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Ventura District's Salad Bars Bear Fruit

The schools' healthy lunch program gets national attention, including a visit from a USDA official to the E.P. Foster campus.

October 15, 2003|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Eric Bost could have chosen any school in the country to kick off National School Lunch Week.

But the undersecretary for food and nutrition services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted youngsters at E.P. Foster Elementary School in Ventura to know their campus was something special.

Touting the school's farm-fresh salad bar and classroom lessons on food and diet, Bost promoted E.P. Foster on Tuesday as a shining example of nationwide efforts to boost nutrition education and help students develop healthier eating habits.

"Out of 150,000 schools across the country, this one would be hard to beat," Bost said shortly after stacking his lunch tray with fruits and vegetables from E.P. Foster's salad bar. "It's a wonderful opportunity to come here and highlight what they are doing."

What E.P. Foster and other Ventura campuses are doing cuts to the heart of a battle to keep children from growing up overweight and out of shape.

Over the last 2 1/2years, Ventura Unified School District officials have teamed with teachers and parents to establish salad bars in nine elementary school cafeterias, and plans are in the works to have them in all 17 elementary schools by June.

The district has complemented those programs with increased emphasis on school gardens and curriculum on food, health and physical fitness.

District leaders also have worked to develop ties with local farmers, providing an outlet for their produce at a time when many are being squeezed by plummeting prices and rising production costs.

"It's really surprising to me to see the amount of support and recognition we are getting," said Sandy VanHouten, director of child nutrition services for the Ventura district. "It's really cool and it shows what can be done when everybody is working toward the same end."

Bost said he was drawn to Ventura primarily because of its farm-to-school salad bar program, noting that the USDA funded pilot programs in five states last year aimed at improving fruit and vegetable consumption among the nation's schoolchildren.

But he got much more than a look at a salad bar.

The 50-year-old North Carolina native achieved celebrity status as he toured the school's gardens and watched youngsters grate cheese and slice peppers to make quesadillas as part of a nutrition lesson.

Youngsters crowded around him, asking for autographs. And they peppered him with questions about everything from his favorite vegetable to whether he has ever met President Bush.

For the record, Bost said green beans were his favorite, although he left a few on his lunch tray. And he said he knew the president quite well, having served as head of the Texas Department of Human Services when Bush was governor of that state.

Fifth-grade teacher Logan Culp had the honor of preparing a musical presentation for the undersecretary. His students belted out a rap song about the need for young people to have five servings a day of fruits and vegetables to fuel their bodies and minds.

Afterward, Bost answered students' questions: He doesn't have any pets. Apples are his favorite fruit. And his job is to oversee food services programs in schools and other venues across the country.

"So you decided to put the salad bar in our school?" 10-year-old Jaclyn Stout asked.

"No, it was the folks here who decided to put in the salad bar," Bost said, gesturing toward the Ventura school officials crowded in the classroom. "They made a wise decision."

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