By Kelly Werthmann

DENVER (CBS4) – Students in Denver Public Schools will soon dine on fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the district’s very own commercial greenhouse. District officials and school board members broke ground on the revolutionary project at DPS Glenbrook on Tuesday.

“I’m already smelling vegetables in the air,” Theresa Hafner, Executive Director of Enterprise Management for DPS, jokingly said at the groundbreaking.

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The five-acre plot on district property looks like a lot of brown dirt now, but soon it will be a colorful “salad bowl.”

“The salad bowl is leafy greens, it’s cucumbers, it’s carrots,” Hafner told CBS4. “We’re starting off with cherry tomatoes and some slicing tomatoes.”

Hafner helped plant the idea some six or so years ago, she said, to build a greenhouse for growing fruits and vegetables to be used in school meals.

“Kids need to be exposed to fresh produce, especially stuff that’s been grown locally,” she explained. “It’s also part of the regulations the USDA tells us to serve nutrient-compliant meals to our students, and that all starts with some fresh vegetables.”

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District officials said the $4 million greenhouse project is the first of its kind in the nation. It’s being financed by grants from Healthy Food for Denver Kids, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with bond funding from Denver voters and other district funds. Future crops will not only feed Denver students, but excess fruits and veggies will be sold to other districts as well as commercial wholesale buyers.

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“This has been a long time coming,” Hafner added.

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero said the project will give Colorado students well-balanced nutrition, ultimately fueling their cognitive abilities. It also can provide food to kids who might not get enough at home.

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“It satisfies two major checks which we really need to highlight, especially as we recover from a pandemic,” he said.

Planting will begin in Spring of 2022, growing healthy opportunities for generations to come.

“We look forward to this being a long-term solution for fresh produce for DPS kids,” said Hafner.

Kelly Werthmann