it would have a positive impact on the economy.

Kasper, a post-doctoral researcher, reminded the group gathered that morning about the benefits of farm to school. Evidence-based outcomes include students increased preference for and consumption of fruits and vegetables. Increased student meal participation averaging at 9 percent, averages 5 percent increase in income from farm to school sales for individual farmers, positive change in teacher’s diets and lifestyles and enhanced overall academic achievement in K-12 settings, providing children with an understanding of agriculture and the environment.

Amy Kunugi, manager of Southern Colorado Farms, works through the Valley Roots Food Hub for aggregation and distribution. Southern Colorado Farms is a large-scale farm near Center growing organic carrots and spinach and other vegetables for export. She is committed to allowing an avenue for her produce to be available in the community through the Valley Roots Food Hub in Mosca.

“I want to see these fresh vegetables in the bellies of the children” she said. She is a proponent of increasing a plant-based diet and encouraged the food service directors to save money from their very frugal budgets by forgoing meat one day a week and embracing “Meatless Mondays’ utilizing plant-based foods in their stead.

The Valley Roots Food Hub (VRFH) is key to the success of the SLV farm to school effort. The farmers input their available produce at the start of the weekly cycle in the Food Hub software, the next day the list goes out to the schools and orders are made, the farmer then harvests or extracts from cold storage. Then the hub picks up the orders from multiple farms, packs the orders and delivers them to the back door of the school kitchen.

Food service directors present such as Linda Stagner from Moffat, Cindy Archuleta from Mountain Valley in Saguache and Barb Grandell from Sangre de Cristo in Mosca have been at it a long time and know that it takes more than fresh vegetables and a story of where they came from. Someone needs to be in the line educating and encouraging students to try something new and demonstrating tastes during the lunch hour; something directors do not have time to do. This is why a series of Harvest of the Month activities are planned to support the effort.

The food service directors are going to start with a few items grown in the greater region to include peaches, apples, carrots, potatoes, spinach, onions, mushrooms and sweet corn. Right now with preliminary pricing from the VRFH it looks like the SLV can provide potatoes, mushrooms and onions at a better price than the Department of Defense which supplies schools with produce. This is critical as budgets that schools have to work with are painfully underfunded.

Farmers will have until April 12th to obtain and submit a bid to Tammie Rempe. Bids will be opened and announced April 19th. Schools can then accept a farmer’s bid and the Valley Roots Food Hub value-added and delivery service and Farm to School will gain important ground in the San Luis Valley and Chaffee County.

For more informaton or to get involved call the SLVLFC 719-937-2319.

Pictured are: Tammie Rempe, Nick Chambers GM VRFH, Malcolm Snead FSD Creede, Margaret Fitch FSD Salida, Paul New White Mountain Farm, Linda Stagner FSD Moffat, Barb Grandell FSD Sangre de Cristo, Adam Ring Ring-a-Ding Farms in Howard, Diana Valenzuela FSD Center, Amy Kunugi Southern Colorado Farms Center, Amber Martinez FSD North Conejos School District, John Lujan Colorado Mushrooms, Cindy Archuleta - FSD Mountain Valley Schools Saguache, Val Bonsall FSD Sargents.