Media Release, Roosevelt County Healthy Kids Healthy Communities:
Students in Elida Local Schools harvest fresh produce from their school garden, sample new fruits, and eat NM Grown food with a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in every school meal – efforts that earned Elida schools the highest award in the Golden Chile Award Program.
The statewide recognition program honors farmers, school districts, senior centers and preschools in a four-tiered recognition program – Seed, Sprout, Blossom and Golden Chile — designed to acknowledge all levels of involvement in New Mexico’s local food movement. State officials will recognize the 66 winners at a virtual celebration Sept. 13.
In addition to the state honor, Elida Local Schools is one of two school districts in New Mexico to win a Healthy Meals Incentive Act grant to renovate and update its kitchen, redesign food preparation and service spaces as well as other efforts to support school meals and school nutrition professionals. Food Service Director Beth Fair applied for the almost $83,000 grant from the USDA to continue expanding her efforts to serve homecooked, healthy meals.
“Beth cares about making healthy, yummy food for Elida’s students, and is always looking for ways to expand the variety of fresh produce and menu options,” said Caron Powers, coordinator of Healthy Kids Roosevelt County, which supports NM Grown to increase access to healthy, local food.
With more than $6,000 of NM Grown funding last year, Fair bought homegrown products from Nelson Farms in Texico and Margie Plummer, a local grower who earned a Blossom award, the second highest award in the Golden Chile Awards Program. This year, Fair is hoping to get cold-weather crops like lettuce from a new vendor she added this school year, MTA Farms in Clovis.
To expand the variety of produce, Fair purchased peaches, plumcots, pecans and yellow and orange cherry tomatoes — items she can’t get locally — from Albuquerque growers. She estimates she still has 200 pounds of Plummer’s green chile in the school’s freezer, which will be served with burgers, breakfast burritos and on the salad bar.
She will feature some of that chile in new offerings, such as green chile ranch dressing for a Nuevo Thursday lunch, a special day to highlight NM grown products. Recently she experimented with a strawberry mango salsa for Nuevo Thursday, a new item that half the kids liked, Fair said.
“A few kids have started trying new foods and aren’t so apprehensive about trying something anymore,” Fair said. “I tell them it’s okay to not like something, but you’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try.”
Math teacher Kristi Victor said Fair invests a lot of time and energy in bringing unique fruit for student samples, securing fresh fruits and vegetables for meals and introducing new culinary items, like growing edible leaves in the cafeteria for students to add as flavoring to meals.
“She’s always willing to try new things,” said Victor. “I like the effort that she puts forth; she works really hard at trying to give the kids good food. If the kids have only been in Elida, they don’t know how lucky they are to eat the way they do.”
Victor worked with other school officials and students to develop raised garden beds and implement an irrigation system. Each class picks one crop they plant, nurture and cultivate for the school cafeteria. “They are just so excited when they get to harvest their own vegetables they planted,” Victor said. “It means so much more to them because they grew them.”
The NM Grown program granted Elida about $1,200 this school year to buy locally grown produce and beef. Statewide, The NM Grown program awarded its highest amount this year, a total of $3.47 million — $2 million for schools, $300,000 for preschools, and $1.17 million for senior centers.
Margie Plummer, manager of the Roosevelt and Curry County farmer’s markets, earned a Blossom award through the Golden Chile Awards Program for selling a variety of fruits and vegetables to schools in Portales, Elida and Floyd. She promotes the importance of local grown produce through school field trips to her pumpkin patch, and at her small store and nursery where she sells produce and starter plants to encourage home gardening.
“We always look forward to seeing Margie’s fresh produce at our farmer’s market,” Powers said.