Healthier lunches from the ground up: City Academy students operate their own garden and food store
Before this year, healthy eating didn’t mean much to Melissa Powell, a junior at City Academy in Salt Lake City.
She ate where it was convenient — the nearby McDonald’s or chips and soda from the gas station.
But now you will find her eating sushi made with organic vegetables, fresh fruit smoothies and other healthy items available to students at the school through a student-run lunch “store” dubbed City Academy Creations.
Schools all over the nation are making efforts to become healthier through vending choices and healthy breakfast and lunch options. And when City Academy, a charter school, moved to its new building downtown, it chose to ditch the vending machines altogether and provide its own healthy affordable goods.
The school recently received a $1,350 Community Garden Grant from the state health department to establish what the school calls a “full circle garden” that will contribute to the school’s store.
Spearheaded by Shea Wickelson, the school’s food science teacher, the garden is run by students who cultivate tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and strawberries to sell in the school store for lunch.
And the students are the chefs, farmers and marketers — hence the name “full circle.”
When the store first opened, it sold out. Since then, about 20 to 30 students visit the store at lunchtime each day.
“Not all kids really understand the importance of healthy eating, but they get lunch from the store because it’s right there, it’s good and it’s affordable,” said Nirvana Huntington, a junior at the school who also helped create the store.
Wickelson said the key to success is price and convenience. A sushi roll goes for a mere $1.50, and a fruit smoothie is only a buck. The store also sells things like squash and lentil soup, fresh fruits and apple pie. What students don’t grow themselves, they buy with the proceeds.
“It’s so much fun to be in (the kitchen) and working,” said Toni Albam, a seventh-grader. “It gives you some responsibility and job experience — it’s pretty cool.”
“I just think it’s a really great opportunity to have kids think about where food is coming from — to think about what’s in their food and be on another side of those choices and have them be faced with that sort of decisionmaking,” Wickelson said.
Students also have learned how to run cost analyses, nutritional analyses and create food business models. The students decide what to sell, what to charge and how much profit they make — which also covers supplies needed for the food science classes.
“For me it’s about the kids doing authentic work — where they learn not just about something but by actually doing something — it is deeper kind of learning,” Wickelson said.