Details of 2nd Annual Farm to School Conference – Judith Rice-Jones

Here’s a summary of some of the highlights of the statewide Farm to School Conference last Friday in Brighton.  It was a delightful, POSITIVE experience.  I assume someone from D11 will  expand on their good news at our meeting.

Colorado Springs –Destination for Health Seekers

For much of its early history, Colorado Springs was a destination for health seekers.   Today Colorado remains the leanest of the fifty states though experiencing the same gradual increase in obesity.  For the past fifteen years the Centers for Disease Control have been tracking the growing rate of obesity across America.  Amazingly, in those years not a single state has seen the rise level off or trend down despite massive education efforts.

In Colorado we are fortunate to have a number of organizations working on this issue especially LiveWell Colorado and the Colorado Health Foundation.  We can feel pride in knowing that one of the cutting-edge examples is in our city, the Good Food Project at School District 11.

Food Service Director Rick Hughes and his staff have brought off a minor miracle in the positive changes they have brought to the 24,000 school lunches they serve every day.  This January they reached a goal of serving healthier multi-grain bread, pasta, and brown rice and in eliminating almost all highly processed foods.

At the second state-wide Farm to School meeting in Brighton on Friday, the Colorado Health Foundation announced a $500,000.00 grant to the District to develop a food hub.  Director Hughes described plans to develop a commercial kitchen and processing facility at Mitchell High School which will allow the District to purchase fresh food from local farmers which will be processed according to the stringent USDA standards for safe food for schools.  The grant will also provide for the purchase of refrigeration trucks for delivery of the food to local schools.  Hughes hopes to be able to expand this service, at cost, to other school districts and institutions in the future.

The shift to a healthier menu of fresh foods, minimally processed and without the addition of hormones and preservatives has been accompanied by a colorful educational campaign which provides monthly information to parents and to students about the food they eat and its sources.  Last fall, the District was able to provide the dessert option of a fresh, organic Palisades peach to all students who ate in the school cafeterias.

See examples of their menus at

http://www.d11.org/FNS/Pages/D11GoodFoodProject.aspx

Both District 11 and Bon Appetit at Colorado College point to the fact that they spend about 45 cents out of every dollar for food which they try to purchase locally as much as possible.  This contrasts with institutions which rely on third party providers where the figure for food is often closer to 35 cents from every dollar as those organizations have to return funds to shareholders.

In addition to providing healthy, local, hormone free food to students, by supporting local farms, the District contributes to food security in our area by helping to support our local agriculture.

At the same conference in Brighton, food service directors announced plans to develop partnerships with local farmers for fund-raising sales of their products to support school activities.  This would be a welcome change from the frequently unhealthy and calorie-rich foods that are frequently used in such campaigns.  The school district in Weld County gave a school soccer team the opportunity to shuck locally sourced sweet corn for $2.00/dozen which the team then used for equipment needs.

D11’s goals for school food are simple and straightforward:  no growth hormones, antibiotic free; fresh fruits and vegetables; whole grains; free of artificial dyes; free of artificial preservatives; free of hydrogenated oils (trans fats); no added sugars including high-fructose corn syrup; food from the earth and good for the earth with minimal packaging; foods that are not highly processed; and foods that are natural or whole.

Another project addressing childhood obesity came from the Denver Public Schools which have partnered with their local Slow Food group to develop school gardens and a protocol for safe handling which allows some of the food from these gardens to be used in school meals.  Working with local geography students, the District used GIS to identify areas around Denver schools not being used as playgrounds or for other purposes.  These areas will now be contracted to local organic growers to produce food for school cafeterias.  School gardens have been shown to greatly increase the amount and variety of fresh foods consumed by students at those schools.