The daily lunchtime rotation at the Eagle Crest Elementary Cafeteria is in full swing. Seeing her classmates assembling at the doors, Sophia Asbury nevertheless takes time from her own lunch break to enthusiastically provide an overview of the school’s popular recent addition known as the Food Share Table. “Food Share Table is really fun,” she says, pointing out the various color-coded bins, and highlighting their importance. The red crate is for whole fruits, she notes, the blue for unopened packages. Unopened cold items, such as milk and yogurt, are placed in the cooler. The ‘rescued’ food is then opened up for shared use throughout the day, and beyond.
“First students who are still hungry can take extra food from the table,” Asbury explains. “Then teachers can use it, like for snacks for kids. Then the cafeteria takes what they can use the next day.” Throughout the day, a bin with rescued food is left out in the cafeteria during the day; teachers may send students to it for snacks at their discretion. While to this point Eagle Crest has been using all its extra food, Asbury shares the team’s vision of providing any future surplus to Boulder County’s BackPack Program, providing backpacks with non-perishable, child-friendly and nutritious food to children who are food insecure.
Eagle Crest Elementary is one of 47 schools in Boulder County known as Green Star schools, partnering with Eco-Cycle to move toward zero waste through increased recycling, composting, and special activities. Sophia, a fourth grader, is one of many of her school’s Green Star Ambassadors, students who voluntarily assist with supporting waste reduction efforts, often giving up recess time to set up, clean up, and assist with activities. Recently those activities have expanded to include supporting the Food Share Table, a pilot initiative that builds two-pronged awareness, simultaneously highlighting key issues of food insecurity and food waste.
Planning for the Food Share Table, students identified roles needed to keep things flowing seamlessly, such as setting up bins daily. They evaluated ways to improve cafeteria efficiency, determining a key cause of food waste being that, by the time kids got through the lunch line, they found themselves short on time to eat. To mitigate this, they created a visual menu board, allowing students to mentally make their selections while waiting in line, and speeding up the process. They developed spreadsheets for tracking food items. “We picked a graph template in Excel,” says fourth grader Ryan Courtney, A Green Star Ambassador in charge of tracking items along with peer Blake Gorr. “We put in the date, and name the items. Every day we go to the cafeteria to count. We set a timer to remember going.”
Before winter break, the Food Share Table Team worked tirelessly preparing presentations, first to be shared at grade-level, and finally school-wide at special grade-level assemblies along with one specifically for faculty. Assemblies focused on the importance of keeping food out of landfills, awareness of hunger and food insecurity, and how the program would work. All their efforts were—excuse the pun—not wasted in the slightest. Eagle Crest launched the Food Share Table upon students’ return from break on January 2. Within nine school days, they had already rescued 505 food items: 264 pieces of fruit, 61 packaged items, 199 cartons of milk, and 16 other cold food items, all untouched, unopened, and otherwise thrown away.
According to the USDA, food waste is estimated at 30-40 percent of the food supply. Such waste has far-reaching, deplorable significance impacting other pressing issues, notably food insecurity and environmental conservation. Here in Colorado, nearly one in six children live in households suffering from food insecurity. While it was of the greatest importance to Eagle Crest’s Mighty Mighty Food Share Table Team to develop awareness of the big picture issues, they were equally committed to doing their best to ensure there would be no stigma associated with taking the rescued food. “We talked as a school about hunger, and how everybody feels hunger,” Potter says. “About how that feels. This program has really brought in such a level of awareness and compassion.”
Touring the halls, cafeteria and classrooms of Eagle Crest, the thriving Food Share Table program is clearly not associated with stigma. It is a source of pride. “I made that poster,” one student says in the hallway, pointing and smiling as he walks by.” When numbers are shared over the intercom, announcing recused items, students buzz with excitement and a little disbelief, Potter says. “One day we rescued 308 oranges and one apple,” says Blake Gorr. “That’s really crazy! Before, when we didn’t have the Food Share Table, that’s probably about .50 per orange. That would really add up to a lot of money.”
What’s next for the Food Share Table team? Given the success of the pilot, chances are good they will be resuming their industrious work developing, or adapting, presentations before long. In the meantime, they continue to build upon and refine their operations. Menu cards are developed. The tracking spreadsheet is being revised to incorporate cost. The sign-up sheet showing student helpers brims with names falling off the page. “I personally think every school should have a Food Share Table and compost program,” says May Gherardi, one of the students to attend the food waste workshop with Potter back in September. Judging from the spirit that comes across in the posters, bulletins and displays throughout the building, the whole of the school community would agree.
*Please see this month’s issue of Longmont Magazine for the full article and more details on how this wonderful program evolved!