It was a standing-room-only crowd at Denver Green School, where Colorado dignitaries attended a lunch marking Colorado Proud School Meal Day.
"That’s a zucchini,” remarked a third-grade girl while grabbing for the basket of fruits and veggies waiting for her as she sat down for lunch.
Picking up the oblong veggie, she winced, “No wait, this one is a cucumber, that one is a zucchini. People think they’re vegetables, but they’re actually fruits!”
It was a standing-room-only crowd at Denver Green School; the tables were decorated with linens and centerpieces of fresh fruits and vegetables. The cafeteria was filled with excited shouts and questions for the many adults in suits and dresses the students had never seen in their school before. “Are you the mayor?” they asked. “When is he going to be here?” The students weren’t quite sure what to make of their guests, but they knew that something different was happening for lunch.
The lunch, attended by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Katie Wilson, the USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, marked Colorado Proud School Meal Day, a statewide recognition of Colorado’s farmers and the importance of nutrition education in schools.
What the students of Denver Green School might not have understood was why their school had been singled out on a day of statewide celebration. Denver Green School was recently awarded a USDA grant to build a curriculum around farm-to-school that now serves as model for other schools in Colorado and the rest of the U.S.
The event, which included a school meal prepared by Denver Green School kitchen staff and a tour of the school farm, preceded National Farm to School Month in October, a time to celebrate connections happening all over the country between schools and local food.
Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education settings. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips.
Farm field trips for students at Denver Green School happen almost daily; the school farm sits directly behind its playground. All students engage with the farm through a prescribed curriculum, focusing on all the major subjects while still allowing the students to get their hands dirty pulling up carrots and potatoes. Plus, they get to interact with farmers from Sprout City Farms during recess.
The students reap what they sow — 22 percent of the food served in the school cafeteria is sourced directly from their farm or other nearby farms. This is no small feat. As Gabriella Warner, Director of the LiveWell School Food Initiative, said at the event, “There are so many rules about what can be served in a school cafeteria, just in terms of nutrition and food safety. That’s what makes this program so remarkable, that the kitchen staff has managed to get this much food into meals directly from the garden and they’ve gotten students to eat and enjoy it.”
The school farm is also having an impact on the surrounding community. Sprout City Farms operates a community supported agriculture program, or CSA, from the farm. Residents can purchase a share of the farm’s produce and stop by every other week to pick up a box of fresh fruits and veggies. The farm is also home to a Double Up Food Bucks site, where SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps) recipients can use their benefits to double the amount of nutritious food they can buy.
Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the U.S., providing an important tool in the fight against both childhood obesity and food insecurity. Whether you are a food service professional, farmer, teacher or food-loving family, there are plenty of ways to celebrate and get involved in National Farm to School Month. Learn more at farmtoschool.org.