Conscious Kitchen is a program of Turning Green, a student led global movement advocating for healthy food, safer products, and ethical businesses.
In partnership with Executive Chef Justin Everett of Cavallo Point Lodge, the Sausalito Marin City School District, and Good Earth Natural Foods, Conscious Kitchen launched its first pilot school in 2013 at Bayside MLK Academy in Marin City. This unincorporated, low-income area is nestled in one of the most affluent counties in the United States. More than 95% of Marin City students qualify for free-and-reduced government-subsidized school meals.
Although Marin County is teaming with organic farms and ethical food purveyors, Marin City and its schools are in a food-insecure neighborhood. Conversely, 58% of 5th graders at Bayside-MLK Academy in Marin City are overweight or at risk of obesity.
In 2015, Conscious Kitchen (CK) expanded to its second site, Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito, forming the nation’s first 100% organic, non-GMO school district. Both schools continue to own and operate their self-sustaining Conscious Kitchen food programs.
• It’s unique and unprecedented.
• It operates on these guiding terms for how food is procured; Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, Nutritious, Zero Waste (FLOSNZ).
• Strong commitment to garden, nutrition, culinary and zero waste education.
• Meals are scratch-cooked daily in an on-site kitchen.
. Fully operable kitchens invite students to participate actively in the process.
• A dedicated Head Chef and kitchen team at each school prepare FLOSNZ meals, create a welcoming dining hall, and underscore the importance of sustainable, healthy and nourishing food.
• Each school site partners with a respected local professional chef to mentor staff and students, bringing expertise and professional development.
• Partnerships with and direct purchasing from organic farmers, ranchers and purveyors engenders collaboration, best pricing, and strengthens the local food web.
• CK’s Ambassadors Program inspires student leaders to move from passive participants to active collaborators, working with the chef to develop menus, prep and serve food, and offer peer-to-chef feedback to help strengthen the program.
• Food literacy through Garden, Nutrition & Culinary Curriculum to engage students and families in a deeper appreciation and understanding around the journey of food from farm to table.
While schools vary in size, economics, and structure, the core elements for this program’s success are universal. The program has established a framework for education and systemic change to be replicated in schools across the nation.
To Ensure Student Health
All children have the right to healthy food. Conventional school lunches are high in hydrogenated fats, sugars and overly processed ingredients. Students exposed to such foods over long periods of time experience higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other preventable chronic illnesses.
To Bring Real Food Back to Schools
It’s time for schools to take responsibility for feeding students healthy, sustainable food. CK helps parents, administration, teachers, students and school staff build capacity, and become agents for positive change instead of following the status quo.
To Support Ecological Agriculture
Organic agriculture supports a diversified food system that is not reliant on toxic pesticides, herbicides or genetic modification. Ecological agriculture strengthens and nourishes soil, improves biodiversity, provides essential habitat for pollinators, reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial agriculture, and is more resilient during droughts.
To Empower Students as Active Participants
Students develop feelings of ownership and responsibility for their school food, while becoming engaged and motivated as advocates for their own health.
To Develop Food Literacy
CK integrates garden, nutrition, and cooking into curriculum. Many students leave school with competency in reading, writing, math and science, but far too few understand how to plant, grow, cultivate, harvest, and prepare fresh, healthy, sustainably grown food. The program also helps students understand the social, cultural and historical relevance of food.
To Support Local Economies
According to the USDA Farm to School Census, every dollar given to a local farmer or rancher generates, on average, an additional $1.00 in local economic activity. Studies also show that increased organic agriculture reduces poverty and increases household incomes. Organic agricultural hotspots (i.e., clusters of counties with positively correlated high numbers of organic operations) lead to lower county-level poverty rates and a higher median household income.
To Strengthen Community
When communities unite around feeding students healthy food, they ensure that the program’s impact extends beyond the school dining hall. Cross sector community support is a crucial component of a self-sustaining school food program.
Because You Can
We started Conscious Kitchen to prove that fresh, local, organic, seasonal food prepared in zero waste kitchens and dining halls is an attainable goal for every school. Through hard work, intention, and a dedicated team, this way of thinking can be a reality in schools across our country. One voice is all it takes to start.
Food: Average food cost per meal
– Breakfast: $1.24
– Lunch: $1.58
Labor: Conscious Kitchen’s model requires approximately one kitchen worker per 100 students, in addition to the head chef. Staffing costs vary by region and are dependent on union considerations, current skillsets, as well as comparable local salaries.
Schools may combine paid lunch fees, USDA meal reimbursements, district discretionary funds, foundation, corporate and individual donations (in-kind or cash).
At the pilot school, Bayside MLK, Jr. Academy in Marin City, the student lunch price has stayed the same. At the second CK site, Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito, the school recently raised the lunch price from $3.75 to $4.75, with parent support. Nearly all children at Peres K – 8 in West Contra Costa Unified School District qualify for free and reduced priced lunch. Teachers pay $5.00 for Conscious Kitchen school lunches at Willow Creek Academy. At Peres K-8 in Richmond, teachers pay $4 for lunch.
• Intentional and supportive Superintendent and School Board
• A strong Head Chef to ensure the integrity of the program
• Partnership with high-profile local professional chef to consult on menus, open doors to strategic partnerships, leverage preferred pricing with vendors and mentor students
• Committed students, parents, faculty, and staff
Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, Nutritious, Zero Waste the guiding terms that guide all food purchases. These terms serve as the foundation for the program and define a commitment to nourishing students with healthy, ethically sourced, and sustainably grown food. For more information, click here.
