Monte Vista schools serve locally grown potatoes

MONTE VISTA — The agriculturally rich San Luis Valley is famous for delicious potatoes and the abundance in which they are produced and distributed; however, local residents are not always sure if the potatoes on their plates were rooted in the Valley’s soil.

On Wednesday, March 7th, Monte Vista Middle School was proud to know for a fact that the fingerling potatoes they sampled for lunch came from White Rock Specialities, a local enterprise just 15 miles from their school. Monte Vista Food service directors Gloria Guttierrez and Tami Sims worked together with the San Luis Valley Farm to School Task Force to educate students and staff about local potatoes and celebrate local farmers.

Guttierrez and Sims work together to plan and provide school lunches to the Monte Vista Middle School, High School, and Bill Metz Elementary, and were proud to be present for the Harvest of the Month event on Wednesday. They excitedly dressed up as a pair of snap peas to show their support for not just local foods but healthy foods. Their entire food service team supported the movement and had kids ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ as they entered the lunchroom to see every food service staff member dressed up for the celebration.

The staff wanted to showcase a local food that was familiar to students and invite conversations about local farmers and the local foods around them. Guitterrez quieted the lunchroom to talk about fingerling potatoes and discuss the difference between a fingerling and a russet. Many of the kids thought that the fingerlings were simply cut from a larger potato and were intrigued to find out that they actually grow as small finger-sized potatoes.

The delicious fingerlings were coated in olive oil, seasoned with garlic and parsley, and roasted in the oven to a perfect crisp. Students requested that these potatoes become a regular on their school lunch menu from now on. It was not all about the flavor and these specific fingerlings. Students also proudly shared stories about family members who work in nearby potato fields or factories and were honored to have local potatoes on their plates. Sixth grader Jesus Javalera said, “I loved them, especially because it feels as if I’m supporting my dad who works on a nearby potato farm.” It became more than just support for one farmer but also a recognition and honoring of all farmers. 

Students were also enthused by the presence of local potato and cattle farmer Kylar Brown and his wife Emily Brown. The Browns volunteered their time to talk with kids about their local farm and quiz kids with trivia questions. Each lunch hour Kylar and Farm to School Task Force Lead Mandy Wilner teamed up to circulate around the tables asking students different trivia questions about potatoes, such as: “How many states in the U.S.A. grow potatoes? All 50!” or “What percentage of a potato is water? 80 percent.”

Students were engaged in conversations centered around potatoes, local food, nutrition, farming, and family. The school staff and students, and farm to school team were honored to have local farmers in the lunchroom supporting the Farm to School movement with potatoes from everyone’s backyard. It really encompassed the meaning of community and broadened the sense of community with all the links and connections that were made.

The fingerlings came from White Rock Specialities, a joint enterprise between White Mountain Farms and Rockey Farms that together grow a plethora of different crops. White Rock Specialities grows and aggregates San Luis Valley potatoes, then washes and packs them in market-ready bags and boxes. Produce from White Rock Specialties and other SLV producers is made available to food service directors from all school districts across the Valley through the Valley Roots Food Hub Food, located in Mosca.

Food service directors Gloria Guttierrez and Tami Sims made their first order through the food hub this last week to ensure local potatoes were on their lunch line and are looking forward to supporting local farmers in their school lunch menus more consistently. Monte Vista is already looking forward to showcasing another locally sourced food on lunch menus in April and now feels supported in making local potatoes a staple on the lunch line.

Caption: Monte Vista School Food Service directors Tami Sims and Gloria Gutierrez dressed up in a pair of snap peas and here they showcase the White Mountain Farm Fingerling Potatoes that were served on their lunch line at the Monte Vista Middle School on Wednesday March 7./Courtesy photo by Marlayna Martinez