You hear a lot about “slow food” these days, and while the idea of slow anything might turn some parents off, there is a growing movement to embrace the slow food philosophy in schools.

So what is slow food? Contrary to what you might think, it doesn’t necessarily mean it takes hours to

School garden
Working in a school garden, such as this one at Denver's Fairview Elementary School, helps overcome student reluctance to try new foods.

prepare. It is basically a backlash to fast food, explained Krista Roberts, executive director of Slow Food Denver, mom of a toddler and former professional chef. Roberts was keynote speaker Tuesday morning at the Colorado Action for Healthy Kids Parent Network spring school wellness roundtable at Regis University attended by more than 75 mostly parents from 14 Colorado school districts.

It all started more than 20 years ago in Italy to protest the opening of the first McDonald’s restaurant in the heart of Rome.  The goal of “slow food” is to help people think about food: where it comes from and the role it plays in our communities and family lives.  Today, the movement has 80,000 members worldwide and 200 chapters in the United States alone, of which Slow Food Denver is one, Roberts said.

Many Denver parents may have heard of Slow Food Denver’s Seed to Table program, started 10 years ago with the city’s first school gardens.

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Roberts said the goal of the program is to “create meaningful relationships between young people and food, such as the pleasures of sharing food together and eating it together at the table.”

Gardens sprout across Denver

At first, there were three school gardens in Denver. Today, there are gardens at more than 35 public schools in Denver and a few outside the city limits.  Slow Food Denver offers workshops and trainings to interested parents and community volunteers and hooks interested gardeners up with grant funding as well as supplies.

In the spring, its staff offers seed starting classes. In the fall, there’s the reward of the harvest.

Krista Roberts, head of Slow Food DenverRoberts said she’s thrilled when children, some whom would never have tasted a turnip, for instance, eagerly sink their teeth into a vegetable because they grew it.

“They are learning without realizing it they are because they are having fun,” Roberts said. “It’s a way to empower students to make meaningful and healthy food choices.”

Roberts said schools are getting creative with their gardens, tying in not only academic subjects but journaling and art projects.

Time to go to market

Many schools are also selling produce they’ve grown – or secured locally with the help of Slow Food Denver – at farmers’ markets, thus learning important economic principles as well.

In 2010, Slow Food Denver launched a pilot program called Garden to Cafeteria, in which elementary school students sold 1,200 pounds of school-grown produce to Denver Public Schools, which, in turn, served it up at school salad bars. Organizers worked closely with the Denver County Health Department to ensure the veggies were safe to eat.  The program will triple in size in the fall.  The money earned goes back into the school garden program.

“It was much easier than we thought it was going to be,” Roberts said.

Slow Food Denver has also been instrumental in expanding Colorado Proud food days in school cafeterias from once a year to once a month. On those days, Colorado raised produce and meat are featured on school menus.

Getting started

  • Gather a few parents, staff or teachers who want to help.
  • Figure out the primary purpose of your school garden. Who will use it? How will it integrate with classrooms? What are the teaching goals and types of activities you envision?
  • Engage the principal, the facilities staff member, parent organizations, the kitchen manager, and the after-school program coordinator.
  • Contact Slow Food Denver for help by emailing info@slowfooddenver.org.
  • Plan on it taking several months to one year to get your garden growing.
  • Check out this EdNews Parent post for more resources.

(Source: Slow Food Denver)
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