Independent School Shares Data from a Self-Managed School Food Program via Beyond Green Partners

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When Nardin Academy in Buffalo, NY, brought their school food operation in-house, they uncovered community partnerships, environmental commitments, and an alternative revenue stream in addition to delicious, made-from-scratch foods.

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Nardin Today Fall 2013 cover for Sustainable Nardin

Nardin sold 25% less junk and was still able to earn revenue on the program.

During the 2013-2014 school year, Nardin Academy brought their foodservice operation in-house. The program was built using a sustainability strategy that the school created with the consultancy Beyond Green: Sustainable Food Partners.

The program at Nardin launched in September of 2013. The strategy will continue to be rolled out over the next four years. Data collected during year one of Sustainable Nardin is being released to show how independent schools can incorporate sustainable practices into a self-managed foodservice operation and consider alternative revenue strategies.

“We have been so pleased to offer our students fresh food that is scratch-cooked; good nutrition that fuels their bodies for their continued energy and focus throughout the day. Having the students understand the program and participate in a meaningful way provides them with learning that they can apply throughout their lives,” says Leslie Johnson, VP of Finance and Operations for Nardin Academy.

Nardin purchased reusable plates, cups, and utensils that were paid for, on average, after 58 uses in comparison to the cost of disposables. The school set up a waste-tracking system for recycling, compost, and landfill waste. Nardin now diverts 86% of its cafeteria waste. Staff continues to measure waste streams daily and tracks data for benchmarking future reduction goals.

The school found that reducing waste and eliminating kitchen inefficiencies allowed for the purchase of higher quality food and green products.

“When I did an initial assessment in 2013, I found that over 80% of the foods at Nardin were processed. This is typical of what I see in schools across America. They operate on variety, waste, and packaged foods with little culinary skill in the kitchen,” says Greg Christian, founder of Beyond Green.

Student tastings and surveys helped craft a scratch-cooked menu that brought more fresh food and flavors into the cafeteria, and Beyond Green helped hire a team that could cook from raw ingredients.

The school went from an operation that bought over 80% processed foods with half of sales coming from snacks and beverages, to an entirely made-from-scratch menu, where 74% of sales comes from well-balanced entrées.

“Most schools that I evaluate are selling about 50% processed, junk foods. Snacks and sugary beverages are a known moneymaker for schools. Nardin sold 25% less junk and was still able to earn revenue on the program—which now supports other sustainable activities,” says Christian.

Sales were double first-year projections, and the school found that the program also had a community impact. Six guest chefs from local restaurants cooked in support of the program. Seventh grade math classes worked with waste data. The chef visited classrooms to discuss nutrition, and students were surveyed on menu offerings. Conducting focus groups was also important for gathering parent feedback, which was largely enthusiastic.

“Each year Nardin has an annual auction event to raise money for the school. One segment of the event is called ‘Raise Your Paddle,’ which supports a chosen initiative. Last year we raised our paddles for the Sustainable Nardin project, focusing on kitchen equipment. We raised more money than any other initiative in the history of the auction,” says Johnson.

With a successful first year and additional funding, the Nardin Academy kitchen was renovated this past summer. They purchased a blast chiller for preparing fresh produce, which is obtained in season, frozen onsite, and used in the winter. A Learning Garden was also awarded through a grant the school received from the Captain Planet Foundation.

In year two of the self-managed program, Nardin Academy looks forward to integrating the garden and cafeteria into more curriculum and community projects, using food grown from the garden in the dining hall, and purchasing more local foods.

About:

Beyond Green is a foodservice consulting firm helping clients become more sustainable and health conscious in their operations. They run a local foodservice company in Chicago and offer a variety of educational programs. Greg Christian is a sustainability expert, speaker, and curriculum writer. Beyond Green is committed to changing the food system in America through a variety of holistic, customized service areas. They are a certified B Corporation.

Nardin Academy was founded in 1857. It is a private, independent Catholic school located in Buffalo, NY with Montessori and Elementary programs for boys and girls from 18 months through 8th grade, and a high school for young women.

"More than Food" is a documentary short about the Sustainable Nardin project. Additional data can be found here.

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