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Making the Grade

By Marygrace Stergakos

Our 2008 Kiwi Crusaders Award drew hundreds of entries from around the country, from schools with impressive food programs that recognize the importance of nutrition, sustainability, and wellness. The extraordinary efforts of our top three winners—one public school, one private school, and one preschool—earn them an A+ and $3,500 each.

Public School Crusader

School: Abernethy Elementary School
Location: Portland, Oregon

Chef Ann and KidsAbernethy Elementary School’s all-around focus on student wellness is especially evident in its food offerings. With an organic garden and comprehensive Farm-to-School program, the students and faculty at Abernethy are leaders in sustainability.

The school’s 350-square-foot Garden of Wonders provides the basis for many cafeteria meals, and is also used for teaching nutrition, food history, and garden science, as well as observing insects and habitats. Program coordinator Vanessa Herald says there’s a wide range of student participation. “The fourth-graders plan the garden in January, and [in the spring] everyone is planting and turning beds over.”

Twice each month, local produce is showcased in the school cafeteria for Harvest of the Month. November’s roasted parsnips and carrots are student favorites, and, says Herald, “Potato wedges in December were pretty darn popular.” Also impressive are Abernethy Elementary’s monthly Local Lunches, which feature a cafeteria meal made entirely from foods produced close to home, such as a grilled-cheese sandwich made with Shepherd’s Grain flour and Tillamook cheddar.

The progressive food program has had a tremendous impact on the community, raising awareness about the importance of healthy eating. “Parents really support the program and its values,” says Herald. With its Garden of Wonders aiming to serve as a model for school gardens, Abernethy Elementary plans to spread further environmental awareness by using its award money to increase outreach, support, and resource sharing with nearby schools.

Private School Crusader

School: Princeton Day School
Location: Princeton, New Jersey

Chef Ann and KidsThe food program at Princeton Day School runs the gamut from local to global, and always strives to teach students the value of eating healthfully and sustainably. “When you replace a program that’s been hamburgers and fries every day, it’s eye-opening,” says director Brian Mochnal of Flik Independent Schools, who took over the food service at PDS four years ago.

The school’s thriving organic garden is a collective effort. Each classroom in the Lower School has its own raised bed, with students planting and growing such vegetables as okra, zucchini, lettuce, and beans, as well as a variety of herbs. “We do what we can locally,” says Mochnal. That includes a relationship with the nearby Terhune Orchards, which delivers a weekly box of up to eight varieties of apples, and Cherry Grove Farm, which supplies fresh cheese and meat.

Students are introduced to global cuisine with monthly Food Focus events, such as Breads of the World day, in which pita, baguettes, tortillas, challah, and naan were served along with information cards about each of the breads’ origins. A monthly Slow Cuisine program, which follows the principles of the worldwide Slow Food movement, showcases student favorites such as basil and Carolina gold rice.

Of the updated food program, Mochnal says, “[Students] get a kick out of it. Buffalo chicken has become their favorite—put it on a sandwich, on pizza, in a panini, it doesn’t matter.” Plus, he says, “the faculty and parents couldn’t be happier.”

Preschool Crusader

School: Bloomington Developmental Learning Center
Location: Bloomington, Indiana

Chef Ann and KidsBloomington Developmental Learning Center’s food program wasn’t always strictly vegetarian. However, when the demand for healthier fare became apparent, meat-free seemed like the best way for the preschool to go. “We wanted higher-quality food for a lower price,” explains curriculum director Rose Witteveen.

Good-for-you vegetarian protein sources like beans and rice, cheese, and soy are supplemented by produce from the school’s organic garden, which includes tomatoes, peas, lettuce, carrots, squash, and berries. Students as young as three help with planting, weeding, and watering, and participate in curriculum activities like counting seeds and learning letters of the alphabet with different plants.

The preschoolers at Bloomington are exposed to a wide variety of foods, from chana masala (an Indian tomato and chickpea dish) and mashed turnips to berry flax waffles. What’s the student favorite? “Pizza day! They love pizza day,” says Witteveen. “Especially when we can make vegetable pizza from the garden.”

While exposing the children to a varied cuisine is important, Witteveen and the rest of the Bloomington faculty are most concerned with teaching the value of a healthy lifestyle. “If you’re introduced to it as a child, then you’ll stick with it,” she says. We couldn’t agree more.

KIWI would like to thank the sponsor of the 2009 Kiwi Crusaders Award, Fruitabü Organic Smoooshed Fruit.

KIWI’s Panel of Judges

Cricket Azima is KIWI’s food editor and the author of the children’s cookbook Everybody Eats Lunch.
Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, teaches food service management at the City University of New York and is the co-editor of Gastropolis: Food and New York City.
Nathan Feldmiller is a chef at Kansas City’s Café Europa.
Antonia Lofaso is the executive chef at Foxtail in Los Angeles.
Liz Weiss, MS, RD, and Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, are co-authors of The Moms’ Guide to Meal Makeovers.