See how the Chef Ann Foundation is mending a broken food system.
It all started with one woman, Ann Cooper, and her ambitious vision: Create an organization that helps schools take action so that every child has daily access to fresh, healthy food. A decade ago, she formed the Chef Ann Foundation (CAF), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which carries out that vision by actively supporting school districts nationwide through grant programs and by providing tried and tested tools for school food change. It’s transforming the way schools feed our children.
“There’s been so much need out there to help schools serve healthy food,” says Ann Cooper, who believes every child should have means to fresh, nutritious food.
CAF transitions schools from serving processed “heat & serve” food to preparing meals cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Mara Fleishman, chief executive officer of CAF, adds, “Childhood obesity and its associated health risks are on the rise. CAF believes the greatest impact can be had by changing school food. By providing school communities with tools, training, resources and funding, we are able to help schools create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments. To date, we’ve reached over 10,000 schools and 3 million children in all 50 states. We do this through five main programs.”
The multifaceted CAF helps in many ways. There’s The Lunch Box, an online resource that provides free step-by-step guides, tools and recipes to help schools improve their food programs. There’s also Salad Bars to Schools, a grant program that helps schools expand their commitment to serving fresh fruits and vegetables by implementing salad bars as part of their daily meal programs. Then there’s Project Produce, another grant program that helps schools increase kids’ access to fresh fruits and veggies while providing nutrition education through fun lunchroom learning activities.
And that’s just a fraction of CAF’s model. There’s also Get Schools Cooking, a program that provides hands-on support through assessment, in-person training, strategic planning, and systems grants, allowing school districts to serve healthier food. Lastly, there’s the School Food Institute, which provides online courses that give school food service professionals and child nutrition advocates in-depth training, operational skills and strategic vision necessary to make school food fresh and healthy.
Today, Ann Cooper is an internationally known educator, chef, public speaker, author and advocate of healthy food for kids.
“We work more nationally than locally, but the Foundation and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) have a memo of understanding. We work together a lot; it’s symbiotic,” says Ann.
As of the moment, the Chef Ann Foundation has provided grants to 300 schools in Colorado.
BVSD is an operating partner with CAF, meaning they work with the district to assess operational pieces in their food program that are working and have the potential to be developed into national support programming for schools across the nation.
Mara says, “BVSD also does all of the Chef Ann Foundation recipe testings for thelunchbox.org. We provided schools with nearly 400 USDA compliant scratch-cook recipes and that are all tested in schools. The majority of them are tested at BVSD.”
Mark Guttridge co-owns Ollin Farms with his wife Kena Guttridge in Longmont. Ollin Farms grows over 150 varieties of 30 different nutrient-dense vegetables.
Mark says, “I’m the farmer, or more specifically I’m the mad scientist playing with four elements in search of the most flavorful and nutritious food. Kena is the farm’s educational director; she’s the heart of the farm.”
Ollin Farms’ partners with the Chef Ann Foundation and BVSD.
“A shift in the paradigm that is our food system or our school lunch systems isn’t going to come by trying to change the habits of adults already engrained in that paradigm. Our only hope is to focus on the youth and give them the options to grow and help develop their own paradigms. That is the focus of the educational programs on our farm, and I think these values closely align with Ann’s vision and philosophy,” says Mark.
The biggest obstacle CAF currently faces is funding.
“It’s a hard time for non-profits,” says Ann.
She goes on to mention the political environment, the temperature of the economy and all the challenges the world is facing on a daily basis.
“It’s a little harder to raise money at a national level because people want it to go directly to their neighborhood.”
Although by providing help nationally, the effect ripples locally.
Mara adds, “We reached more than 10,000 schools nationwide and 300 in Colorado but at any given time there are hundreds on our waitlist for grants. We are a hardworking and frugal organization, we stretch a dollar far, but it takes a lot of dollars to provide help to all the schools that need it.”
And this hard work is necessary because we all know the school system won’t right itself naturally.
Mark says, “Our food system is broken, decades of policy and practice that put top value on cheap food regardless of the cost to our health or environment. That is a very tough paradigm to overcome. Shifting paradigms requires leaders who are willing to take risks, and passionately follow their vision, that’s exactly what Chef Ann does.”
Funding or not, the Foundation is always fighting for our children’s rights to nutritious food. It’s not a hill they’re climbing; it’s a mountain.
Mark says, “Chef Ann and her team at the Foundation as well as BVSD have proven they are willing to get that work done. I can count hundreds of citizens, scientists, politicians that talk about wanting healthier diets for youth but leaders actually doing that work and having real impact are far fewer, Chef Ann is one of those people actually getting the work done.”
Mara adds, “For every school and district that we help, there are others waiting for the support. We will continue to focus on supporting school food programs in creating a cook from scratch operation. We will continue to fight schools to have the funding and support they need to serve kids healthier food.”
If you feel moved to help make a difference in school food reform, visit the CAF website for ways to take action.
@ChefAnnFoundation has grown into a national non-profit and celebs are showing support. Check out the hashtag #RealSchoolFood to see who is out there supporting the change to school food.
Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are crippling our children’s future. Let’s commit to #realschoolfood realschoolfood.org @chefannfoundation
Over 30 million kids in the US eat school lunch every day — and they’re at school for more than ten years of their formative lives. That’s a massive opportunity to have a really positive impact on their well-being, setting them up for healthier, happier lives. It’s an absolute no-brainer for me that we should be feeding out kids at school with proper fresh food, cooked from scratch. Please join me in supporting Chef Ann Foundation #realschoolfood campaign and spreading this message. www.realschoolfood.org #realschoolfood
For every post like mine that uses the #realschoolfood hashtag, $1 is donated to support #healthy #school #meal programs nationwide. Join the @chefannfoundation campaign and pass it on! Learn more at realschoolfood.org.
Kids need real food at lunch to grow and learn! Let’s feed them well! #realschoolfood