Committed to the Child at Heart: Years of community-led farm to school efforts come to fruition in the San Luis Valley

Every October, communities across the country come together to celebrate the connections happening between children and local food for National Farm to School Month. As the Core Partner for the National Farm to School Network in Colorado, LiveWell supports farm to school efforts throughout the state. “Farm to school programs are a critical component of LiveWell’s efforts to build a more equitable, sustainable, and health-promoting food environment in Colorado,” says LiveWell’s director of food systems Wendy Peters Moschetti.

Happily, the farm to school movement is flourishing in Colorado. Forty-two percent of Colorado school districts report some farm to school activity, and half of them have school gardens. “We’ve seen numerous benefits through the success of farm to school programs in Colorado—including increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption among students in Colorado schools,” says Moschetti.

Of course, the benefits of Farm to School extend far beyond the classroom. “Farm to School knits the fabric of our community together, connecting students and staff to the local agricultural economy and contributing to it with our school nutrition resources,” says Liza Marron, director of the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition (SLVLFC), a longtime LiveWell community partner in Alamosa, CO. The Coalition recently had a major win when they received a USDA grant to help implement farm to school programs in 14 rural school districts in the San Luis Valley, some of which include our current School Food Initiative districts.

“Local districts have been working for years to accomplish a farm to school program here through the ‘Child at Heart’ Food Service Directors Network,” Marron says, explaining that the network’s name came from an impassioned 2010 speech by Mark Lara, then food service director at North Conejos School District. “During his speech, Mark said that school cafeterias are often blamed for childhood obesity in our nation. But the reality is that school food staff work in a challenging environment that includes small and shrinking budgets, strict dietary guidelines, and overwhelming paperwork—yet through it all, food service directors only have the ‘child at heart.’”

The SLVLFC will work with the Child at Heart Food Service Directors Network to increase the amount of local foods sourced by school districts and get children excited about fresh new foods grown by regional farmers. “Harvest of the Month” events, highlighting a local product in a tasty dish and featuring the farmer that grew the food, will be held several times during the year at participating schools.

The Valley Roots Food Hub, established by SLVLFC in 2015, will also be central to the success of Farm to School in the San Luis Valley. “Our year-round produce program, combined with the ability to process agricultural products in our licensed commercial kitchen, means we can offer an exceptional farm to school experience,” says the food hub’s general manager Nick Chambers. “Our community of over 60 participating producers will provide our children with nutrient-dense products and the faces and stories that go with them,” he adds.

Liza Marron echoes this excitement: “Putting the freshest food on our children’s plates while connecting the farmer’s face and their story to the food we eat is a profound experience for our community and makes us the better for it,” she says.

For more information on farm to school and other local food efforts in the San Luis Valley, visit  www.slvlocalfoods.org or www.valleyrootsfoodhub.com.