There are three great reasons to share my recent visit to Greeley-Evans School District 6 in Colorado. First, there has been lots of recent attention to school lunch acceptability and food waste related USDA school meals nutritional standards. Secondly, it is School Nutrition Employee Wellness Week culminating on May 5, with School Lunch Hero Day. And, finally, farm to school remains one of the hottest trends in school meals.
Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services is dedicated to getting delicious school food into hungry kids. In a district with 22,000 students (67 percent eligible for free or reduced meals) located in a population-boom town (4th fastest growth in the US), everything starts in a 12,000 square foot central production facility where nearly 100 percent of the district’s meals are prepared from scratch and sent out in bulk to schools. On my tour with district Chef Matthew Poling, I saw pallets of local Colorado red-skinned potatoes, boxes of frozen local, grass-fed beef, and 50-gallons drums of canned tomatoes direct from a California farm – as well as a commercial-sized chili roaster and a walk-in cooler of fresh produce. Why then do I have a photo of a messy salad bar with half empty containers? Because the high school students took – and ate – the produce. When I arrived at Greeley Central High School, it was standing room only on the Tierra Del Sol line. They actually they ran out of the burrito that I wanted for lunch (I did not go hungry; I enjoyed a Fuego Cheese Steak from the famous El Fuego Food Truck).
Before I ever entered a school, Director Danielle Bock gave me my very own School Lunch Hero Day button (distributed to every team member this week). During our tour, Danielle and I started with egg pop tasting in Chappelow K-8 Magnet School’s cafeteria at 7:30 AM and ended at a student-run coffee kiosk in Greeley West High School at 2:30 PM. During the intervening hours, I met dozens of school nutrition heroes – serving pancakes with mixed berry compote, explaining their Dance Party kits from the award-winning Student Wellness Program, scrubbing potatoes in the central kitchen, customizing sub sandwiches for teens, working the El Fuego Food Truck (and preparing my lunch), and sampling coffee with teen entrepreneurs at their student-run business.
Greeley-Evans School District 6 is also a National Farm to School Network super-star – nearly 25 percent of their food purchases are local, with the rate increasing each year. The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Farm to School goals are ambitious and obviously achievable!
- Continuously expanding local produce offerings during breakfast, lunch and in Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program sites
- Sourcing milk from local dairies
- Integrating locally-raised beef and chicken into meals
- Expanding and improving school garden programs
- Increasing Farmer in the Classroom and Chef in the Classroom programming
- Partnering with other Northern Colorado school districts to develop efficient and effective systems, like the USDA-funded District 6 Food Hub, to work with local producers
My day at Greeley-Evans School District 6 Nutrition Services was filled with enthusiastic school nutrition heroes, satisfied student customers, fresh food served with a smile, and support for the new frontiers of school food: think egg pops, food trucks, house-made hot sauce and coffee kiosks for teen entrepreneurs. I salute every staff member – and hope I can go back for lunch soon!