Local, organic lunches served at Richmond elementary school under pilot program

Lunch at Peres Elementary school in Richmond is unlike that of any other at most public schools in California.

The lunch Friday consisted of chicken drum stuck with barbecue sauce, corn bread, carrot salad and fresh fruit. Everything on the menu is fresh, organic and from local farms.

"This is really good. I love the corn bread. The broccoli. I love broccoli," said sixth grader Sonia Escobar.

This is a lot different than what these students used to get, and what most other students eat now.

"We used to get packaged food. It was really oily. Sometimes we'd ask what is this," said Sonia.

Pediatricians say the food at Peres is a lot healthier than what typically passes for school lunches.

"What kids eat really does matter. It changes how likely they are to perform well at school and perform on standardized tests. It changes how likely they are to get high blood pressure as an adult," said Dr. Alan Greene.

The students at Peres elementary are like guinea pigs in a pilot program run by the non-profit Conscious Kitchen. The idea is to see how well a healthy food program can work in a public school.

Peres was chosen because the students in general are low income.

"What we are trying to do is prove you can serve children fresh organic seasoned food every day. And it is cost effective because you are impacting their future," said Judi Shils, executive director of Conscious Kitchen.

The school hosted a special luncheon Friday to show off the program and build support for it.
Among the program's staunchest proponent is famed chef Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse.

"It smells good. So we are reaching children through their senses. This is the biggest picture we can give children of edible education," said Waters.

Conscious Kitchen says food costs are actually cheaper per meal than non-organic lunches.But labor costs are higher, about $1.20 per student per day higher which could be a barrier to the program long term.

"We have got to know what the food costs are. We've got to know what the labor costs are. But if we take it slow we can do it," said Matt Duffy, superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

The hope is that the school lunch program eventually can be expanded to every public school in California.