By Wendy Dew
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Salida Colorado School District to learn about the Farm to School Initiative the local community has embraced. Providing local foods for student lunches is very beneficial for schools, communities and the environment:
- Reduced carbon footprint by reducing the distance from food source to food consumption
- Healthier and sustainable food opportunities
- Environmental, cultural and agricultural education hands-on learning
- Supporting local communities and economies
My visit to Salida was amazing! The day was filled with so many environmental and educational best practices and I was completely in awe.
The day started with a visit to the main farm that supplies the school district with healthy foods for school meals. The farm was created collaboratively by the Salida School District, LiveWell Chaffee County and Guidestone Colorado with additional support from citizens, local businesses, and Colorado foundations. The farm was being harvested and maintained by Guidestone Colorado and the Southwest Conservation Corps volunteers when I was there. A variety of volunteers, students and citizens help maintain the farm throughout the year.
Many types of crops make up the farm:
After leaving the farm we visited the middle school garden and I was able to meet the Salida School District Superintendent who is very excited about the Farm to School Initiative:
The school gardens that are in place at the schools act as outdoor classrooms. At the elementary school, students learned about how plants grow, how to take care of them and even about the cultural significance of certain plants to Native Americans.
I was then informed that lunch would be provided to us by the local high school to celebrate Colorado Proud School Meal Day. I have to admit my eyes got a little wide at this announcement. I am a bit of a foodie and my recollections of school lunches were cardboard-like pizzas and greasy deep fried burritos. I was a little leery standing in line, but once I got up to the serving area the “lunch lady” proudly told me about all of the great farm fresh ingredients that were going into the various dishes she had created. I was super impressed! The meal was low waste: by using serving trays as plates that are then washed and reused, the students learn about waste reduction. I also noticed that just enough food was made for the amount of students and that each student got a reasonable-size portion. This helps contribute to healthy eating and less wasted food. I wolfed down my very healthy and super tasty lunch with colleagues, teachers and students.
One student was very clear about how great it is to know where your food comes from is, and how “creepy” it is to not know:
The day ended with a shopping trip at the Youth Farmers Market, hosted by the Salida Boys and Girls Club, where the other shoppers and I happily went home with bags of veggies. I snagged two cucumbers, a bag of green beans and two bunches of kale. My homemade kale chips for dinner that night were my best batch yet!
I cannot express how impressed I was with this community and this program. Guidestone Colorado has managed to generate support from literally every player in the farm to school food cycle within the rural town of Salida.
The educational importance of kids understanding where their food comes from is, to me, one of the most important environmental learning experiences. Helping to plant, care for and eat locally grown food, teaches children so many different aspects of environmental science. It is a very personal, hands on educational opportunity that every child should have. School districts across the country could learn a lot from the Salida community that is raising food-wise, healthy kids.
To learn more about local foods visit: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/local-foods-local-places
To learn more about sustainable food management visit: http://www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food
About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.