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Food Family Farming Officially Becomes Chef Ann Foundation

Executive Director, Mara Fleishman, Pays Tribute

Chef Ann changes lives...she changed mine. ​I met Ann Cooper in 2008 when she came to a meeting that I was a part of at the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). There was a small group of concerned parents and community members that had started meeting to try and figure out how we could change the food and nutrition paradigm at BVSD. We had the ear of some administrators at the district who shared our desire and vision for a different food service program, but frankly the meetings were going nowhere. We all wanted basically the same things, but we left each meeting with less and less structure and no plan for how change was actually going to happen. Enter, Chef Ann.

One of the committee members had met Ann while they were in California and knew what she had done for the Berkley Public School District. This committee member asked if we could find some money to bring Ann out and have her talk to our group.

The day I met Ann I knew instantly why she had been successful in creating change while other districts across the country had (and still have) frustrated parents who gave up their crusade. Ann was different. She was direct, no games, no politics, and no giving up. “Feeding kids healthy food is not debatable,” I remember her saying and I knew then that it was no longer a choice, or a project that we could keep back-burnuring. As a group we had found our solution and our plan in in Ann. The district hired Ann on a contractual basis, then on a full-term basis, and now five years later the BVSD school food program is one of the best in the country…with salad bars in every school and a recent change to antibiotic and hormone free meat—that’s in a district with 55 schools! Oh and by they way, participation is UP since the pre-Ann days of highly processed heat-and-serve food, and BVSD runs a fiscally responsible program.

Ann and I had lunch one day after she had been in the district for a while. At the time, I was the Global Director of Partnerships for Whole Foods Market. I listened as Ann told me that she was inspired by the change that was happening at BVSD, but she was still frustrated by all of the other districts across the country that were serving less than stellar food. Of course, she had an idea—she wanted to take all of the knowledge that she had gained through transforming school lunch programs and open source it. She wanted to give it away for free so that the schools and districts that wanted to make a change, but didn’t know how, had the tools to do so. I was instantly sold and I wanted to help her make it happen.

Long story short, we presented the idea to all of the Whole Foods regions and they were just as on board as I was. And so began the first round of funding for The Lunch Box and the Food Family Farming Foundation (F3).

Like Ann’s journey, my path was changing too. After my third child was born, I decided to take some time off from working. I had been at Whole Foods for 11 years and worked very hard during the younger years of my first two children, so I quit my job and embraced motherhood…for about six months. Then Ann asked if would run the Foundation. I had promised my husband I would not consider work for minimum of 12 months, but Ann, as previously stated, can be pretty persuasive (a key skill in her ability to create change). So here I am, having been the Executive Director for the Foundation for just over a year now, and I’ve never been more excited about the work that I’m doing.

One thing that I felt very strongly about when I came aboard was that the name of the Foundation was not quite right. This foundation was born of Ann’s desire to help schools and to ensure that they had the tools to make change. Ann was missing from the F3 name, it was clear. The “Chef Ann Foundation” was an obvious choice, a fitting choice, and ultimately the choice we made. So the Chef Ann Foundation we now, and forevermore, are. Every time I say it, it reminds me of the strong, incredible woman who is not only my friend but also my inspiration; she doesn’t give up and she doesn’t give in.

As the Chef Ann Foundation celebrates our fifth anniversary this summer, we are so excited to acknowledge that our programming has reached over 1,792,080 children across the country. And thanks to a generous grant from The Colorado Health Foundation, we will be launching the next generation of The Lunch Box this August. Get ready for all the new information including expanded and updated content in procurement, management, salad bars, and breakfast. We have also partnered with Horizon/One Source, a popular k-12 food service software company, to build up our school recipe and menu planning section, and we are really excited that the Whole Kids Foundation has sponsored 50 new recipes that will launch with the new site.

There is so much more—We have been hard at work over the past year expanding our programming and developing tried and tested operational support materials to help make healthier school food an easier choice for schools.

We are at a pivotal time in our nation for school food reform. In true Chef Ann fashion, the Chef Ann Foundation is ready and excited to continue to move forward. Now more than ever we need to make our voices heard and do as Ann would do: not give up and not give in.

Mara Fleishman
Executive Director


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