One year ago, the Boulder Valley School District learned it would be receiving almost $100,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help support Farm to School initiatives that connect the schools to local farmers. BVSD is one of 71 grantees nationwide to receive such funds, and “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper, director of BVSD’s School Food Project, along with her staff have been busy developing relationships with local growers to procure fresh produce for school lunches while working with students and educators to encourage healthier food choices — both at school and in the home.
In a culminating event to highlight both the district’s efforts toward promoting healthy food and its new partnerships with the local farming community, the first annual BVSD Harvest Festival will be held at Casey Middle School Sunday, Oct. 26. Sponsored by Whole Foods, the Harvest Festival is an event for whole families to participate in some of the hands-on garden education and healthy-eating activities, and hopefully bring some of that learning home.
“It’s really intended to be a celebration of the local harvest and a chance to connect our students and their families to folks that actually grow their food,” explains Curry Rosato, program coordinator for BVSD’s School Food Project. In this role she has helped to build new school gardens at five different elementary schools throughout the district and implemented several other initiatives for promoting some of the new, fresh, locally-grown foods now available in the cafeterias.
Along with field trips to farms, cooking demonstrations and art contests prompted by the question “What is local food?” one of the initiatives put into place this year includes baseball-like trading cards that feature different fruits and vegetables, as well as profiles of local farmers that have helped grow some of the menu items. Students earn these cards by trying new foods, such as last month’s cherry tomatoes from Olin Farms and Isabelle Farms and this month’s roasted squash from Fossil Creek Farms. In a partnership with the Boulder Farmers’ Market, students can collect and share these cards with the help of their friends and family and win prizes. Rosato has been impressed with how motivating this initiative has been.
“I’ve had students who were unwilling to taste a new food see their friends who did with the cards or stickers and come back and ask to try it,” she says.
In an effort to make lasting change, long after the grant has ended, teachers within the district have had the opportunity to participate in “Garden as Classroom” workshops to learn how to integrate standards-based academic content into activities that use the garden or other agriculture and nutrition-related activities. Developing lessons around math, science and language learning objectives that have students participating in the planting, maintenance and harvesting of crops has helped to make them part of each campus’ learning environment while providing many students with their first opportunity to plant a seed or pick a vegetable straight off the vine.
First awarded in 2012, the USDA Farm to School Grants provide close to $5 million annually to schools and other organizations that help connect children to local food producers. While the goal is to educate students about where their food comes from and to support them in making healthier food choices, one of the encouraging benefits of this program is the development of relationships between farmers and their surrounding school districts. Seen as a year-round, previously untapped market, a district’s ability to procure produce and meat from local growers rather than large, national distributors, can have a positive effect on the local economy. For example, Steve Maitland of Fossil Creek Farms, one of several farmers who will be at the Harvest Festival, grew and sold his entire corn crop this year for BVSD’s School Food Project. Along with funding, the grant provided the district training and workshops on how to procure locally, as well as resources for producers about how to sell directly to the schools.
“The Harvest Festival is intended to be a celebration of local food and highlight our local farmers and community organizations that focus on healthy eating,” says Rosato. “It’s an event for the whole family where we can meet and learn about our local farmers, the foods they produce and have a chance to meet many organizations who support garden education in our classrooms.”
Heather Ridge is a BVSD teacher.