Las Cruces Public Schools is celebrating New Mexico Grown Week, October 1-5. Next week, the Nutrition Services Department will be providing as many local, New Mexico-grown vegetables in the school salad bars as possible. They have been purchasing produce from local farmers over the past three years, but this is the first time they are specifically celebrating farm to school. On the menu will be romaine lettuce from Preferred Produce in Deming, whose lettuce is hydroponically grown; sweet peppers and SunGold cherry tomatoes from Freshies of New Mexico, a first-generation farm in Velarde; carrots from Schwebach Farm in Moriarty, a multi-generational family farm; and zucchinis from Frog Level Farm, a family farm in Belen.

Las Cruces Public Schools will celebrate New Mexico Locally Grown Week Oct. 1-5.

Las Cruces Public Schools will celebrate New Mexico Locally Grown Week Oct. 1-5.

In the past, funding for locally grown produce has come from various sources and the district’s students have enjoyed atole (blue corn), green chile, spinach, tomatoes, carrots with the tops still on — Bugs Bunny style — and many other fresh vegetables. This year, the state legislature introduced bills HB 62 and SB 106 which support farm-to-school initiatives, allowing more funding for New Mexico produce in the public schools and increased educational and agricultural programs for our children. These bills set aside $425,000 to purchase New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables for school meals. Fifty-six school districts in New Mexico applied and received funding to purchase New Mexico-grown produce. Las Cruces Public Schools was awarded funds alongside school districts throughout the state, including Albuquerque Public Schools, Los Lunas Public Schools, Roswell Independent Schools, Farmington Municipal Schools and many others.

Supporting New Mexico-grown fruits and vegetables is important because it helps support family farms and sustain cultural traditions, according to Claire LeGault, nutrition programs manager for LCPS who is organizing New Mexico Grown Week. It also helps to encourage the district’s children to eat more fruits and vegetables, which can improve their health and learning capability.

Buying New Mexico-grown means the produce being served is fresher, has less packaging, and less gas is used for transportation. However, LCPS still faces a few challenges in working directly with farmers. For example, large food distributors have the resources to deliver products to all the LCPS schools; however, smaller, family-operated farms might not have the produce amounts or equipment to deliver to our large school district. Fortunately, the New Mexico Public Education Department is helping to minimize these barriers.

“I am glad to have the opportunity and the funding to support growers in our area,” LeGault said. “District staff and I are excited to support New Mexico farmers, and we hope our students are too.”

LCPS is proud to be enhancing the diets of the district’s students, supporting the local economy, and reducing its impact on the environment.

— Samantha Lewis, LCPS Public Relations Coordinator, 575-527-5946, slewis@lcps.net