A Paradigm Shift in Mississippi School Cafeterias

By Ligia V. Henriquez for Change Food

Versión en Español

In her TEDxManhattan talk Good Food Can Change Everything, Sunny Young, winner of the 2014 TEDxManhattan Challenge, described the Good Food for Oxford Schools (GFOS) farm to school program in Mississippi. Today, we are happy to share an exciting update on her work!

Photo 1. Sunny Young at TEDxManhttan on March 2014. Slide showing second grade student, Samaria, eating kale chips after meeting the farmer who grew the kale and the chef who prepared them. TEDxManhattan.

Photo 1. Sunny Young at TEDxManhttan on March 2014. Slide showing second grade student, Samaria, eating kale chips after meeting the farmer who grew the kale and the chef who prepared them. TEDxManhattan.

Through GFOS in the Oxford School District in Oxford, Mississippi, Sunny helped engage and empower school staff, students, and their families to change the way they think of and eat food.

When she gave her talk in March 2014, GFOS had helped transform the food served in their school cafeterias by:

  • Increasing the percentage of food made from scratch served in school meals from 30% to 75% within one year
  • Increasing servings of fresh foods from local producers
  • Eliminating fryers from school cafeterias
  • Introducing salad bars in all the District’s schools
  • Bringing farmers and chefs to schools to teach children about good food

A mother reported that her daughter, Samaria (see photo 1), who previously refused to try fruits or vegetables, was now pestering her for fruits, rather than for highly processed products! (Hint: watch related TEDxManhattan talk: Marketing Food to Children, were Anna Lappé explains “pester power”).

The statistics that Sunny shared during her talk show the need for a paradigm shift in the diets of Mississippi children:

  • Mississippi is the state with the highest obesity rates in the country
  • 40% of Mississippi children eat less than 1 fruit or vegetable on a daily basis
  • 40% of Mississippi children are overweight/ obese
  • 74% of parents are not worried about their children’s weight

As she explained, farm to school efforts are important because in the Oxford School District alone, academic performance and overall well-being have declined in children who are overweight, malnourished, and/or suffering from diet-related diseases. Students as young as five have been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, a disease formerly only identified in adults.[i]

August 2015 Update

In a state where 80% of students receive free or reduced-cost meals from school (benefits based on annual household income), Sunny Young and her team are hard at work to ensure that the food provided shifts from fried and highly processed, to good for children’s health, and good for the environment.

Photo 2. Students from the Della Davidson Elementary School in Oxford, Mississippi enjoy lunch, including lettuce from their school garden. Sunny Young.

Photo 2. Students from the Della Davidson Elementary School in Oxford, Mississippi enjoy lunch, including lettuce from their school garden. Sunny Young.

Sunny Young developed a partnership with Dorothy Grady-Scarborough of Mississippians Engaged in Greener Agriculture (MEGA). Together they recently received a large, three- year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to lead the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) in the state of Mississippi. This grant recognizes the strong grassroots work and interest for farm-to-school programs in the state, and tackles the challenges of limited infrastructure and funding that kept it from expanding steadily.

The goal of NFSN is to increase the participation of school districts in the state by 30 percent in the next three years. Sunny and Dorothy’s priorities include engaging over 500 members and organizations across the state to develop and strengthen the farm to school network in the state, as well as building awareness about these efforts with parents, students, and administrators state-wide. They will also establish a Mississippi farm to school website with information and resources for schools and the community to engage with local food.

[i] “TEDxManhattan Heroes: Sunny Young.” Gracelinks.org. GRACE Communications Foundation, 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Sept. 2015. <http://www.gracelinks.org/blog/3681/tedxmanhattan-heroes-sunny-young&gt;.

Ligia V. Henríquez is a contributing writer for Change Food. She holds an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University, and is interested in the nexus between food, the environment, and health.

Change Food is a nonprofit whose mission is to connect and transform the food we eat, the people who produce it, and the world in which it is grown. To read and learn more, visit The Guide to Good Food blog.

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2 responses to “A Paradigm Shift in Mississippi School Cafeterias

  1. Pingback: Un Cambio de Paradigma en las Cafeterías Escolares de Mississippi | Guide to Good Food

  2. thesunnyexperience

    Reblogged this on EduFood Consulting LLC and commented:
    Thanks for the awesome article!

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