A local food distribution center built in Durango High School this summer will serve as a food hub for seven area school districts for the 2016-17 school year and beyond, thanks to Durango School District 9-R’s thriving Farm to School food program.
Serving Durango, Mancos, Bayfield, Cortez, Ignacio, Dolores and Pagosa Springs schools, the grant-funded distribution center will act as a receiving point for all local food used by the district, with dry storage, freezer and refrigerator space. Food will be stored and minimally processed, and partnering schools will come pick up their food items regularly.
“This is in direct response to the growth of our Farm to School program,” said Krista Garand, coordinator of student nutrition for the district. “It allows us greater control over food safety, and we’re excited about that piece.” The distribution area is located next to the high school kitchen and cafeteria, off the loading dock for easy delivery.
Durango’s Farm to School program has existed since 2005. The new center is making it possible for other districts to get more involved in Farm to School food initiatives.
“This grant will allow Pagosa to participate for the first time,” said Julie Popp, 9-R public information officer. “Farm to school programs take a lot of admin coordination, and they haven’t had the resources. This aggregation will make that possible for them this year.”
The district has partnered with a variety of area farms to bring in fresh produce and other local items. Participants include Wiley Carrot in Mancos, Mattics Orchard in Olathe, Sutherland Farms in Aztec and Sunnyside Meats. It also works with the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative, which will deliver produce every Thursday from its collective of area farms. “We’re able to feature fresh items every day, and that helps to provide the vegetable component the USDA requires,” Popp said. They expect a diverse selection of produce this year, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, corn, kale, pinto beans, peaches, pears and apples.
School menus feature a “Farm to School” logo so families will know when local produce is being featured. Other icons include “Homemade from Scratch” and “Taste-Tested, Student-Approved,” noting when a menu item has been a favorite in taste-testing sessions with students, which the district conducts each year. “There’s a new Chicken Lo Mein item, for example, which can include local produce, and we changed our pizza to a variety that kids like better,” Garand said. “We’re working with a market in Ignacio to provide a new stew meat for our beef stew, as well as local vegetables and potatoes, and we’re featuring higher-quality Boar’s Head hot dogs. Kids like hot dogs, so we better give them a good one.”
Also new this year is Durango High’s Demon Deli. “We developed a brand-new, grab-and-go cafe featuring Durango Joe’s coffee, Boar’s Head meats and cheeses and a cool lounge and hangout spot,” Garand said. The space is located in the west wing, separate from the cafeteria. It took a year to design and create, and students were involved in the marketing and logo development. According to Popp, low participation in the school lunch program at the high school level and students’ ability to eat off-campus were motivations to provide a fresh and different on-site lunch option this year. The Demon Deli will also be open before the start of the school day to serve breakfast items.
The Grab and Go Breakfast initiative for middle and elementary schools in the district has been most successful at Escalante and Miller Middle Schools. At the beginning of last school year, Escalante served breakfast to 30 to 70 students each morning. That number rose to about 200 students a day. Miller also more than doubled student participation in the breakfast program. “It’s working at the elementary schools, but they’re not yet as successful as the middle schools,” said Garand. According to the district’s website, students struggling to make it from breakfast to lunch without hunger pangs can benefit from à la carte items like fresh fruit, muffins, bagels, milk or yogurt for a mid-morning boost. There’s no breakfast program offered at Durango High School or Big Picture High School, Garand said, due to lack of participation.
All district schools are also offering a salad bar Monday through Friday, with brand-new salad bars purchased last year with grant funds from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, a program that donates salad bars to U.S. schools so that every child has daily access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Visit http://nutrition.durangoschools.org for more Durango 9-R nutrition information, including options for how to pay for students’ meals (in person, check, credit, debit and cash are accepted) and details about menus across the district.