“Local food will be fresher,” says the consultant
Nourish Colorado, a state nonprofit that contracts with the Colorado Local Food Program, helps 31 Colorado schools provide students with local food.
Although the Local Food Program was initiated two years ago, Nourish Colorado has been operating since 2009, where it was known as LiveWell and rebranded to Nourish Colorado in 2020.
“Local food is going to be fresher food,” said Rainey Wickstrom, consulting chef for Nourish Colorado. “Fresher food will be more nutritious, tastier and better for children, local farmers and producers.
She said one of the challenges in helping local food areas is supporting their infrastructure so they have the right equipment, kitchen facilities and training. Her job is also to act as a matchmaker for what local suppliers can provide to schools.
“This grant just increases their bottom line and gets them extra money so they buy things like beef from a local rancher,” Wikstrom said. “What we’re really finding with kids and studying nutrition is that when you teach kids about food, that’s really the best way to get positive health outcomes.”
As Nourish Colorado supports farm-to-school efforts across the state, Mancos School District works to ensure their students are fed locally. On Oct. 3, which is Colorado Pride Day, the Mancos schools prepared a local meal that was served to all students, 25 staff and about seven parents.
“It was great, we served local beef tacos, Colorado apples and Olathe sweet corn,” said Casey Armes, director of food services for Mancos Schools. “We made our own local green chili sauce with some locally roasted green chilies. Then we had a bunch of produce on our salad bar – kale, lemon cucumbers, purple peppers – and a local salsa from one of our local food hubs – Tap Root Cooperative in Mosca.”
It was lunch, and for the Colorado Proud breakfast, the school had biscuits and gravy with local ground pork from Sacred Song Farm, scrambled eggs from Yoder’s family farm in Monte Vista, and fresh peaches.
The Mancos School District also has an accompanying culinary program that incorporates local foods into their meals and works alongside the lunch program. Since they do not have a classroom dedicated specifically to culinary studies, students share the kitchen for their academic purposes.
The accompanying culinary program is one of Mancos School’s courses where students receive a certificate for the craft they have learned. If students successfully complete the culinary program, they leave with a ServSafe Manager certificate – where Colorado requires a person in a commercial kitchen to have this.
Students must also complete community service projects each year to pass the class. This year they served chili and cornbread at the Mancos Cowboy Half Marathon.
Armes said her new title this year as food industry director has expanded her responsibilities to learn about state subsidies and requirements. She also learns about all the different regulations and how to manage her team. She worked her way up from kitchen assistant to manager of the former school district’s principal to now in the six years she has been employed by the Mancos School District.
She said that in addition to the Nourish Colorado grant, the school receives another grant called the Local Food for Schools Cooperative, which is awarded by the USDA. Currently, this funding is unrestricted until next year, but according to Armes, this is the last time the Mancos School District will receive this grant.
This is the second year the Mancos School District has been involved. Last year they received $2,058.48 and this year they received just over $20 over last year at $2,083 for the entire school year.
“This is all made possible by our farmers, grants and of course the wonderful ladies I work with in the kitchen,” said Armes. “It’s a team effort.”
The Mancos School District received 1,800 pounds of local beef for this school year.
They purchased 320 pounds of local ground pork this year.
They brought in about 500 pounds of local produce and other items like local cheese, salsa, eggs that come from the food centers they work with – Tap Root Cooperative and Phoenix Foods of Dove Creek.
Nearly 75 pounds of produce donated to Mancos School District.