Golden Girls and Blueberries

Two awesome things happened in the last 14 days.

1) I went on a trip to Broadway High school three hours south of D.C. in the middle of no where Virginia and met 2 amazing change maker seniors trying to find ways to fix their school lunch program (and we did in just one meal period) and 2) We found a way to get students to eat healthy, no additive, not boring looking yogurt.

There’s not much to elaborate on with the yogurt story other than the fact that we were getting a lot of comments from a few schools about how white, (even buying Stoneyfield organic lovely yogurt with granola AND drizzling HONEY on it) was not good; too tart. They wanted something purple, something with a cartoon on it telling them that it would be great….so I spent a few weeks talking to our awesome sourcer at DCCK and she brought in this dairy farm from Maryland to do a tasting. As soon as I saw the color of this beautiful, rich yogurt I knew the students would eat it. It’s bright but soft, as if you just blanched a purple head of cabbage…but it’s also not as thick as other yogurts.

Fast forward a few weeks and a few gallons later and the yogurt is running off the salad bar shelves and off the breakfast line. The best part: it’s made with REAL BLUEBERRIES!!!!…CRAZY, I know.

As far as my visit, well, I think I could write a dissertation on the visit I had at Broadway High School in Virginia last week. So much is going on in schools across the country that it makes me giddy to be a stranger there and share ideas. I was lucky enough to meet 2 students who, as their senior project, took on revamping their school food program. In 2 months they are trying to make local produce more abundant and consumed….

Knowing how hard this can be, to change a culture of eating habits, I asked them to ask the kitchen staff (all white women, mostly in their 30s and 40s) what their biggest hurdles were and what they thought about getting more fresh fruits and veggies into the menu mix.

“It’s too much work, we have to get 8 hours of work done in 6 hours,” one cook told the senior. And so it began. I walked into work and opened an email to see a list of 10 hurdles the students were having with their communication to the school and their food service staff about making changes in their food program. Le sigh.

And then I visited. When I got there I sat with the students (accompanied by the county Food Service Director who came when he found out someone from DC was visiting) and spoke to them about the cook’s life, the budgets we have to face, and the hardships of actually getting local food distributed to schools or anywhere larger than a 100 seat restaurant. It’s about purchasing power and slow changes.

So, the first step we took was observing eating habits of a large populated high school and we saw that, despite a great salad bar set up, most students went right for the pizza and didn’t choose to add their veggies to their plate.

After seeing that all the students had to pay at the end of the line (and seeing a fake bowl of fruit next to the check out) I grabbed the kitchen manager, Norma (a lovely women right out of a Golden Girls episode) and ran into the walk in with a punch bowl from their dry storage. We filled it up with apples and pears (which they get from the commodity program from the USDA and have a lot of money for) and put that huge bowl on the line, 4 feet from the cashier.

We had 8 hits in the first 10 minutes of the second meal period. Norma now uses that trick every day for every meal period. BAM!

Change is possible. It’s just terrifyingly slow.

I can’t wait for my next visit to Broadway; the lights are bright there.

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