SAN LUIS – The San Luis community flocked to Centennial School for their annual Thanksgiving feast. Students and family members alike gathered in the school gymnasium last Friday to enjoy a delicious meal prepared by food service director Crystal Quintana and her team. This year was a little extra special as Quintana went above and beyond to utilize locally grown food.
The menu was complete with all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes and incorporated local foods where possible; mashed potatoes were made with potatoes from White Mountain Farm (Mosca), and quinoa stuffing featured quinoa and butternut squash from White Mountain Farm.
Incorporating local foods into the cafeteria is one of the elements of the Farm to School movement which is revving up in the Valley and being supported by the SLV Farm to School Task Force. The Task Force is a partnership between the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, Cooking Matters, the Integrated Nutrition Education Program (INEP), and the Valley Educational Gardens Initiative (VEGI). The group received a USDA Farm to School grant to support schools throughout the Valley in implementing Farm to School practices.
The Task Force’s presence was strong at Centennial’s Thanksgiving Harvest of the Month event; they encouraged students to taste the quinoa stuffing and celebrated the school’s efforts. Melissa Fritschka (INEP) and Marlayna Martinez (Cooking Matters) greeted folks as they arrived and offered information about the quinoa, White Mountain Farm, and the Farm to School Movement. Inside the gymnasium, students were excited to boast “I tried it!” stickers, vote on the quinoa stuffing, learn quinoa fun facts, and investigate a map highlighting the close proximity between White Mountain Farm and San Luis.
The Task Force and Quintana were excited to spotlight quinoa in this meal.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is originally from the mountains of South America and thus grows well in the Valley’s high altitude.
Farmer Ernie New first brought quinoa to the Valley in 1984, and today, over 30 years later, quinoa growing has expanded to eight or so other farmers in the Valley. Quinoa is an ultimate superfood with more protein, fiber, magnesium, and iron than rice. It also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, which is very rare for a plant source.
This event was just the beginning of the Farm to School campaign in Centennial School, but definitely something to be celebrated.
“Students, parents, and teachers enjoyed the opportunity to bring a taste of San Luis Valley agricultural traditions into our Thanksgiving celebration,” Principal Gilbert Apodaca said.
In addition to more Harvest of the Month events to come, Centennial School is planning on revamping its school garden next spring, with efforts to repair the hoophouse structure and grow vegetables outdoors with the leadership of students, school staff, and community members.
“The garden will serve as an educational tool in connecting the dots to where food and nutrition really come from”, says Claudia Ebel, director of VEGI, which is helping to support the reinstitution of the garden.
Superintendent Lance Northey is thankful to partner with Farm to School to work toward creating a better quality of life for children. Implementing Farm to School is no easy task, but with Quintana’s dedication and the support of Principal Apodaca and Superintendent Northey, local foods are making their way into the cafeteria, and that is something to celebrate.
For more information about Farm to School in the SLV call 719-937-2319.