Chefs in onsite school kitchens is a central feature of CK’s model.
Chefs in onsite school kitchens contribute to:
–food and nutrition literacy,
–culinary skill building, and
–a healthy, safe, engaging, supportive school environment as recommended by the Whole Child Initiative.
However, onsite school kitchens may not be feasible at every school site due to space or financial limitations. Even if every school site in a large school district can have an onsite kitchen, that will take time. Thus, it’s imperative to address and plan for equitable access to healthy food across school districts as part of the scaling model.
Conscious Kitchen envisions three delivery models: (1) Chefs in Kitchen; (2) Container Kitchens; and (3) Central kitchens and/or “hub & spoke” distribution (depending on district size).
For example, Boston Public Schools is piloting a hub and spoke distribution model in East Boston. There, meals are made from scratch, with fresh ingredients, in a newly renovated kitchen at East Boston High School, paid for by a family foundation. In addition to feeding students at the high school, fresh meals are delivered to three neighborhood elementary schools that lack full-service kitchens. This “hub and spoke” distribution model worked so well this past spring that the schools department agreed to extend the pilot through Fall 2017, expanding its frequency from one day a week to all five beginning in September.
The hub and spoke model, or a central kitchen redesign, where most of the food prep is done in the central or hub kitchen, and finishing is completed on school sites, in what can be a very simple completion kitchen, allows for:
–involvement of students and school community in the school food program,
–reusable serveware and utensils (i.e., less waste),
–scaling, while also ensuring equitable access to fresh healthy food, even within large school districts.
Yes. The program is designed to be replicated in all schools for all children. Our first school (MLK Academy in Marin City) is a Title 1 school; that program has been successful and self sustaining since launching in 2013. The second school, Willow Creek Academy (WCA), is a public charter in Sausalito, and includes both paying and reimbursed students. WCA launched in 2015 and has been successfully operating as a self-sustaining program since that date. Both schools allocate a small portion of their operating budget towards the school food program, to account for costs in excess of government reimbursements and paid meals.
Yes. CK’s team will work with each partner school to help identify local farmers, ranchers, and purveyors to ensure FLOSNZ criteria.
Yes. The program meets USDA NSLP nutritional guidelines.
Yes. Prior to the Conscious Kitchen program at Willow Creek Academy, 120 students on government subsidized free & reduced meal (FRM) programs were eating school lunches.
Within the first week of the CK program in 2015/16, 280 students (FRM + paid students) were eating, creating a more equitable school food environment. That number has increased throughout ensuing years.
The time-frame required to start Conscious Kitchen depends on the school’s capacity to gather the necessary data to complete the application process, as well as time needed to refurbish the kitchen; establish a supply chain; reallocate, hire and train staff; identify and build local community-based partnerships; as well as engage teachers, staff, and parent volunteers. Schools should anticipate at least a six month process. We suggest that the program begins with the start of school in August/September.
Start up costs consist of refurbishing a school kitchen & training a kitchen staff in large batch, scratch cooking.
Kitchen infrastructure costs
The infrastructure required for scratch cooking consists of a fully equipped and functional kitchen, reusable serve-ware, utensils and zero waste station set up. The range of costs is dependent on the size of the school, number of students, current school kitchen footprint, available equipment and regional capital and labor costs. Oftentimes local businesses and volunteers will donate equipment as well as time towards building school kitchens. The transition of the first two Conscious Kitchen school kitchens (Bayside MLK Academy in Marin City and Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito) cost $40k and $50k respectively.
Given the many variables to consider, full kitchen transition costs can range widely: $50k – $1,000,000.
Training kitchen staff
Training the Head Chef and kitchen staff is crucial to the success of the program, to ensure integrity, functionality and best practices are followed. Conscious Kitchen’s team provides technical support and in-house training or, retraining of staff, (including union staff for schools in public school systems), to transition skills from heat and serve to scratch cooking. This process builds culinary skills and a positive working environment for school food service teams, which often struggle with hiring and employee retention. Training costs vary depending upon present staff skillsets and needs.
There are many ways to get involved with Conscious Kitchen!
We are always looking for more volunteers in our gardens and kitchens. Check out our volunteer page here.
If you are interested in job opportunities, our up-to-date listings are posted here.
Conscious Kitchen could not exist without the generous support of partners and donors. Your support will allow our groundbreaking work to change the way we are nourishing our children and caring for our land. It is easy to donate here.
Partnership or Apply:
For partnership inquiries or if you are a school or parent interested in applying, please contact Judi Shils at firstname.lastname@example.org
CK provides initial services, to help a school establish a program, as well as ongoing services to help a school maintain a program.
Initial services include planning; school board and committee presentations; operations guidance (menus & recipes, quality control, vendor relations, purchasing guidelines, staffing considerations and training); school kitchen transition assessment and feasibility evaluation; community stakeholder and strategic partnership development; garden, nutrition and culinary education; building local, organic supply chain (farm-to-school direct purchasing); and fundraising guidance.
Ongoing services include ongoing menu and recipe support; ongoing chef development; garden, nutrition curriculum development; CK Ambassador leadership program support; support in program evaluation/feedback; and fundraising guidance.
Fees are dependent on school size and services required.