St. Vrain Valley School District program wins 'One in a Melon' award

In business attire and high heels, Angela Tagtow, a high-ranking government official from Washington, D.C., is not your typical substitute teacher, but kindergartners in her nutrition mini-class at Flagstaff Academy didn't seem to notice.

As executive director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the United States Department of Agriculture, Tagtow oversees federal dietary guidelines, including the iconic food pyramid that was replaced in 2010 by the "MyPlate" icon for healthy eating.

On Monday, Tagtow and other USDA officials visited the St. Vrain Valley School District's Farm to School program, winner of the USDA's first "One in a Melon" contest for the state of Colorado, which was determined by the votes of parents, teachers, students and others.

USDA launched Farm to School in 2010 to increase the use of local foods in the national school lunch program and in nutrition education. Forty-two percent of Colorado districts participate, including Boulder Valley, Denver and Jefferson County.

The tour also included Olde Columbine, an alternative high school, and the Career Development Center, both in Longmont.

Tagtow was in the area to speak on Tuesday at the American Public Health Association conference in Denver, facilitating her visit to St. Vrain Valley, according to David von Behren, public affairs director for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service at the Mountain Plains Regional Office in Denver, which covers 10 states.

"The goal of having Farm to School was having a closer connection between agriculture and school feeding programs. ... Having schools purchase their foods from local producers has resulted in substantial economic investment in the local economy," Tagtow said.

In the 2013-14 school year, St. Vrain Valley purchased more than 900,000 pounds of local food, while statewide, programs infused a combined $17 million into Colorado's economy.

Farm to School has increased participation in school lunch programs, Tagtow said, with research indicating that kids are more likely to eat food when identified by farm.

In addition to a certificate of recognition, St. Vrain Valley received a five-gallon food service salad spinner.

While there is no monetary prize, the USDA has provided about $300,000 to the state for Farm to School over the past few years, Tagtow said.

"I've seen many programs firsthand. This is an absolutely remarkable program. It's so well done; it's very well integrated into many aspects of the curriculum," von Behren said.

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