Food Family Farming Alum-Sunny Young
January 23, 2014
Sunny Young, Program Director for Good Food for Oxford Schools and founder of Edufood Consulting LLC, a school food reform consulting firm, can honestly say she learned from one of the best in her field. A Food Family Farming alum, Young began her journey in school lunch reform in 2009 alongside our own Chef Ann Cooper.
- School District: Oxford School District
- How Many Schools? Six
- How Many Kids Served? 4,009
- Kids’ Favorite Local Fruit/Vegetable: Watermelon and cucumbers
- Favorite Lunch Box Tools: “The recipes. It makes the whole experience here easier. They are in a formula that all cafeteria managers understand and can use.”
Sunny didn’t always see school food in her future. In fact, it was the vanilla bean that sent her down the path of good, fair and clean food. During her senior year at Hendrix College in Arkansas, Young traveled to Madagascar to work on a fair trade vanilla farm. Let’s just say this tempted her taste buds to follow food policy, but it wasn’t until after graduation that school food became her focus.
Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) had just recruited Ann for a complete lunchroom overhaul in their 50-school district. Around the same time Sunny saw Ann speak at a conference in Arkansas. Inspiration ensued. Not soon after, Young packed her bags and headed to Boulder to assist in Ann’s Colorado vision.
Two years later, after working for both BVSD and Food Family Farming, Sunny had the chops to set on her own. Oxford USD served typical school lunch fare. “There were fryers in half the schools, and they were serving what they thought were the kids’ favorites,” says Young. One favorite was the Frito Chili Pie, a dish made mainly with, you guessed it, Fritos!. While some meals were scratch-cooked, in Young’s opinion it was not nearly enough.
The menu turned around when the school district decided they wanted to focus on Farm to School, and brought in Young pro. “Farm-to-school” had become a buzz phrase across the country, but Oxford was uncertain on how and where to start.
Community support got momentum moving. Sunny teamed up with a city grant writer on a USDA Farm-to-School grant, and the school district received the coveted award. Young hit the ground running. With pilot school Oxford Elementary eager and ready, Young focused on the three C’s: cafeteria, classroom and community. Through these efforts, Oxford Elementary is not only school to see benefit. The district as a whole has seen great change.
· Harvest of the Month is now a constant during lunch. The program, including cafeteria signage and local produce samplings, is both informative and tasty!
· Farmers visit regularly and present fresh produce tastings.
· Demos by local chefs engage multiple senses and spark hands on participation.
· 60% of the menu consists of fresh produce scratch-cooked meals.
· The high school raised money and received a salad bar from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools. It was implemented as the students came back from winter break this month.
· This fall, Oxford Elementary had a food lesson once a week and held class in the garden twice a week.
· The high school formed a food club, which helps orchestrate all food-related events.
· A new grant is funding a greenhouse at the middle school, which offers the only special needs program in Mississippi. The greenhouse will incorporate raised beds and wheelchair accessibility.
· Good Food for Oxford Schools planned and hosted a community-wide celebration of food, featuring a local gospel choir.
· Community classes are held almost three times a semester. Along with cooking, Young leads group discussions on why cooking healthy in the home may feel overwhelming and offers solutions and support.
Young, the school, and the community at large are looking to expand their farm-to-school programming to all schools and to perfect their scratch-cooked menu. Sunny is certainly looking forward to the Lunch Box’s debut of new recipes this spring.
And in March, Sunny will follow in Chef Ann’s footsteps and speak at TEDxManhattan’s “Changing the Way We Eat” event. To mark this link in the chain of school food reform,Chef Ann will be there to introduce her.