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As pandemic recedes, Durango schools recommit to locally grown food sources

Students mark Proud School Meal Day with lunches made from fresh produce
Animas Valley Elementary School students line up for tacos made with locally sourced food on Colorado Proud School Meal Day. (Courtesy of Durango School District 9-R)

Students across Durango School District 9-R celebrated Colorado Proud School Meal day Tuesday by enjoying lunches made with locally grown foods.

At Animas Valley Elementary School, students lined up to enjoy tacos that used beef from Sunnyside Meat, vegetables from Fields to Plate Produce and salsa from Rez Meetz Urban.

The idea was developed by the state to promote local agribusinesses, which contribute $47 billion annually to the state economy. The school district is trying to reconnect with local growers in the area after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted access to locally grown sources.

Animas Valley Elementary School Kitchen Manager Angela Fosco said it is important to educate students about where their food comes from.

“It helps promote healthier, more wholesome food choices,” Fosco said. “And starting at the elementary level, it’s a habit that can be instilled to last a lifetime.”

She is happy about the district’s continued commitment to locally grown foods because it is something she tries do in her personal life. COVID-19 created problems for the school district’s use of locally grown foods because the district tried to limit interaction with outside food sources to protect children from getting sick, Fosco said.

9-R Director of Food and Nutrition Matt Poling was not in his current position during the height of the pandemic, but he said it was most likely a logistics decision.

“COVID had a negative impact on a lot of aspects of our lives but definitely the Farm to School program,” he said. “So I’m really glad to see it up and running.”

Poling tries to integrate locally sourced food on the school lunch menu as much as possible. He says it’s not financially feasible to use only local food sources, but he tries to use as many local sources as possible.

He noted Durango supports its local businesses.

Fosco said she would like to see more locally grown food sources used in the school but understands production can be seasonal. Shorter growing seasons mean the school district can’t always have access to locally grown produce.

The school district has also emphasized making meals from scratch to produce more wholesome lunches.

“Instead of buying a can of marinara sauce, we make it from tomatoes, herbs and spices,” Poling said. “Using whole foods, you have more control over sodium that way. Right now, the menu’s probably 60 to 70% made from scratch.”

For some students at Animas Valley Elementary, the tacos were among their favorite menu items. Fosco said students enjoy locally sourced foods because they open the doors to new options. She uses beets from Field to Plate, because students are not often fed fresh beets at home.

Fosco is also excited for students to begin growing produce again in the school’s greenhouse. She said the greenhouse was impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

“The kids participate in planting the garden and harvesting the garden,” she said. “They do a farmers market where they sell their product to the public, which is starting up again, and that’s really cool.”


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