It’s back to school time and the focus is more than ever on what is served in the cafeteria. Our guest blogger Susan Halpin, Family and Consumer Science Teacher at Algonquin Regional High School, shares this inspirational story from her time at The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition’s Summer Institute. This 3-day event hosted in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) and the School Nutrition Association (SNA) of Massachusetts took place August 17-19, 2010 at The Conference Center at Marlborough, Mass.
In 1993, Adam Sandler created a picture of what our school lunches have become. His song about the Lunch Lady captured the essence of how our obesity problem has developed in the United States. What we learn in school, we take with us home and on the road to the rest or our life.
Today’s food service directors are a far cry from the Lunch Ladies of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. This new generation of food service directors is striving to make the food they serve to children today more like the covered pail lunch of Laura Ingalls Wilder and less like the era of Sno Balls® and Twinkies®.
In Adam Sandler’s song, he talks about using leftover meatloaf to make Sloppy Joes, American Chop Suey and the greasy creations of oleo lathered dishes. Today, many food service professionals and teachers are using dirt and seeds – cultivating their own produce — to develop their menus.
On Wednesday, August 18th at a conference for school nutrition professionals held by the John C. Stalker Institute and the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, I had the privilege of listening to the keynote speaker, Tony Geraci, a shining star among food service directors. Tony, a national leader in the local food revolution, is Food and Nutrition Director, Baltimore City Public Schools.
In the beginning, there was a food service program in a school system that wasn’t working. It was poorly run. It was losing money. Two-thirds of the student population was overweight and heading toward a lifetime of obesity.
Enter, Tony. His mission then (thankfully he chose to accept it!) was to completely revamp the food service program of the Baltimore public school system. He was challenged with providing the students with healthy options for breakfast and lunch and not spend a penny more than the existing budget. Today, Tony has transformed the breakfast and lunch plates of his schools.
As a teacher, I recognize how important the everyday practices we do in school are as they are brought home and carried through out the lives of our students. Tony has brought a cutting-edge program to the district that not only changes the foods eaten but also how and what students learn about the way food choice impacts quality of life.
(students from Algonquin Regional High School, posted with permission from Susan)
Tony realized that the transformation had to start with grass roots momentum. He started with the children and literally brought them to the “grass roots” by incorporating 30 acres of farmland into the school curriculum.
The food is planted, harvested and raised by the students on Great Kids Farm, land that once was an abandoned orphanage and was recently donated to the school district. The students are able to connect with real food eliminating the middleman… PROCESSING.
“This generation of school children thinks that fruit is a FLAVOR not a FOOD GROUP!” said Tony.
The food alone was not enough to change their unhealthy dietary habits. Tony worked aggressively to bring excitement and a super-star quality to the program by developing partnerships with the professional Baltimore sports teams. Tony took a page from one of our most successful fast food companies to promote his new healthy breakfast program. If prizes and marketing packaging with super hero brands works for McDonalds, it can work for the Baltimore Public Schools.
Not only did he bring healthier meals to the students, he also brought the students to the meals, increasing participation in the breakfast program from 8,500 served to 35,000 served in sixty days.
The beacons of this better-nutrition-in-the schools movement such as Tony Geraci and Jamie Oliver with his “Food Revolution” show on ABC, bring an element of education to the classroom that is closer to the one-room schoolhouse and further from rote memorization of facts and ﬁgures with no meaning.
The students make connections with their environment, the community and the future of our earth.
They learn where their food comes from and how to feed a village. They learn lessons of how working up a sweat to cultivate a community that cares for each other brings many rewards beyond the bottom line. These are things you can’t learn in a book.
Below is a link to an ABC World News Tonight short piece about Tony.
(Alison Note: THANKS SO MUCH SUSAN! If any of our readers would like to write a guest post for The Oldways Table, email me at email@example.com)