An Interview with Denver Slow Food's Seed to Table Alliance
Gigia Kolouch is program director for Denver Slow Food's Seed to Table Alliance. She is also a member of edibleschoolyard.org.
Edible Schoolyard Project: When was Denver Seed to Table Alliance created and how does it differ from Denver Slow Food itself?
GK: Matt Jones, Sally Kennedy, and Jerry Spinelli founded Slow Food Denver in 2000. From the beginning they were dedicated to bringing the values of good, clean, and fair food to schools in the Denver area. Each education member at that time ran a school garden program. Schools began to call us to start a program of their own and we soon realized that we would quickly run out of volunteers. Andy Nowak and I were education leaders at the time, and we began to help schools start their own garden programs. By 2007, we realized that the best structure to help schools would be to form an alliance. The inspiration for our program is Education Outside (formerly San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance), which provides resources, support, and workshops to San Francisco schools.
The Seed to Alliance (STT Alliance) is one project of Slow Food Denver. Slow Food Denver also promotes food that is good, clean, and fair through C.A.F.É. (supporting local food businesses with microgrants), crop mobs (supporting urban agriculture with volunteers), gleaning (providing food preservation education and donating preserved local products to those in need), farm tours (linking members and local farms) and cooking education (cooking events with local businesses).
ESYP: How many types of programming do you offer to your school network and how do you decide which schools partake in which type of programming?
The STT Alliance is at the center. Schools pay yearly dues and then are eligible for assistance, free workshops, seeds, and plants as available. This year we are also able to provide a free cooking class instructor for 1-2 sessions per school. The other programs vary depending upon school interest. We coordinate the Youth Farmers’ Markets and Garden to Cafeteria with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), sharing responsibilities.
The Youth Farmers’ Markets provides supplemental local produce to school farmers’ markets so that they can use them to bring fresh produce directly to their neighborhoods and raise funds for their gardens.
The Garden to Cafeteria Program involves Denver Public School’s Food and Nutrition Service and school garden leaders, coordinated by Slow Food Denver. After receiving food safety training, students harvest garden produce for use in the cafeteria’s salad bar. DPS-FNS pays the garden wholesale prices for their produce, providing money for garden supplies. Slow Food Denver facilitates the program and distributes the income to schools.
The Garden to Zoo pilot program matches schools that would like to grow a specific crop for the animals at the Denver Zoo. The Denver Zoo receives fresh produce and gives each participating school a behind-the-scenes educational tour of the zoo at no charge.
With the Produce for Pantries program, Slow Food Denver coordinates donations of excess school garden produce to local food pantries, matching a specific school to the closest pantry interested.
ESYP: Can you explain what the Seed to Table program is? What age group does it involve?
GK: The full name is the Seed to Table School Food Program. It involves the STT alliance along with all of the other programs involved in school gardening and Slow Food’s school food initiatives. Any school and any age group can participate in the STT program with age-appropriate programs. The vast majority of participants are in grades K-5. Our programs match our resources and expertise with the specific need within each local school looking to transform food in its cafeterias.
ESYP: Are volunteers essential for STT operation or is the program made up of school staff only?
GK: Volunteers are essential for the operation of the STT program. We have found that very few staff and teachers have the extra time needed to run a school garden program. Because there is so little formal support, school gardens have evolved in many shapes and sizes to match the constraints and needs of individual schools. The programs may be run by parents, community members, teachers, or school staff. They may be as small as one plot and as large as a half acre. They may involve a few seed starting classes with a harvest in the fall, an after school program, an elective, or an all school effort.
ESYP: Are there any schools that are able to supply their cafeterias with all of its produce? Or all of a certain type of produce (lettuce, for example)?
GK: There are no schools that currently supply all of the needed produce for a school, but this was never a goal of the program. The primary purpose of our school gardens is educational, and production on a large scale is not a priority. There are three pilot school farm programs on school property that provide fresh produce to Denver Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services. However, Denver’s short growing season makes it unlikely that schools will provide 100 percent of the fresh produce needs of the school district.
ESYP: What is the Youth to Farmers' Market program? What age group does it involve?
GK: Youth to Farmers' Market Program is a way to provide local produce and market training to a school so their markets will be more successful. Schools order fresh produce through Slow Food Denver. We have developed a trucking system to gather produce from local farms at wholesale prices and Slow Food/DUG coordinate distribution. Schools are responsible for setting prices and running their market. Most supplement their own harvest from the school garden with locally available produce. As with the GTC program, any school and any age of student can participate in the YFM programming. Because YFMs involve monetary transactions and interaction with adult customers, most markets at elementary schools use 4th- and 5th-grade students to run the markets.
ESYP: Is this an after school program or part of course curriculum?
GK: We purchase the supplementary local produce on Thursdays, so markets occur on Thursday or Friday afternoons. There is one school with a market on the weekend. The markets occur after school hours so that parents can purchase the produce as they pick up their children. Some markets are run by after school programs, some are paired with a specific classroom that sponsors the market, some alternate students from week to week. In general, the YFM program is an extra-curricular program.
ESYP: Is your partnership with Denver Urban Gardens essential for the success of your Youth Farmers' Market program?
GK: Yes, our partnership with DUG is essential to the YFM program in that they provide the refrigerated cooler in which to store the produce and the infrastructure support of an ordering website. Both organizations support schools that are involved with the markets.
ESYP: How many schools does Seed to Table School Food Program affect? Are you looking to expand?
GK: Currently we have 48 schools that are members of the STT Alliance. These are the schools that are most directly affected by our program. The schools range over several school districts in the metro Denver area: Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County Schools, Littleton School District, Englewood School District, and Adams 14 School District, as well as a few private schools. Currently, Denver Public Schools and Littleton School District have approved the Garden to Cafeteria Program.
The expansion of our program is completely dependent on the volunteers at the school level who want to participate in the garden. If we had more resources, we would be able to support school garden committees during transition periods when a garden leader leaves.
ESYP: Does your program extend to private schools or is it just for public school programming?
GK: Our program is for both private and public schools.
ESYP: Do you have goal metrics for overall program growth over the next five years? 10?
GK: Our primary goals involve developing sustainable infrastructure for our programming so that we are more able to help area schools on a consistent basis.
ESYP: Are there plans to expand programming?
GK: We have plans to add an evaluation component. We also plan to add more support for cooking classes with garden produce. We are currently working with the Volunteers of Outdoor Colorado to create a volunteer workday program for companies and organizations. Volunteer teams would be matched to a school that needs spring or fall cleanup, or summer weeding.
ESYP: Do you view Denver Seed to Table Alliance as a leader in affecting the way children receive food education in Denver?
GK: We are definitely a leader in children’s food education in Denver. Our enthusiasm for school gardens has always come from Slow Food’s primary mission: We cultivate the enjoyment of local food with all members of the community to create a more just and sustainable food system. Our mission requires a system wide change in education, access, and community relationships. We have chosen our programs (taking into account resource constraints) in order to target these different aspects and develop a new food system.