Conscious Kitchen program helps Sausalito Marin City School District serve healthier meals to students
A non-profit organization based in California known as Turning Green has recently taken the all-important first step in transforming all school lunches into organic and non-GMO meals. They launched a project known as the Conscious Kitchen and is introducing five principles to change the way schools think about schools.
The five principles of their meal program are: fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and non-GMO (FLOSN).
When the program was first launched in 2013, it reached out to schools in Marin County to transform their school lunches from the unhealthy, artificial, processed foods that are normally provided into meals that are FLOSN. Bayside Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy answered the call.
The school serves 160 students from Kindergarten to 8th grade. It is located in a low-income area where most families don’t have easy access to healthy food because of the high cost that comes with it. However, in the 2013 – 2014 school year, these students would experience completely different school lunches.
“This was the most underserved school,” says Judi Shils, Turning Green executive director. “They were serving ‘airplane food’ meals.”
Turning Green workers faced a difficult task to make this transformation work. They began by making connections with executive chef Justin Everett of Cavallo Point Lodge, Whole Foods Market, and Good Earth Natural Foods. The first task involved fundraising efforts that upgraded the kitchen so that it could produce the amount of food necessary for the students who ate breakfast and lunch there every day.
Turning Green raised funds to upgrade the school’s kitchen to a culinary operation that could produce more than 300 made-from-scratch breakfasts and lunches per day.We sourced local food and found farmers and purveyors,” Shils said. “We shifted everything about the school’s meals.”
Marin County is home to a number of organic farms, which made bringing in a variety of fresh, organic, and local produce simple and easy. They also had help from local meat and poultry farmers as well as Straus Family Creamery, who supplied the school’s milk.
“We live in a place where if we couldn’t do this program, it would be a problem,” Shils says.
“Happy kids, healthy bodies and their minds”
The students were not only thrilled with their new menus, but there were other tangible benefits as well. Teachers saw more students stepping up as leaders, better academic performance, improved attendance, and 67% less disciplinary problems. They also reported that students were more respectful towards each other and communicated better.
“The kids feel cared for, and they are satisfied,” Shils says. “With this program we see healthy bodies and minds and happy kids.”
Bayside MLK Academy also has a garden that helps children learn and appreciate how food is produced and about nutrition.
Based on the success at Bayside MLK Academy, the Conscious Kitchen expanded to another school in the district, Willow Creek Academy, for the 2015-2016 school year. The program will serve 500 students more than 70,000 healthy, sustainable meals.
With both schools, the Sausalito Marin City School District became the first 100% organic and non-GMO school district in the US.
The success gives Judi Shils confidence that the program can be replicated across the US.
“People told us we couldn’t do it, now we know otherwise,” Shils says. “We’re proving that we can do FLOSN food within budget. There’s not one school that couldn’t do this.”
The program’s success generated a lot of media coverage, which led to hundreds of inquiries from schools around the world, according to Shils.
Turning Green recently held a webinar to inspire other schools to adopt the Conscious Kitchen program. Six to eight more schools will likely adopt the program in the near future.
Those are a few more steps in the journey, but Shils has a bigger dream.
“Every school should be able to nourish their children with the best food they can,” she says. “Our little program could change the world.”