Garfield Re-2 students enjoy sweet Olathe treats

Theresa Hamilton
Garfield Re-2
A Graham Mesa kindergartner digs into his locally grown ear of corn at lunch this week. Garfield Re-2 School District is trying to provide more locally sourced produce in their lunch menus.
Theresa Hamilton/Courtesy

When Garfield Re-2 students picked up their school lunch trays last week, they all got to enjoy an ear of locally grown Olathe Sweet Corn from Okagawa Farms in Grand Junction.

The added treat was met with smiles and eager gnawing at the warm, yellow delight.

“It’s so good,” said one Graham Mesa Elementary kindergartener. “It’s sweet and yummy.”

Garfield Re-2 purchased 100 cases equaling about 4,800 ears of locally sourced sweet corn to serve for lunch. Providing more locally grown fruits and vegetables is one of the initiatives Garfield Re-2 Nutrition Services Director Mary McPhee has been working on for the last three years. It started slowly with locally grown Palisade Peaches, and this year, she hopes to add many more locally grown offerings.

“It’s a bit of a challenge to get locally grown produce, mostly because of the volume that we need,” said McPhee. “For example, forty cases of corn will only serve our staff and students for one week.”

A Graham Mesa kindergartner bites into Olathe Sweet Corn.
Theresa Hamilton/Courtesy

With universal free meals, the number of students eating lunch and breakfast has increased significantly, adding to the volume.

Seasonality creates some additional challenges.

“The produce is great right now, but it will run out in about 60 days. We aren’t in a climate where we can grow produce year-round,” she explained.”We have fresh salad bars that our kids love so, we have to have the volume year-round.”

McPhee said right now, she and her 10 kitchen managers are capitalizing on the local produce they can get now, including peaches, sweet corn, cantaloupe, watermelon, and apples. Some schools have gardens that, when there is enough produce like lettuce or tomatoes, get incorporated into school lunch as well.

One of the most significant changes for this year is Garfield Re-2’s relationship with Colo-Pac, a produce distributor that sells primarily Colorado-grown products.

“We began working with them last year. It’s nice to work with a sixth-generation, Colorado business, with real people for support. Sometimes, when you place an order online, you aren’t sure where the product is coming from, and it is difficult to get support if something goes wrong. I like knowing that we are feeding our students and staff as much locally grown produce as we can,” said McPhee.

The Kitchen Manager: Wamsley Elementary Kitchen Manager Sherry Babcock shucks ears of corn prior to serving them to her elementary students. Districtwide, Garfield Re-2 purchased 100 cases of locally grown Olathe Sweet Corn to serve to students this week.
Theresa Hamilton/Courtesy

Serving local produce is important, she added, because it supports local farmers, and it helps students know about where their food is coming from.

“I want our students to be curious and aware about how things are grown and how things like water and photosynthesis impact how plants grow.”

Thursday, students were treated to Palisade Peaches. Next week, McPhee has apples and peaches coming from Paonia-based Hummingbird Farms.

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