1,800 Miles In To The School Food Tour

1,800 Miles In To The School Food Tour

Fri 06 Jan 2012

Story by Sara Salo

It is a crisp fall morning under the open skies of the southwest United States. I spin steadily along on my bicycle past fields of cotton and chili peppers, reflecting on the first three months of the School Food Tour. After 1,800 miles of pedaling and countless school visits, life on the road has become, well, my way of life.

The School Food Tour (SFT) is a solo 6,000-mile bicycle tour dedicated to empowering students, schools and communities to promote healthy eating habits. On a typical day of the SFT I awake early in my tent, ride for 3 to 8 hours, secure food, water and lodging for the evening and finally prepare for any upcoming classroom presentations.

The first segment of the SFT took me to a diverse group of schools in California and Arizona. Each location included talks with students about the importance of wholesome food choices, visits to the school garden and meetings with nutrition services staff to discuss school lunch issues. I have seen the best and worst of school food and learned lessons in the most unlikely places. Here are a few of my most poignant take-aways from the trip thus far.

Substantial Change Requires A Champion

In a small town near Santa Rosa, CA, there is a small elementary school with a gorgeous garden. This green oasis, complete with an outdoor kitchen, did not appear overnight. Rather, the garden teacher has slowly worked her way into a full-time position and a farm expansion by consistently demonstrating her dedication to the project. The garden now produces enough food to provide the school cafeteria with regular deliveries of fruits and vegetables.

Each successful program that I visited had at least one person who was a true champion for change. This role takes dedication and vision; two essential components in any large-scale transformation. I encourage you to become the champion within your community. How can you leave a legacy for the benefit of future generations?

Resources remain Elusive

Many schools that I visited have voiced a strong desire to make healthy changes but lack the necessary knowledge, guidance and funding. I have met: chefs with the desire to serve healthier food but who lack recipes, a nutritionist who feels she must order processed, packaged items because she feels helpless working under the current dietary guidelines and garden managers who don’t know where to apply for garden grants.

Creativity is key when resources become a struggle. Can you utilize high school or college students as part of your workforce? Or grow rosemary in your garden for a Holiday wreath sale? Is there a local chef who can offer menu-planning insight? Those involved in student wellness must come together to make “the healthy choice the easy choice”. I challenge you to think about how we can more effectively distribute relevant information to interested individuals.

Each Of Us Has The Ability To Inspire Others

True story: I was bench-pressed by a 430lb man in the middle of a downtown California city. Such is the unpredictability of life on the road. A passerby noticed my bicycle and sat down to chat. He promptly informed me that he was hoping to break the world record for the largest man to finish a marathon. While he thought the SFT’s mission was inspirational, I believe that his goal was just as, if not more, inspiring than my own.

An average person taking on an extraordinary challenge demonstrates that transformation can come from the most unexpected sources. I am confident that my new-found friend’s efforts will encourage others to address similar health issues. Likewise, I witnessed a high school student share his story of overcoming obesity with a large group of peers. I saw eyes light up as he spoke about the changes he made in his life.

Bottom line: people want to be inspired. Each and every one of us has the ability to include others in our positive efforts. So get out there and start making waves!

Small Changes Add Up To Major Overhaul

It’s ok to start small. Drastic modifications can be overwhelming and a logistical nightmare. Begin by encouraging one small change and then expand on your success.

The SFT is currently traveling through Texas and I hope to reach New Orleans before Christmas. The next segment of the SFT route will take me through the southeast region. This area will present its own set of challenges and adventures that I look forward to sharing with you. You can follow the SFT’s progress and support the cause here.

About the author: Sara Salo is the creator of The School Food Tour and an ardent healthy kids advocate based in Bend, Oregon. During her 6,000-mile bicycle tour across America she is engaging a diverse group of communities and students in conversations about healthy eating and encouraging advocacy for change.

Photo credits: Chicken meal is from the Salmon Creek School in Occidental, CA (along with the garden and garlic photos). The salad is from Carpinteria High School in Carpinteria, CA
All photos taken by Sara Salo


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