The Chef Ann Team Taught Me Tenacity
How One Parent Advocate Is Bringing Healthy Food to Her District
June 26, 2019 | By
Jodie Popma is a standout parent advocate in the healthy school food movement and a valued member of the community. Inspired to make a difference when she learned her son had a congenital digestive defect, Popma has been a mover and shaker for improving childhood nutrition ever since.
LEFT: Jodie Lindsay Popma, of Smart Food Made Simple, with her sons Sam and Max.
When she transitioned from a 16-year career at IBM to promote wellness full-time, reaching out to the Chef Ann Foundation (CAF) was a natural next step for Popma. She gained momentum right away when she received a CAF Project Produce grant for her school district, and hasn’t stopped since.
We spoke with Popma to learn more about how CAF helped launch her advocacy journey, the difference she’s made in St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD), and how she’s working with the community to pay it forward.
Why school food?
“When I had my second child in 2008, I learned that he had a congenital digestive defect,” Popma said. “My physician said he could not eat a standard American diet, so I started wondering about how children eat in this country and how I could make a difference.”
Connecting with CAF
Popma first learned about the Chef Ann Foundation when she decided to study holistic childhood nutrition in 2012. She purchased Chef Ann Cooper’s book, Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children, and was immediately hooked.
“It made so much sense,” Popma reflected, “and I wanted to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible to help make a change in my home district.”
Popma works with SVVSD in Longmont, a town just outside of Boulder, Colorado. She is also involved with the Chef Ann Foundation supporting parent advocacy.
“I help other parents who need courage and empowerment to start something in their district,” she explained. “I am working with them to say, ‘You can do this.’ It’s really about relationship-building and empowerment.”
“My third year of Harvest Days when we did 13 events at five schools. Most of those schools have a high population receiving free and reduced lunch. It all comes down to empowering kids to make healthy decisions.”
She started the project by applying for Project Produce, the Chef Ann Foundation’s fruit and veggie grant program designed to create experiential nutrition education in the cafeteria. The program provides funds to support food costs to incorporate school-wide fruit and vegetable tastings into school nutrition programs.
Once receiving and setting the Product Produce grant into motion, Popma set her attention on the district’s salad bars. “Even though [salad bars] were in the cafeterias, they were underutilized,” Popma reasoned. “I would ask the kids, ‘Why aren’t you using it?’ and they’d say, ‘Well, I don’t know how.’ They were a little intimidated by it.”
As a result, Popma gathered a team of volunteers to assist in teaching students how to use the salad bar. She also collaborated with the Boulder County Farmers Markets to bring fresh food to schools. By her third year, Popma had implemented the “Harvest Days” program at 13 separate events across five schools. The event included presentations on how featured produce is grown, from seed to harvest.
One tasting featured tomatoes of all different colors—purple, orange, yellow. Popma offered a child a tomato. His mother, who was visiting, replied for him: “He doesn’t like tomatoes.” Popma was amazed when, after explaining the purpose of Harvest Days as well as the sticker system for trying new bites, the child ate not just one tomato, but three!
“Making those kids feel like they are making choices on their own … is my biggest accomplishment,” Popma said.
Best advice you’ve been given
“The biggest thing is relationships. You don’t want to go in and ‘should’ all over people. Instead, you want to understand ‘where are they?’ Where are the gaps? And be helpful.”
Biggest challenge you’ve overcome
“A big challenge is navigating through the school district and parents.”
More specifically, educating other parents is a challenge.
“They come in with their own conception of what school food should be. They don’t know the rigor and process school districts have to follow to serve nutritious school food.”
Popma explained it’s important to know details like how many meals the district serves per day, what kind of kitchens they have (central, site-based, or a combination), and how many students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch.
How has CAF influenced your work?
“Even though I’ve heard ‘no’ a lot in my district, the tenacity that the CAF team has taught me has empowered me to do more.”
Now, in addition to her work in SVVSD, Popma teaches nutrition to preschoolers, is involved with the Boulder County Farmers Markets, and works at a food pantry.
“I plan to continue working with under-resourced families in Boulder County and teaching parents how to make small changes to support better nutrition for their kids,” Popma said.
Her current project is the Farm to Table kid’s luncheon at the Boulder County Fair.
“As fair food is typically junk food, to be able to offer locally sourced, nutritious options will make a big difference for our community.”
The next big issue she plans to tackle? Supporting Michelle Obama’s school food efforts.
“The nutritional standards the Obama Administration put in place ensure students eat more nutrient-dense food at school. This is important because when kids eat food that feeds their whole body, their brains function optimally. Students learn better, teachers educate better, and we all benefit from this cycle.”
To Popma, all we can say is: Keep the momentum going!