Farm to school: How Pagosa’s charter school is connecting students to local producers


By Lexi Bernstein
Pagosa Peak Open School 

When Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) started its meal service program this past September, it was only natural that within a year, the school would be attempting to add more local produce and meat to its menu. This is because students at PPOS are taught using place-based learning and are encouraged to build connections between what they discover in the classroom to the world around them.

The National Farm to School Program was started in 2007 to encourage schools to serve fresh and local food to students in the hope that a connection between farms and schools would increase healthy eating habits in the next generation of citizens. The school’s meal service hopes to assist student’s ability to connect what they eat with the land around them through guided experiences at farms, thus allowing students to track the food they eat from a seed to the growing compost bin in the school garden.

Students are also hopeful to restart the often anticipated “Tasty Challenges” with local food, which allow students to taste new veggies, fruits or meats in three different recipes, thus giving them a chance to see if a spice, texture or the actual ingredient is the source of a like or dislike. The integration of local growers, food service and education helps students understand the “real world” and gives students skills to carry through their life.

 In February, PPOS’s meal service partnered with Seeds of Learning’s to provide the preschool with breakfasts and lunches. Serving additional children every day has made scratch cooking more feasible by providing income for an assistant. With twice as many hands working, using whole, local produce is a viable option.

Although Pagosa Springs has a short growing season, PPOS’s meal service hopes to preserve produce through bulk soup making, canning, dehydration and freezing. As the program continues to grow, providing students the skills to preserve food will be another way education is integrated into the food service.

Farm to school is not just about exposing students to a variety of food, but also about supporting local producers and decreasing carbon emissions caused by transportation of ingredients. By sourcing locally, PPOS and Seeds of Learning are decreasing their carbon footprint while increasing personal connections within our little mountain town.