Two Chaves County school districts are buying produce from local growers using state funds and providing the fresh food in school meals.
The Roswell Independent School District has received $12,457 for the 2020-21 academic year from the New Mexican Grown program of the New Mexico Public Education Department. Dexter Consolidated Schools District has been given $4,983.
Statewide, 54 school districts and charter schools were awarded $332,000 in grants. The grant awards, which are funded by the New Mexico Legislature, are typically announced each year to coincide with National Farm to School Month and the New Mexico Grown Week.
Hagerman and Lake Arthur has not applied for the grants in recent years, said Kendal Chavez, Farm to School specialist for the Student Success and Wellness Bureau of the Public Education Department.
She said funding amounts are decided by school population size as well as the quality of the submitted plan.
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Although the grants are competitive, every school that has applied is funded at some amount. About 25% of the state’s districts participate.
“It takes an extra few steps for a food service director to purchase from a cooperative or a farmer,” Chavez said. “It takes a district or a school that really cares about this to apply because it takes extra work. The other piece is that not all districts are aware that they have local farmers.”
The grant program allows schools to purchase vegetables, fruit and other fresh foods from state growers or food distributors. The products must be grown in New Mexico and certain types of food are not allowed, such as dairy products, edible flowers, baked goods or salsas.
Kimberly Meeks, director of student nutrition for the Roswell district, called the program “wonderful” and said it gives the district and its 21 schools additional funding for fresh goods.
“We always spend more than the money provided by NM Grown,” she said. “The students benefit from great tasting, quality fruits and vegetables.”
She said the district buys cucumbers, bell peppers, green chiles, onions, honeyloupes, cantaloupes, watermelon and apples from Graves Farm and Garden of Roswell and Nichols Ranch of La Luz. She said she would purchase from other growers in the area if they were on the approved list.
Typically, New Mexico Grown Week includes educational programs or events involving youth, but COVID restrictions mean most students are not in school buildings or participating in events yet. Instead, the Roswell district is providing educational sheets about nutrition in the prepackaged, or Grab ‘N Go, meals that are being distributed to kids. The information has been prepared by Healthy Kids Chaves County, an initiative of the state Health Department.
Dexter schools — which consists of an elementary, a middle school and a high school — also have distributed educational materials and recipes in the prepared meals, said Food Services Director Shelley Montgomery. The district also sponsored a coloring contest with prizes given to winners.
“I have always enjoyed the education aspect of this program because it gives me the chance to share with students the importance of fruit and veggies in their diet,” Montgomery said. “In the past, I have been able to invite students into the kitchen and give them a tour of the kitchen and talk with them about the NM Grown program and also about the National School Lunch Program.”
Students also were able to ask questions about regulations regarding food preparation and why certain types of items are not provided.
Dexter also purchases from Graves Farm and Garden, Montgomery said, buying a lot of the same types of produce that Roswell does. It also buys squash, tomatoes and jalapenos.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at email@example.com.