December 19, 2008

Real food for school lunches? ~via Laura Ruby. [Ann Cooper, Growe Foundation]

Do you know what your kid (or niece, nephew, or neighbor) had for lunch at school this week? Living in what many consider one of the most eco and green towns in the country (yes, Boulder, Colorado), I might expect something involving a salad, a little fresh fruit, Horizon organic milk and a tempeh burger.

Instead, here in Boulder, an anonymous white truck pulls into the parking lot each day before lunch, delivering highly processed, preservative-rich, cold non-food items to our schools.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned from a parent that the kitchen at her kid’s school is no longer in regular operation! Instead, the kitchen hibernates, awaiting the sporadic (for now) visit from a chef from Boulder’s fancy slow food restaurant, The Kitchen, to cook the fresh veggies grown by the kids on the lawn (thanks to the help from the Garden to Table program and The Kitchen staff).  

Fortunately for our little town, these gardens are just the beginning. Renowned renegade lunch lady, Ann Cooper (profiled in The New Yorker a year back), was hired this past summer to conduct a feasibility study. What will it take to include unprocessed, cooked-in-the-district food in our school lunches? Boulder may be a hub of the natural products industry (think Wild Oats, Izze, Celestial Seasonings, Silk Soy, Phil’s Fresh and countless others)—but making the switch from rubbery cheese, stolid fries, sloppy joes, soda pop, bouncy hot dogs (see article, below!) and high fructose subsidized foods…to foods grown and cooked in our own backyard ain’t easy. And in these times of economic uncertainty, our government doesn’t want to pick up the tab.

So until times are better, BVSD is calling on support from their community. The response has been astounding (see article, below). And with a little help, within three years’ time what goes into our children’s bodies will actually be good for them—and for our local economy and the environment. ~ Laura Ruby.


GrowE Foundation, formerly Our Love of Children- Bryce’s gig.

Garden to Table Program

Want to get real food in your local schools? Check out Ann Cooper’s work.

Feasibility study in PDF…click here.


Click here for a great, recent article in The Christian Science Monitor.

As reported in Boulder’s Daily Camera, recently, things are looking up for Boulder, Colarado public school children:

Ann Cooper, a high-profile chef who’s guiding school-food reform nationwide, hoisted a gallon of processed cheese sauce in front of a crowd of students and teachers at Lafayette Elementary School on Wednesday and vowed that those types of products no longer will have a place in Boulder Valley schools.

Thanks to a $100,000 donation from a Boulder couple and a promise of at least that much from Whole Foods, the Boulder Valley School District has launched a “school food project” aimed at eliminating processed foods from school menus in three years.

Cooper plans to upgrade the district’s regional kitchens and, eventually, build a central kitchen where all the district’s food will be cooked from scratch and distributed to the 28,500 students in 55 schools spread over 500 square miles.

“I really believe Boulder Valley is on its way to healthier food,” Cooper told a cafeteria full of administrators, staff members and students Wednesday. “We’ll have no more processed foods in Boulder Valley.”

Cooper said the district — like most school districts — now has “dismal” lunch offerings.

The Boulder Valley school board this week entered into a $120,000 contract with Cooper’s California-based firm, Lunch Lessons LLC, to begin work on the multi-year venture. The initial contract begins Jan. 1 and ends June 30, and district officials said funding for the contract is being provided “entirely by outside donations.”

In the first six months, Cooper said, she and up to five of her co-workers will lay the ground work for what she expects will become a national model for nutritious school food. She plans to reorganize the food-service staff and prepare workers for the “stress of changing habits and implementing new standards of practice.”

Cooper said she’ll also create a new menu for the 2009-2010 school year and seek out natural food vendors in the area.

“The first six months is about infrastructure,” she said, adding that she believes Boulder Valley will come up with enough money to see the project through to its intended completion.

“But we need community support,” she said.

No donation is too small, said Superintendent Chris King, who on Tuesday instituted an administrative hiring and travel freeze because of an anticipated revenue shortfall.

“In these tough economic times, change takes time,” he said. “And we wouldn’t be able to move forward with this without community support.”

Enter Boulder Valley parents Robin and Kevin Luff, who on Wednesday jump-started the new food program with a $100,000 gift. The Boulder couple long have supported making school food more nutritious, and they’ve been behind the massive school-food overhaul from the start.

In talking with other parents, Robin Luff said, she’s learned she’s not alone.

“Whether it’s $25, $2,500 or $250,000, this community will not allow this to fail,” she said. “They’ve wanted it for so long.”

Whole Foods has vowed to follow up the Luff contribution with a gift of about the same amount. For all of 2009, five area Whole Foods-owned stores will ask shoppers who bring in their own bags if they want to donate their 10-cent reusable-bag credit to the Boulder Valley school-food project.

Employees staffing Whole Foods’ registers also will ask shoppers if they want to make $1, $3 or $5 donations to the program, said Mark Law, regional vice president of operations for Whole Foods’ Rocky Mountain region.

Lafayette fifth-grader Lauren Sikerica, 10, said she hopes people say “yes.” Then, Lauren said, she might consider eating hot lunch.

“I personally can’t eat the school lunch because it makes me sick,” she said, motioning to the cafeteria kitchen. “If I walked back there, I probably couldn’t pronounce any of the foods on the labels. Which means it’s probably not real food.”

Getting a fresh slate of school-lunch options excites Nikki Jacobsen, 11, who said she’d like to see mashed potatoes “not made from a processing plant.” Almut Herzfeld Mayer, 10, agreed and said her limited experience with school food has kept her packing lunch.

“The cheese is like rubber,” Almut said. “The hot dog — I dropped if off my tray, and it bounced three times.”

For the rest of Vanessa Miller’s article, click here.

Finally, a popular video of Ann on TED:

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