Lunchbox January Hero: Shelly Allen of the St. Vrain Valley School District!
Written by Lunch Box blogger Sunny Young
No one told Shelly Allen of the St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado that she had to use local foods in her school district’s lunch menu. No one said she had to go above and beyond the basic run down of nuggets, pizza, and fries to include fresh fruits, vegetables, and scratch baked breads and hot entrees. When she says that she “does it for the kids” it sounds a genuine as you can get! And it has to be genuine, because utilizing farm to school practices is not easy! I first heard Shelly speak during LiveWell Colorado’s webinar “Choose Your Own Farm to School Adventure”. In her section of the webinar she outlined two points that I consider extremely important when attempting to make any large changes to your school/district’s menu: partnerships and challenges. Without knowing who is on your side and what issues you are going to run into along the way – you are driving your project with no roadmap of where to go.
Shelly spoke in more detail with me during her hero interview about the partnerships she has made while implementing farm-to-school. She says that in the beginning it was difficult to make connections with local farms, but that joining a larger coop (Shelly’s district now belongs to two coops) made connecting with farmers much easier. The coop also enabled the group to reach out to larger farms who are more often better prepared to serve large amounts of people. And while the farmers have been very accommodating, Shelly has had to spend more time and energy interfacing with local farmers as opposed to the more regular vendors she uses. Farmers cannot always show up exactly when you need them, cannot always process the product to your specifications, and in general need more time for organization from delivery to lunch tray.
Shelly has not taken on extra staff, even with all these extra duties. It is so important to her that her students receive the very best meals that she and her staff take on these extra duties to make it work.
Getting the message across to students that there is local food in their school lunches came in the form of parent interaction. Volunteers from various schools in the district visit during lunchtime on a daily basis to help out. Shelly also includes information about local products on the district’s lunch menu. This past summer, during the district’s summer program, farmers visited with students and talked with them about farm life. Shelly hopes to make this happen during the school year as well, but in the meantime posters will soon be hung on the cafeteria walls with pictures of some of the students’ food producers – such as the Western Dairy farm that supplies the district’s milk. Making these posters with the help of the coop keeps prices down and allows for widespread advertising for the farms they use!
Shelly loves that her students get to start their school year with peaches from the Western Slope of Colorado. She love that as fall rolls around they get delicious local apples and that the tortillas she uses are made with local wheat at a local processor. In the last 4 years the St. Vrain School District has pushed to provide fresh fruits and vegetables every day and when they are in season.
It is obvious that Shelly has a passion for ensuring that the students in her district are receiving the absolute best that Colorado has to offer for school meals. Her advice to Nutrition Service directors who are interested in pursuing a farm-to-school relationship is to find someone in your area who is doing it already and ask A LOT of questions. She says that if there are not people in your area doing farm-to-school, there are still plenty of resources out there, and the more research you do, the better. Shelly says to “look beyond can’t” and to look at what you can do instead, even it is little.
Shelly may have started implementing farm-to-school practices a little at a time, but she is certainly providing a lot now! We are so impressed with your work, Shelly, and are grateful that there are people out there like you to make such a big difference in the lives of school children and local farmers!
If you are interested in Farm-to-School, be sure to check out our section on The Lunch Box filled with farm-to-school specific resources: http://www.thelunchbox.org/resources/farm-to-school
And as always - we want to know who YOUR school lunch heroes are! Write in suggestions to Sunny at firstname.lastname@example.org