Tyler Silvy
tsilvy@greeleytribune.com

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August 16, 2014
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Greeley-Evans School District 6 becoming food hub for other districts

There’s a vision for the future of the nearly 12,000-square-foot Greeley-Evans School District 6 Central Production Kitchen: utilize all of that space.

Director of Nutrition Services Jeremy West described that vision Tuesday while the kitchen, just steps away, hummed along preparing a kiddie’s pool worth of red sauce for the kids in District 6. “We’re in Phase 1,” West said of the centralized kitchen’s pre-prepared meals being sent out to schools in Greeley and Evans. “Phase 2 would be to help other school districts.”

Help, in this case, means becoming a true food hub, a concept West said was foreign to him when he came to Greeley from Colorado Springs in 2009.

District 6, according to West, is alone in that it’s a school district in the food hub business.

“A food hub, in concept, is a place that aggregates processes and redistributes produce,” West said.

Perhaps knowing he needed to distill that idea, West clarified that those processes could be anything from washing, rebagging or chopping produce.

The district has dipped its big toe into Phase 2 a couple of times — making butternut squash soup for Windsor schools and contracting with Denver Public Schools to prepare the zucchini necessary for zucchini muffins. Apparently, the water is fine.

Still, West said, the food hub idea is still a baby and there’s work to do in raising it.

BORN AND RAISED

West is from Kansas City, the Kansas side. His brother was born on the Missouri side.

That’s the cooler part, right?

“It’s pretty good,” said West, laughing.

He’s a barbecue and southwest flavors lover, but his penchant for cooking after a two-year stint as a professional cook at the beginning of his career has waned.

At home, West’s wife, Colette (the Greeley Refugee Center co-director) does most of the cooking.

“I’m the when-people-are-coming-over guy,” West said. “I can knock out Thanksgiving like nobody’s business.”

West and the district have done plenty of prep for a big party of their own.

He’s used an $83,300 December 2012 grant from the USDA to purchase high volume processing equipment, produce washing sinks, blast chillers and vacuum packaging equipment for use in the food hub.

Now, West is just waiting for the guests.

REACHING OUT

One of the main reasons for a centralized production kitchen — apart from reduced costs and consistent product — is the seven-year-old farm-to-school program.

The district spends 22 percent of its $3.5 million food budget on locally sourced foods. To keep that up, or to increase that to 50 percent as West would have it, the district had to find a way to grow the growing season.

The central kitchen can flash-freeze prepared produce and use it at other times.

“It’s fresh,” West said. “Well, freshly frozen.”

That ability could make District 6 a go-to spot for smaller districts that want to reduce costs.

“We’re the district that’s blessed with space,” West said. “Most districts don’t have a central area that they can tap into.”

Right now, West said, the district is targeting districts along the U.S. 85 corridor. The problem is, aside from Windsor and Denver Public Schools, the district hasn’t gotten any firm bites.

FOOD WANTED

West would like to tackle the outreach problem by hiring a food hub manager. That person could make connections with local growers and with local districts.

There are other things on West’s needs list: more trucks, more refrigeration space and an online ordering system.

But outreach to local farmers (and growing the percentage of the district’s budget spent on locally sourced food) is critical, West said. It’s also a critical burden.

“You can’t just go to USFoods.com and order the groceries and push a button,” West said. “You go and make contact with farmers.”

District 6 is doing that now, and part of the benefits it extols for other districts is that it can do the same for them.

“We want growers to see we’re another way to diversify their revenue stream,” West said. “Do they have a good market for their seconds?”

Tyler Silvy covers education for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at tsilvy@greeleytribune.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.


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My Windsor Now Updated Aug 16, 2014 07:22PM Published Aug 16, 2014 07:31PM Copyright 2014 My Windsor Now. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.