Two Grants for One Mississippi School District
Project Produce and Salad Bars to Schools grants transform Tupelo Public School District’s cafeteria culture
November 14, 2018 | By
It’s hard not to hear the excitement and enthusiasm in Donna Loden’s voice as she describes her work with Growing Healthy Waves and Tupelo Public School District (TPSD) in Tupelo, Mississippi.
“I’m really tenacious; once I lock onto a project and I’m passionate about something, I’m all in!” she professes.
Loden is a retired teacher from TPSD and a volunteer at Growing Healthy Waves, an initiative of the district dedicated to increasing children’s exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables. She is the pioneer behind the Project Produce and Salad Bars to Schools grants the Chef Ann Foundation awarded to the district in August 2016 and April 2017, respectively.
“When we got the salad bar funded, I got an email back from the Chef Ann Foundation on a Wednesday night, and I just let this scream go!” she recalls. “It was just a perfect circle; a circle of food.”
Since implementing these momentous changes in TPSD, Loden says the cafeteria culture has completely shifted. Five years ago, she says, the buzz word at school was always “nasty” in regards to vegetables.
When the district first started making these changes, adding salad bars and doing taste tests in schools, administrators released a survey to see if children’s attitudes towards fresh fruits and veggies had changed. Kids were asked to rate a piece of produce with one of the following statements: “Don’t like it,” “It’s okay,” “Like it,” or “Never tried it.” Loden remembers specifically how a group of third graders added a new category to the survey: “LOVE IT!”
“That spoke to me,” she says, “how a salad bar can affect children’s attitudes toward vegetables—having that emphasis on being able to provide them foods that they might not get at home.”
These days, children in TPSD can look forward to a garden tower, learning about hydroponics (a method of growing plants without soil using mineral nutrients in a water solvent) and finding new ways to incorporate growing vegetables. They’re even able to plant seeds in the district’s greenhouse.
“That was kind of amazing to a lot of kids; they had never planted a seed before. It’s a shame we live in one of the most fertile states in the nation, and there are a lot of kids that really do not know where their food comes from,” Loden says.
All of these educational pieces, along with the implementation of salad bars and nutrition awareness, have helped shape the state of TPSD’s school food system to date.
“It’s just fun to think of ways to get kids excited about what should rightfully be theirs anyway,” Loden says. “Chef Ann has been a part of that. I just have to give credit due to the people who have definitely helped us along the way.”