Chef Lori Burgess of The Colorado Springs School (CSS) provides students in PreKindergarten through grade 12 with nutritious, homemade meals made from locally-grown fruits and veggies. CSS is proud to be the only school in the area served by Mountain Freshies, a provider of organic and natural produce grown by sustainable farmers in Colorado’s North Fork Valley.
Not only does farm-to-school support farmers, but it promises the most nutritious foods and instills healthy eating habits in children. “From a health perspective, it’s important to eat as locally as possible,” Mountain Freshies Owner Nancy Scheinkman tells CSS. “As soon as fruits and vegetables are hatched from the soil or off a vine, they start to lose vitamin content. Produce purchased from store shelves is likely a few weeks old because of how far it has traveled.”
Research shows that, by age three, the intake of fruits and vegetables among U.S. children begins to decline, with more than 80 percent of students in middle school not getting the appropriate servings of either per day. Even the youngest Kodiaks appreciate the quality of meals provided in the Children’s School at CSS. “Lunch is my favorite time of day because it’s always delicious,” says 1st-grader Jayd Whiteman while eating cheese pizza, vegetables, and fruit.
Burgess’ typical Mountain Freshies delivery includes seasonal items like butternut squash, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, watermelon, pears, and more. “Increasing access to [healthy] foods increases vitally important micronutrients for learning, behavior, and growth,” says Dr. Kerri Bagnall, a CSS parent and physician at Iron Horse Pediatrics. “These include zinc, iron, B vitamins, and omega fatty acids.”
Dr. Bagnall notes children are most likely to explore and continue choosing healthy foods when exposed to them while in school and surrounded by peers. CSS’s community garden – nurtured annually by students and faculty on the school’s 28-acre campus – plays an instrumental role in establishing students’ understanding of the importance of healthy eating. While younger students plant seeds every spring for harvesting in the fall, Middle and Upper School students maintain the garden through a variety of hands-on projects such as building composting bins and putting the beds to sleep for winter.
Produce from the garden also makes its way into Burgess’ kitchen and, eventually, students’ stomachs. For example, she added the garden’s heirloom tomatoes to salads and homemade pizza in the fall. Burgess, with more than 25 years of experience working in the foodservice industry, loves a good challenge when it comes to incorporating healthy ingredients into meals. “Kids will eat a whole pear, but try to get them to eat a whole butternut squash,” she says. “I put it in macaroni and cheese.” Burgess also adds chopped spinach to her spaghetti sauce.
In line with the school’s mission of promoting independence and inquiry – among other things – to prepare students for a dynamic world, Burgess encourages children to be curious about food. For Thanksgiving, each meal included fresh cranberries whether the student requested it or not. “Some of them haven’t tried certain vegetables or fruit,” Burgess says. “I tell them, ‘I’m going to put it on your plate, and you can see if you like it.’”
For CSS parent Karin Ellis, who helped establish the farm-to-school program in the Lewis B. Maytag Dining Hall, it’s about more than just ensuring her children receive nutritious meals. “It’s not just how we can help our school community, but how we can help the outer community,” she says. “We’re teaching kids about the importance of healthy eating, and we’re also making an environmental impact.”