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California School District Shifts to Serve 100% Organic Meals

sliced vegetable and fruits on board

Non-profit organization Conscious Kitchen recently shifted an entire California school district’s food supply chain to 100% organic.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) and Conscious Kitchen provided their first 100% USDA-certified organic weekly meal box on March 4, to children in West Contra Costa County with products purchased directly from local organic farms and suppliers.

The meal box program was a collaboration between Judi Shils, the founder and executive director of Turning Green (the parent organization of Conscious Kitchen), and WCCUSD food service director Barbara Jellison. Starting March 4, organic weekly meal boxes were provided for 22,000 families.

Shils helped start the food program at the first U.S. school district to go all-organic – California’s Sausalito Marin City School District – in 2015.

When asked in a recent interview with The Food Institute what inspired the shift to organic, Shils said, “We have to show what is possible, as most people don’t believe it until they see it in action…COVID created an opportunity and some flexibility to test the procurement side at scale and, once we were able to show that we could procure cost effectively, the district was inspired to use the box example.”

Shils noted that feedback from parents and students has been overwhelmingly positive.

Jellison approved an initial order of 130,000 pounds of organic produce for delivery on Nov. 5, 2020, which has continued each week since, totaling over 2.6 million pounds of organic food and produce, for 7.4 million meals, moving over $3.7 million dollars into the local economy as of March 4.

The meal boxes have evolved to include items such as organic ground beef, chicken, peanut butter, pinto beans, pasta, plant-based and dairy yogurt, and more.

The cost-effective, organic supply chain Counscious Kitchen is building is made possible by purchasing season produce, sourcing locally, and buying in bulk. To meet existing federal and state guidelines, the company leverages long-term relationships with farms and ranches and raises supplemental funds to build infrastructure, capture lessons, and create a blueprint for school districts to implement similar programs.

With a need and demand from families on the rise, the organic food boxes are slated to continue indefinitely.

“Being on site … for the first 100% organic box, we saw and felt the need and passion for healthy food for the families,” said Shils.