The long lunch line at Twombly Elementary in Ft. Lupton is moving quickly. On today’s menu: Colorado-grown potatoes, apples from the Western Slope, and green beans picked just down the road. The fresh grub represents the latest step in Colorado’s effort to become a national leader in school-food reform. The state recently received some help: Over the past two years, the USDA’s new Farm to School Grants, which help schools promote better eating and awareness about food from nearby farms, awarded five Colorado districts a total of $524,121.

This year, Boulder Valley and Durango school districts will use their grant money to support initiatives such as outfitting cafeteria kitchens with new walk-in fridges and coolers so they can store fresh produce. Schools also will host live demos for parents and kids to teach healthier cooking and take children on field trips to local farms like Ollin Farms in Longmont to show them where their food comes from and how it’s produced. (The districts join Weld Districts 6 and RE-8 and Denver County, which earned grants in 2012.)

It’s a win-win for schools, families, and farmers: The grants introduce new audiences—and therefore new markets—to local producers while helping to pique student interest in agriculture and more nutritious eating choices. Despite the fact that Weld County is home to more than 3,000 farms, for example, Maureen McCoy, executive chef/assistant food coordinator for the district, notes, “Many of our students had not even seen some of the fresh fruits and vegetables on the serving line prior to this grant.”

Today, Weld County cafeterias get at least 20 percent of their ingredients from area growers. Boulder Valley does even better, sourcing 33 percent of its food from nearby farms. The district also plans to use the grants to add six new school gardens and teach staff how to integrate agriculture and nutrition into their curriculum. This means lessons about healthy eating will reach the entire school, not just the 42 percent of public school kids who eat a school lunch every day across the state. But it’s not only the students who benefit from all this farm talk. Weld County RE-8 recently introduced a proposal to start end-of-day farmers’ markets near schools, where adults can collect ingredients for dinner when they pick up their kids—so children will have farm-fresh food on every table.

On the Menu at Boulder Valley School District

Tomatoes (salad bar) Ollin Farms, Longmont
Apple Talbott Farms, Palisade
Roasted squash Isabelle Farms, Lafayette
Pumpkin bread Dew Farms, Boulder
All-natural beef burger Anderson Meat, Peyton Exclusive: Read more about Colorado’s healthy eating initiatives here.