Home News Local News Local farm feeds information, produce to students

Local farm feeds information, produce to students

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“I just like the fact that the kids get to taste vine-ripened, farm-grown, home-grown product,” says James “Buz” Graves, right, about the Farm to School program with local school districts. Son Andrew Graves, middle, said the program also helps the farm be more efficient in selling surplus vegetables and fruit. At left is employee Corey Dear, a Roswell High School student. They are shown in their farm’s “lost maze,” which requires people to give correct answers to questions about agriculture to find their way through the corn field. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Two area school districts are working with a local farm to provide students with fresh produce and give them an introduction into the science behind the benefits of farm-grown foods.

Graves Farm and Garden, located south of Roswell off of Old Dexter Highway, has been supplying watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, honeyloupe, cucumbers, squash and chile to Roswell Independent School District and Dexter Consolidated Schools for about three years under the federal Food to School program.

A $5 million program nationwide, it is part of the National School Lunch Program that feeds 338,000 students a day in New Mexico.

The Farm to School program in the state is administered by the New Mexico Public Education Department. The department runs a grant program for school districts, which this year totals $425,000. Districts that apply for and receive the money can purchase produce grown in their region to be used for student breakfasts and lunches.

Graves Farms, a family owned and operated grower in the area since the early 1930s, said that giving local students fresh and nutritious produce is what they consider to be the most important aspect of the program.

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“I just like the fact that the kids get to taste vine-ripened, farm-grown, home-grown product,” said James “Buz” Graves. “We get a lot of feedback from the kids that they like how the produce tastes.”

Better nutrition is also one of the program’s aims. As Andrew Graves pointed out, research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals has proven that fresh produce, picked within a few days of serving, has significantly more nutrients than frozen or canned fruit or produce shipped from far away.

As part of the Food to School program, the local districts also hold “meet the farmer” days with schools so that students have a chance to discuss agricultural topics with suppliers, including the Graves. The Roswell district also has agreements with Nichols Ranch in La Luz, Pueblo Fruits in Albuquerque and MA Sons in Las Cruces, said Chad Cole, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

“It’s a great program,” he said, “and I can only see it expanding as we continue to work with each other and throughout the state to build upon each other’s seasonal capacities and demand so as to support and sustain one another.”

Shelly Montgomery, food services director for Dexter schools, said she has worked with Graves for a few years both in Dexter and during her previous stint as a food manager with the Roswell district.

“We are required to serve fruits and vegetables at breakfast and lunch,” she said. “I was able to use that money to supplement our lunch and breakfast program.”

She said that some students have expressed their appreciation for the fresh food.

“The students particularly like the watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew and they have one that is called a honeyloupe,” she said. “The students particularly liked that because of the extra sweetness.”

She said that Dexter middle school teachers and the principal took a day in October, the month used to promote the Food to School program as well as other nutrition-related programs in public schools in the state, to talk to science students about nutrition and agricultural production.

“We hope to get the money again next year,” Montgomery said. “It helps the kids and students. It puts more fresh fruit and fresh vegetables in their hands for them to try. Hopefully it will start a trend that throughout their lives they will ask for fruit and vegetables.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.