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Boulder Farmers' Market delivers a lesson in tasty, healthy school lunches

Elyse Wood at the Boulder County schools truck.
Elyse Wood at the Boulder County schools truck.

There's a large bus with peeling white paint parked at one end of 13th Street for the Boulder Farmers' Market Saturday; it's part of Boulder Valley School District's School Food Project. The school lunch program has been being revamped since chef Ann Cooper was brought on board to shake things up five years ago -- more food prepared from scratch and onsite, ingredients as local as possible, organic milk, hormone and antibiotic-free beef, salad bars in all schools. Funded with a $75,000 grant from Whole Foods, the truck was set up to serve lunches at high schools, where fewer than 20 percent of the students currently buy what the school cafeteria provides, and will visit a different school every day.

Its presence at the market comes courtesy of new executive director Brian Coppom. A true believer in the market's mission, Coppom has been spreading the gospel of good food ever since he came on board, looking for ways to network with nonprofits and to help local farmers find markets for their goods. He also hopes that the truck, which will visit every Saturday from now on, will prove a vivid demonstration of how to cook seasonally. The profits from this morning, if any, will go to the school program.

See also: "Renegade Lunch Lady" Ann Cooper bellies up to the salad bar.

Breakfast from the Boulder County schools food truck.
Breakfast from the Boulder County schools food truck.

The market already boasts a fine array of breakfast foods, from pancakes to papusas to eggs benedict to pastries. So I'm wondering what this food truck will add to the array of choices -- and also if the food will taste institutional. I shell out my $6.50 and get a serving of scrambled eggs (Jodar) with mixed greens (Ollin Farm) and mushrooms (Hazel Dell) on flatbread from Udi's. There are two bottles of hot sauce to choose from -- also locally made and utilizing some fresh local ingredients, and the Chiporro Sauce Co. Chipotle Mexicano I sprinkle over my eggs is so delicious that I buy a bottle before leaving the market. The food is straightforward, well-prepared, full of bright flavor and perfectly seasoned.

As I see it, you have to hand it to us Boulderites. You can sneer all you like at our endless, picky and inexplicable food allergies and intolerances and our flaky city council. (I'm still snickering over one councilmember's suggestion that they look into testing the poop DNA of all dogs allowed on open space so that any owners leaving poop on trails can be found and punished.) But you can't fault this school lunch program, which is one of the smartest and widest-reaching in the country. While Congress was cutting food stamps and Michelle Obama, having dropped the word "organic" from her vocabulary as her husband appointed one Monsanto man after another to government positions, was trying to retrieve at least fragments of her vision for helping kids get healthier lunches -- as she still is -- we just went ahead.

Yes, a fair amount of money was raised to support Cooper's reforms and that might be hard to do in school districts less food-aware than this one. And some people believe the need for reform is less pressing in Boulder, where most kids eat very well at home. But those people are thinking of the city. The district encompasses the entire county, where some 30 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

Elyse Wood, program coordinator for the School Food Project, informs me later that the visit to the market was a success, and the breakfasts came close to selling out. "The fun thing is that our head chef, Brandy Dreibelbis, is able to create something new each week depending on what's fresh at the market," she says. "We're excited to source from the producers and think it's an important practice to highlight." Now I understand why the eggs were so good: Dreibelbis is the former executive chef for Boulder Whole Foods.

Keep reading for more on what's at the market this week:  

Boulder Farmers' Market delivers a lesson in tasty, healthy school lunches

New at the market this week: Sugar snap peas at Red Wagon and Cure Organic Farm. It's great to get them recently picked, since they're best eaten as fresh off the vine as possible. The season is short, so I plan to gorge while they last. There are lots of interesting ways to prepare these sugar snaps in the kitchen -- though I also like to eat them out of hand as snacks. They go very well in Asian recipes with chicken or shrimp, or they can be cooked very simply.

Mint and peas are a classic combination that never gets boring. Just tail and top the peas and toss them into boiling, salted water. Start checking after no more than a minute or two. Really, super fast.You want them cooked just a little but still keeping their snap. Drain. Now wipe out the cooking pot with a paper towel and melt a blob of butter in it. Toss the peas in the butter, throw in some shredded mint, season to taste and you're done.

Or you can saute the peas directly in the butter until they're crisp-cooked, stir so they're nice and buttery, season and add the mint. And maybe sliced green onion tops.


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