The Conscious Kitchen

 The Conscious Kitchen is dedicated to a systemic transformation of school dining, to the health and well being of our children, and to a thriving future for our planet.

Teens Turning Green launched the Conscious Kitchen as a pilot program at Bayside Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy in Marin City, California in August 2013. We set out to break the cycle of unhealthy, pre-packaged, overly processed, heat and serve food, by introducing, preparing, and serving scratch cooked food with integrity to 160 students, staff, and faculty for breakfast and lunch each day.  

The Conscious Kitchen is rebuilding school food systems based on our values and six foundational terms: Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, non-GMO (FLOSN’). This program does not stop at the dining hall. Through a robust complimentary curriculum, students are challenged to be environmental stewards through lessons built around the principles of gardening, environmental education, local food systems, nutrition, and cooking. The program unites a diverse community of stakeholders working toward a common goal – nourishing children, while educating both students and families about healthy food choices, culinary basics, nutrition fundamentals, gardening practices, and overall health and wellness.

 

How is The Conscious Kitchen Unique?

Strict criteria for all food
TCK is the first school food program to maintain an uncompromising set of food standards. All food must be fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and non-GMO.

Working within existing structures 
TCK makes use of existing kitchen staff and uses USDA meal reimbursements to cover food costs.

Strong partnerships and community involvement
Relationships within the school and in the broader community prompt collaboration and strengthen the food web.

Daily scratch-cooked meals from an on-site kitchen
A fully-equipped, on-site kitchen allows students to connect to their food and the staff that prepares it.

A dedicated head chef and team 
A chef and kitchen staff prepare all meals and create a welcoming space that emphasizes the importance of sustainable, healthy, and nourishing food.

Local chef partner
Justin Everett, the acclaimed chef at Cavallo Point Lodge, consults on menus, opens doors to strategic partnerships, and mentors students in his restaurant.

Conscious Kitchen Ambassadors
Through the CK Ambassadors program, student leaders work with the head chef to develop menus, offer feedback from their peers, and develop culinary skills.

Food literacy and education 
The Conscious Kitchen incorporates a comprehensive garden and nutrition program to give students practical tools and instill food literacy.

Background

Marin City sits at the southern most tip of Marin County, California – lush and abundant land that is rich in organic farms, ethical food purveyors, and conscious citizenry. The Sausalito Marin City school district is unique in this community, comprised of 160 students 95% of whom qualify for free and reduced meals. Like too many children in public schools across our county this underserved population was fed processed, pre-packaged meals that lacked proper nutrition and taste – and led to massive food waste.

To bring this program to life, Teens Turning Green partnered with Executive Chef Justin Everett of Cavallo Point Lodge and Good Earth Natural Foods. With tremendous support from school district leadership, teachers, and students, this unprecedented pilot has united businesses, purveyors, farmers, and community members to ensure success. At the start, TTG raised funds to transition the Bayside MLK kitchen from heat-and-serve to one in which the culinary team could scratch cook more than 300 meals per day. The team wrote menus, purchased equipment, and secured purveyors and partners who believed in and supported the vision and mission of this program, most importantly, the students, who are assuming active roles as stakeholders in the food system.

The Conscious Kitchen has transformed the culture of this school, built community that did not exist before, and instilled leadership values amongst students, self-esteem, and manners. In just a year, this program is self-sustaining, wildly successful, and fully integrated into the school, markedly improving the culture in the dining hall and beyond.Teachers have reported increased leadership qualities exhibited by students; improved academic performance; a 67% decrease in disciplinary cases; and an increase in attendance. Teachers have also observed students treating one another with respect, improved manners and open communication. For the first time, students and staff are coming together to share meals, an experience that fosters genuine interaction and trust in the dining hall and beyond.

 

Mentorship

The Conscious Kitchen (CK) Ambassadors Program has been a tremendous success, wherein student leaders craft menus and participate in hands-on food preparation and service. The program rethinks the role of a student from passive recipient to active, empowered decision-maker. Eager to leave a mark on the kitchen and further personal understanding of sustainable food, this core group of ambassadors also has the distinguished opportunity to work in the 5-star kitchen of our CK partner, Executive Chef Justin Everett of Cavallo Point Lodge. They join Justin and his staff each week, building professional and technical skills; many of them are now excited by a bright future as a professional chef.

 

Looking Ahead

The Conscious Kitchen has proven that it is possible to provide nourishing, sustainable school meals on budget, while supporting the health and well being of the children, and strengthening local school communities. We aim to expand this program – an unprecedented opportunity for deserving youth – and demonstrate to leaders in similar communities around the world that we can and must serve fresh, local, organic, seasonal, non-GMO, zero waste, scratch-cooked food that exceeds USDA nutritional guidelines and is achievable within conventional budgets. The Conscious Kitchen is living proof.

While schools vary in size, economics, and structure, the core elements for success are universal. With intent, collaboration, and community participation, the Conscious Kitchen practices and protocols are easily replicable. This program has established a framework for education and systemic change with food as the catalyst. Our first site at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy serves as an incubator and test kitchen – and we are starting to build from there. We have partnerships with organizations including Friends of the Earth, The Organic Center, Environmental Working Group, Grace Communications, Moms Across America and others to spread the word and teach the lessons learned. Our intent is to change the way children are fed and ensure health and well being.

 

Gratitude

Special thanks to Bayside, Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy students, staff and faculty, Good Earth Natural Foods, Executive Chef Justin Everett and Cavallo Point, Whole Foods Market, the farmers and purveyors throughout Marin County, funders and the incredible community supporting this unprecedented journey to change the world.

 

Video recap after the first 6 months of CK: Bayside MLK Academy:

Video at the launch of CK: Bayside MLK Academy