Students, educators, chefs and farmers put on the fourth Homegrown Food Retreat, organized by the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center.
The retreat began with a presentation Friday night in the FLC Ballroom by Andrew Nowak, a chef who’s worked to put locally grown food on lunch trays throughout the Denver Public Schools, Colorado’s second-largest school district.
Nowak, who began advocating for local food programs as a parent volunteer, now serves on the Colorado Farm to School Task Force, works as the project director for Slow Food Denver’s Seed to Table School Food Program and works with the Garden to Cafeteria program in which young students learn to grow food that later is used in their cafeteria.
“It’s not enough to feed the school for a day, but it’s enough to inspire the kids,” Nowak said. “This is your food we’re serving in the salad bar.”
During the retreat, Nowak provided successful examples of how local food can become a staple for communities and schools, even in an urban area such as Denver.
“We’re doing a lot of similar efforts, they’re just on a smaller scale,” said Krista Garand, director of student nutrition at Durango School District 9-R during a panel discussion Saturday with Nowak and Kim Cotta, food service director for Ignacio School District.
Garand has helped eliminate canned food from Durango cafeterias since 2010 and serve local beef in school lunches since 2006, she said.
Ignacio schools are taking a similar path, Cotta said.
In addition to the main presentation and panel, about 150 participants attended a series of workshops Saturday focused on topics including increasing vitality with local, wild foods; garden designs; eating locally on a budget; and farming do’s and don’ts.
Catherine Nurse, a sophomore at FLC, said she learned a lot about growing large-scale gardens at the “Grow Your Own Grub with a Good Garden Design” workshop, taught by Deb Moses, executive director of The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado. She hoped the information would be useful in her first attempt to grow a small home garden, she said.
Jessica Smyke, a freshman at FLC who works with the environmental center, learned about the nutritional benefits in local plants in the “Save $100 a Month while Increasing Your Vitality with Local, Wild Foods” workshop, taught by Katrina Blair, director and founder of Turtle Lake Refuge.
Several participants were there after recently participating in a food summit in Farmington focused on building a better local food system.
“The energy isn’t as focused as it could be,” said Evert Oldham, area director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, who said he attended the retreat to network and continue learning.
A theme throughout the retreat was to connect a network of local farmers with consumers who can work together to make local food a bigger part of the average Durangoan’s diet.
Somehow, through the years, the system has become so complicated that it’s getting difficult for local producers to connect with local eaters, Nowak said. The goal is to reconnect, he said.
“If you want to get involved, anyone can do this,” he said. “You don’t have to have the training to do this.”