The unstoppable Chef Ann Cooper

The Unstoppable Chef Ann Cooper

Wed 22 Dec 2010

Story by Janey Gourlay
 

The unstoppable Chef Ann Cooper talks to the Food Revolution

“It has been a whirlwind year” beams Chef Ann Cooper and well she might as the original renegade lunch lady is tackling the US food system and with growing success.


After founding the non-profit Food, Family, Farming Foundation in 2009 to help the school food system move from processed to fresh and launching its first project, ‘The Lunch Box’ to support and aid this change, 2010 has seen Ann launch her new website for The Lunch Box quickly followed by a new initiative with Whole Foods Market, The Great American Salad Project resulting in $1.4 million being raised and a new collaboration with Michelle Obama - the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative - it truly has been an exceptional year.

With such a great start to her latest project I ask Ann, why salad bars? “Salad bars are the easiest way to get fresh food to kids. It is the best delivery method for fresh fruit, veg, grains and healthy proteins. Kids are more likely to eat what they take since they have made the choice.” The Great American Salad Bar Project received hundreds of applications, schools within a 50 mile radius of a Whole Foods Market store and that participate in the National School Lunch Program could apply and with $1.4 million raised the team will start shipping and installing 570 salad bars from mid-January.

In November the First Lady Michelle Obama’s 'Let's Move' campaign teamed up with Chef Ann’s Salad Bar Project and United Fresh Produce Association and Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools was born. “We plan to raise $15 million for 6000 salad bars, of which we plan to donate 1500 over the next twelve months; all public schools across the US will be able to apply from 1st January.” Their goal is to donate salad bars to 6,000 schools in the next three years. Getting more fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods into all schools is one of the most practical solutions to improving child nutrition. Each salad bar costs about $2,500, which includes all of the equipment and utensils. Remember, fundraising and applications for a salad bar starts on Jan 1 so make sure you support and apply!

Chef Ann’s first project The Lunch Box.org is an invaluable online resource for schools with free and accessible tools, recipes and community connections to support school food reform. In 2011 the project will launch its development of a national procurement model to help schools to source fresh food locally. The project will be creating a database of potential food vendors, the wiki-style list will allow people to find their local vendors and comment the ones that they have used. This is a great way to better enable the move from processed to fresh food in schools and support local producers.

Next year Ann also hopes to launch another project, this one focusing on school breakfasts. With over 12 million children served breakfast at school every day it is another key meal that kids are receiving. “Tackling school lunches isn’t enough. Now I want to look at how to get healthy breakfasts for all”.

Chef Ann is a true inspiration to Jamie and the Food Revolution campaign as she relentlessly fights to change the way children eat. We are not sure how she fits all of her work in as well as her day job as Nutrition Services Director for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado but are very glad that she does! The more inspirational advocates out there working for a healthier food system the better equipped we can be to create a movement towards nutritious whole food for all.

Chef Ann’s initiatives:
Food, Family, Farming Foundation
The Lunch Box
The Great American Salad Project
Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools

About the author: Janey Gourlay works on the Food Revolution campaign

All photos: Kirsten Boyer Photography

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