Schools Serving More Local Foods, Working to Make Them Amiable Year-Round
MONTROSE — It’s just after 1 p.m. Tuesday and Kathleen Deltonto, the Nutrition Services Director for the Montrose School District RE-1J, has just finished up another lunch rush at Centennial Middle School. Each day the district serves 7,600 meals for district students and another 600 snacks. With all the demand Deltonto is committed to serving as much local food as possible, when available.
Deltonto has been with the district for over 30 years and has personally witnessed the change from scratch cooking to more processed cheaper food and is now working to move more school lunches back to cleaner, easier and healthier food from around the region.
At each middle and high school in the Montrose district students are eating more fruits and vegetables at salad bars and deli lines and staying away from processed, frozen food substances.
Each week Deltonto puts out bid sheets from local companies and farms to see where prices are for bulk food for the district. She prefers local, and will buy local given the price is right, even if its just a “few pennies” over large food distribution prices. She said those bids are open records and show a growing shift in better nutrition in district schools.
District Superintendent Dr. Mark MacHale said each day he walks through school kitchens across the district and is proud to see more fresh, scratch preparation of food for students. MacHale said Montrose County RE-1J is fortunate its’ food service program is self sufficient in that the district does not to have to use any general fund money to pay for food costs. He said many other districts in the state are forced to use general funds to pay for student meals.
“It’s an enterprise fund, they operate that on their own and are expected to pay their own way,” MacHale said.
This time of year the district receives apples, asparagus, pears, peaches, watermelon, plums, cantaloupe, tomatoes, green chillies, sweet corn and pinto beans from local farms on the Western Slope including Mattics Orchards in Olathe and Honey Acres of Wiggins. Each year Deltonto estimates the district uses about four tons of pinto beans.
Fruits and vegetables harvested from farms out of state are often picked underripe and still green so that large food distributors can deliver them to customers thousands of miles away. Deltonto said these fruits and vegetables do not pack the same nutritional punch as local produce, which is picked when the fruit or vegetable is more mature. Using more local produce also cuts down on the district’s carbon footprint as less fuel is needed to get food to district storages.
Deltonto said she would like to order more grass fed beef for the district but that market is usually out of the district’s price range. However the beef the district consumes is all from Colorado Deltonto explains, something she strives for.
Each day the district serves 4,000 breakfast meals and 3,600 lunches. The district uses local tomatoes for uses in spaghetti sauce and soups. Green chillies from Mattics are roasted and frozen, to be used throughout the school year.
Deltonto said the district must use food distributors like Shamrock Foods to offset the local production. Last year the district received 50 bushels of tomatoes and had to offset the rest of the year with other sources.
The future goal Deltonto explains is try to make more local food last longer throughout the school year.
“I would like to preserve more food to last us the entire school year,” Deltonto said.
In 2013 the district froze about 500 quarts of green chillies that were used through spring 2014. Deltonto said she wants to put her knowledge of commercial canning to use to try and stretch fruits like peaches and apples longer throughout the year.
These efforts are not only ways to get more local food at cheaper prices, but to educate the students about local farms and healthier eating.
In October district students will learn more about local farmers as the district participates in the annual Colorado Proud Day. At each school pictures and information about area farms will be displayed for the students to see and learn.