Proud of Local Chicken in Colorado Schools

September 19, 2013

Colorado Proud Day features local chicken!

Yesterday, students at Jefferson County Public Schools (Jeffco) in Colorado were treated to a very special school lunch menu. The district celebrated “Colorado Proud Day,” an annual event celebrating local food. This year, that meant sweet potato rolls from a Denver bakery, cantaloupe from Rocky Ford and coleslaw made from cabbage and carrots grown in Greeley.

Although every Colorado Proud Day has included locally grown produce, this year’s celebration was particularly noteworthy because a new item made its debut: scratch-cooked, fresh and local chicken drumsticks. The drumsticks, provided by Boulder Natural Meats, come from chickens raised without antibiotics on family farms.

 Chicken will then be served once a month at Jeffco elementary schools for the rest of the year. This new initiative makes Jeffco the second-largest school district in the country serving scratch-cooked, local and sustainably-raised chicken regularly, after Chicago Public Schools.

 As members of School Food FOCUS, a collaborative that helps connect school districts with local producers, Jeffco Schools enlisted a community partner, Slow Food Denver, to help source local produce and poultry from across the state, and worked with the Pew Charitable Trusts on a community education component. Andy Nowak of Slow Food Denver brought Boulder Natural Meats into the conversation, says Linda Stoll, Director of Nutrition Services for Jeffco Public Schools.

 In the organic chicken industry, drumsticks are considered a byproduct, as breast and thigh meat are in higher demand. The producers were left with an excess of drumsticks, allowing Stoll and her team to purchase and serve them in a cost-effective manner.

 “This is the kind of thing our community has been asking for,” Stoll says. “It felt like an opportunity that just fell into our lap.”

Cooking protein from scratch is brand new this year for Jeffco Schools, but the foodservice team had been making incremental changes for a while. Recently, Jeffco added a homemade soup to its menu, and they’ve been testing “quick-scratch” cooking using pre-cooked protein.

The next logical step, Stoll says, was to for the district to try cooking their own protein. The drumsticks were a perfect place to start because they are relatively uniform in size, and thus easier to ensure even, safe and efficient cooking.

Stoll is working with partners to find other producers to increase their purchasing of local and sustainable meat, and she wants to begin conversations with Colorado farmers who are raising grass-fed beef as well.

 Stoll says she believes the serving of local chicken benefits many parties: students and staff receive a fresher, healthier product, and the large-scale local purchasing will help the state economy.

“We’re doing our part now,” she says. “We’re encouraging the industry, and because we’re the biggest school districts in the state and can do this successfully, hopefully others will follow suit.”