DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH NEWS
Program provides locally grown food to K-12 students
The New Mexico Department of Health’s Healthy Kids Healthy Communities (HKHC) program joins the New Mexico Public Education Department to celebrate New Mexico-grown products Sept. 28-Oct. 9. Traditionally known as New Mexico Grown Week, the celebration is expanded to two weeks to accommodate schools during the pandemic.
The New Mexico Grown program supports efforts to provide locally grown food to K-12 students in public, private and Bureau of Indian Education school settings. The New Mexico State Legislature has allocated $332,000 in recurring funds to help schools buy produce from local farmers for school meals.
“NM Grown is part of a statewide effort to foster healthy school environments and expand New Mexico growers’ ability to keep their production local,” said Kendal Chavez, the Public Education Department’s Farm-to-School Specialist.
Healthy Kids Healthy Communities worked with schools and farmers to secure more than $106,700 for locally grown produce to be included in meals this school year in the counties of Chaves, Colfax, Curry, Grant, Guadalupe, Hidalgo, Roosevelt, San Juan and Socorro, and the pueblos of San Ildefonso and Zuni.
“Even during these challenging times, food-service staff are finding creative ways to create healthy meals for New Mexico school children,” said Rita Condon, who leads Healthy Kids Healthy Communities Program for the Department of Health. “We appreciate their hard work supporting children’s health and academic performance.”
Increasing access to locally grown produce is one way that Healthy Kids Healthy Communities promotes healthy eating and active living to reduce obesity in New Mexico. The program has created extensive state and local partnerships to make streets and neighborhoods safer for walking and biking, cultivate community and school gardens, improve parks and trails, and incorporate more physical activity and healthy eating in schools.
School garden programs are operated in 18 schools and school districts. Some examples include: Roosevelt County incorporated produce from their gardens in student meals. HKHC Coordinator Caron Powers worked with James Elementary School teachers and principal Deanne McKinney in Portales to cultivate an award-winning, student-led school garden for the past four years. A local business, Garden Source, donated supplies and time to teach children how to plant seeds and care for vegetables. This project teaches students responsibility and life-long skills, McKinney said. A team of teachers has cared for the garden during the pandemic.
“Without COVID-19, we have a salad bar in our cafeteria where kids see the vegetables they’ve grown and are more interested in them,” McKinney said. “If they see vegetables all the time, it becomes more natural to them and hopefully they will want to try more vegetables.”
As part of its work, HKHC collaborates with the Public Education Department throughout the year on wellness policies, school gardens, and preschool and farm-to-school initiatives.
In the school year 2019-2020:
- More than 171,000 students were served NM-grown fruits and vegetables at school.
- The average school district spent 15% of their produce budget on local products.
- Schools bought about $1 million in produce from 64 vendors, including distributors, grower cooperatives and individual farming operations.
To learn more about Healthy Kids Healthy Communities visit https://www.nmhealth.org/.