The Organic School Project

Project founder Greg Christian and friends.

The Organic School Project is a pilot program in Chicago public schools that is designed to teach kids how to make healthy choices. Giving children this essential skill can aid them in preventing such problems as childhood obesity, food-related allergies and many other health issues.

The Conscious Caterer

Greg Christian of Greg Christian Catering in Chicago, Illinois, is the pioneer behind the Organic School Project. This program was established to help combat childhood obesity as well as to teach children about the foods they eat.

Recently, LoveToKnow was able to interview Josephine Lauer Washuk, Organic School Project Director of Programs, about the project, the results they are seeing and how this program can be started in other schools.

About the Organic School Project

The Organic School Project (OSP) seeks to transform American school-aged children into healthy, more mindful eaters, one school and one child at a time. It was founded by Greg Christian, a Chicago professional chef with more than 20 years experience. It began as a result of witnessing his daughter's health battle with severe allergies and asthma.

OSP strives to combat health epidemics such as childhood obesity, early onset type II diabetes and behavioral problems through an integrated wellness system model for schools. This model provides the foundation for a sustainable lifestyle, connecting youth with the earth and enabling them to make more positive choices for themselves as well as for the planet.

Three Components

The OSP model is comprised of three major components, simplified by the trademarked tagline: Grow. Teach. Feed.

  • Grow: OSP reconnects children with their food sources through school and community organic gardens.
  • Teach: OSP teaches children nutrition, mindfulness and environmental stewardship through an integrated wellness curriculum.
  • Feed: OSP feeds More Positive Foods ™ through the school's food service system. OSP meals are made from scratch, using organic and natural ingredients, and are sourced locally when seasonally available.

How it All Began

Greg Christian's youngest daughter, Britha, battled chronic allergy-induced asthma for many years. Like many asthmatic children and their families, the Christians followed regimented medical treatment plans but still lived precariously from attack to attack. Eventually they decided to try alternative medicine and an all-organic diet.After 10 years of organic eating, Britha's asthma attacks are now no more than a vivid, but distant memory. In addition, her overall health has improved to such a degree that her diet now includes organic versions of many foods once guaranteed to prompt an attack, such as eggs.

Britha's experience not only changed her health but opened Greg's eyes to the power of understanding food. "I developed a general rule of thumb", says Christian, "that the less machine-touched, the less machine-processed the food, the healthier it is and the more it will help the body."

Giving Back

Greg wanted to give back to society, so he founded the Organic School Project. He thought executing it in Chicago Public Schools would reach the most at-risk kids, those who need More Positive Foods ™ the most. Greg could have chosen to work with Oak Park High School, where his children go, or even to provide the OSP model to his children and his children's friends. Instead, he opted to offer the opportunity to help other people's children.

Greg began a lengthy process to find schools that believed in his mission and idea and were willing to implement it. He encountered many negative responses as principals, administrators and officials turned down his offer to bring OSP to their schools.

The Right Answer

In the winter of 2005, Dave Domovic, the principal of Louisa May Alcott School in Lincoln Park, called Greg and provided the words that he had been waiting to hear: "come to my school". OSP began by offering nutrition-based curriculum, facilitated by dietetic interns from Loyola University, on a monthly basis to all classes. OSP started the plans to build an organic vegetable garden, and soon thereafter four beds were constructed. Alcott continued with the Grow and Teach components from 2004 through the 2006 school year.In order to implement the Feed part of the model, OSP would have to sub-contract with Chartwells-Thompson, the food service management company that had the food service contract for most of the Chicago school system, including Alcott school. OSP and CT met numerous times with the district's Director of Logistics/Food Services and Warehousing, Sue Susanke. It took a year of discussions, ranging from insurance to staffing to production, before OSP and Chartwells-Thompson signed a contract February 9, 2007.

The Final Step

The contract was the final step for OSP to move forward and implement Feed at Alcott. OSP created menus with Chartwells-Thompson's guidance, procured products and even partnered with another food service management company, FSP/Ceres Group, in order to handle and cook raw protein items such as poultry and meat, which was recommended by the school district and the food-service company so as not to have the union-paid cafeteria employees handle the raw proteins.On April 9, 2007, following the spring break, OSP began serving More Positive Foods ™ at Alcott for breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack to approximately 410 students and teachers.

More Positive Foods ™

Greg came up with the term More Positive Foods ™, now trademarked, to describe such foods that are "whole foods, or foods defined as those without additives, preservatives, hormones, pesticides and other chemicals and/or food made from human hands and/or the less machine touched foods possible." He realized that to use the word "healthy" was to insult the companies and corporations that they worked with, because according to the USDA standards, the foods they serve are "healthy."They hit the nutritional guidelines, which vary between age groups, but in general consist of reaching minimum values for:

  • Calories
  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

As long as they reach the minimums, they are fine. This means it is OK to be above calories by 100 calories, 300 calories, even 800 calories, as long as they provide the minimum. Additionally, as long as 30 percent of calories or less are from fat, and 10 percent or less from saturated fat, the food they are serving is acceptable. Nothing is regulated for sodium, sugar, fiber and cholesterol, and the source of ingredients is not regulated either.

School Project Goals

The first pilot program ended with the arrival of summer vacation 2007 at Alcott school. It was intended to expand the program to three schools the following August. Instead, the Chicago Public Schools Director of Food Services announced that the program would not be continued.

Now OSP is working to implement its program in other schools with the hope of building its model in at least five schools. Ideally the program will continue for three years, with doctors' evaluations on its effects on test scores, body mass index, behavior and self-esteem.

If you are interested in learning how you can help implement this program in your school district, just call the Organic School Project at 312-257-6800. You can also check out their site for more information.

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The Organic School Project