This week, Denver Public Schools students feasted on locally-raised beef, bison and veggie tacos accompanied by locally-grown spicy corn salad, tomato and cucumber salad, Colorado peaches and cantaloupe.
The goal of the local-only menu is to educate children about healthy eating, a key focus for the district. Based on the latest USDA Farm to School Census, DPS is the third largest procurer of local food in the state. During the 2017-18 school year, DPS purchased 196,523 pounds of produce from Colorado farmers.
Annually, DPS grows 8,383 pounds of produce on school grounds: 7,051 pounds on its farm at Schmitt Elementary, 363 pounds at the Denver Green School farm and 969 pounds in garden-to-cafeteria programs at a dozen schools.
“When we minimize the time between harvest and service – especially for produce items – we maximize the nutrient content and the flavor,” said Anne Wilson, Food and Nutrition Services area supervisor and farm-to-school coordinator. “We also know that our students care deeply about the environment and sustainability. We want to do our part in reducing the district’s carbon footprint.”
Stephen Cochenour, also known as farmer Stephen, runs the farms that sit on school grounds. Farmer Stephen grows cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, jalapenos and sweet bell snacking peppers. Everything he grows is harvested at its prime and sent to school cafeterias throughout the district. All of the produce grown over the season on DPS’ two half-acre farms goes directly into students’ bellies.
“It’s a really unique situation,” says Cochenour. “Because DPS is the farm, it’s not as though there’s a transactional element like traditional farm-to-cafeteria programs. DPS owns the land and the seeds and I’m a DPS employee. We’re navigating this new space of what it looks like to focus on production with actual school farms.”
DPS Food and Nutrition Services has spent a decade improving the quality, nutrition and appeal of its school lunch offerings. Today, there are fruit and vegetable bars in every school cafeteria. Many baked items and entrées are made from scratch and students are offered a range of options, including vegetarian meals.
Learn more about DPS Food and Nutrition Services here.