ANTONITO — South Conejos School District cafeteria was decked out in red, white and blue last Thursday as Food Service Director JoAnn Garcia and her team dished up a generous Veteran Appreciation Thanksgiving meal plush with local foods.
South Conejos has a gem in their nutrition department. Garcia and her team are really good at what they do and the community knows that. Local veterans showed up in good number to feast on delicious Thanksgiving favorites and to receive respect and gratitude from students.
The focus of the event was twofold; to honor community veterans and to showcase the school’s investment in locally produced food and farm to school. Under Garcia’s leadership and with the active support of Superintendent Dr. Emma Martinez, the district is leading the pack with commitment to their community, their students, and their students’ good nutrition. Thursday’s Harvest of the Month
Veteran Appreciation Thanksgiving featured a student and veteran tasting of quinoa in a Middle Eastern recipe of tabbouleh.
The children ate and then got up to confidently recite the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish and read poems and cards over the microphone to the veterans. “You survived through it all — to answer the call, Thank-you,” read one grade school student. “We are spoiled” Veteran Abigail Rendon said as she enjoyed the delicious food and listened to the students as they shared their gratitude for the veterans.
SLV pioneer quinoa farmer Ernie New was on hand to show off the versatile and nutritious grain-like seed and to high-five and shake hands with students and veterans alike. Quinoa is originally from South America and grows well in this similar high altitude Valley. This year the New family on White Mountain Organic Farm in Mosca experienced a better crop than the last few years and have expanded quinoa growing to eight or 10 other farmers in the Valley.
“Now we are looking for new markets. We have 68 tons going to South Korea next week,” said New. The grain is a complete protein and is on the United Nations list of superfoods. New shared tips on preparation like the necessary washing step to remove the bitterness from a natural saponin coating.
Students voted on the tasting experience at a booth staffed by the San Luis Valley Farm to School Task Force who was there in force to support Garcia’s event. Students threw a voting bean into one of three voting jars – “I loved it, I liked it, or I am not sure, but I will try it again.” “I loved it” received the majority of votes but there were about 17 voting beans in the “I am not sure” jar too.
The Task Force is a partnership between the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, the Integrated Nutrition Education Program, the Valley Educational Gardens Initiative and Cooking Matters of the SLV. The group received a USDA Farm to School grant to support the 14 districts of the Valley in a farm to school effort.
Heather Owen with INEP was inspired by the pride the women in the cafeteria take in their scratch cooking, trying new recipes and foods and how this district brings the community, the school and the veterans all together around the lunch table.
Abe Rosenberg of the ValleyBound Garden in Antonito was on hand to share in the celebration. “JoAnn Garcia, Debbie Martinez, Marisela Vargas and Joanne Duran have been awesome to work with. They have been taking our vegetables into their salad bar and kitchen since we started the gardens three years ago.” Martinez then proudly showed pictures of the colorful salad bar.
Making farm to school work takes time, “It has been crazy all week. We started on this meal on Monday. This is so new for us and for our kids, but they all like the extra attention, something different, all the decorations and how the Farm to School Task Force and Vargas dressed up in vegetable costumes to serve and talk about the quinoa dish. We love it!” exclaimed Garcia.
The veterans did too and all went away well fed, full and happy.