Farm to School Task Force visits South Routt | SteamboatToday.com

Farm to School Task Force visits South Routt

A radish shines under the sun in a school garden in the Salida School District. The district partners with a non-profit to run gardens that bring fresh, local food into school cafeterias. Community members in South Routt last week learned from the state's Farm to School Task Force about the possibilities of starting a farm-to-school program in the district. The first step taken was the creation of a school gardening space at South Routt Elementary last summer.

— Sitting around a table inside the South Routt School District boardroom last week, stakeholders from across the state considered the logistics of initiatives that bring fresh, local foods into schools.

The regular, quarterly meeting of the legislatively mandated Farm to School Task Force took place Wednesday morning, while the afternoon was reserved to discuss local efforts in South Routt, including a new garden installed during the summer at South Routt Elementary.

Task Force members, including chair Jennifer Visitacion, shared their background in farm-to-school efforts and also heard from South Routt parents, the district's food service director, health and wellness coordinator Kristi Brown and others.

Much of the discussion focused on challenges of implementing farm-to-school programs, including funding, facilities and buy-in of staff.

"Part of why it's important for us to come to communities like yours is to find out what you need," said Visitacion, who is executive director of Guidestone, a nonprofit that runs farm-to-school gardens in the Salida School District, which has about 1,100 students.

The Salida gardens have generated 10,000 pounds of produce, 3,000 pounds of which was used by district schools, while some was sold to help support the program.

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The group listened to challenges met by the Salida program, such as storage space for food, and heard about the efforts needed to get such a program going in their own community.

Established in 2010, the Farm to School Task Force works to study, develop and recommend policies to best implement farm-to-school programs across the state. The group has created a farm-to-school curriculum for use by teachers and can connect school districts with mentors and training. It also hopes to implement a grant program to bring funding to districts, though currently, the task force is unfunded by the state.

In South Routt, a $3,500 LiveWell grant and $3,500 from the school district's health and wellness budget was used to pay for the creation of a garden at South Routt Elementary and for local gardener Kim Brooks to run it. Brooks said she laid out six plots for use by each grade level through the summer and has planted some flowers and trees to get things started.

"Each grade will have its own little section," Brooks said.

Brooks is hopeful the gardening program will be successful in offering future opportunities for older students to mentor the elementary children, helping strengthen South Routt's agricultural focus.

"Soroco really need to continue to build on its agriculture program," Brooks said.

Attendees Wednesday identified staff buy-in as the greatest challenge to successful implementation of farm-to-school programs in South Routt.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow