Califonia Bountiful

Cycling for salad

July/August 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Annual Tour de Fresh ride puts salad bars into schools

Serjio Sanchez, who works for Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms, hits the road with Tour de Fresh each summer to raise money for school salad bars. Photo: © 2017 Richard Green

Serjio Sanchez ate salad for the first time as a freshman in high school.

A baseball player who was weary of stuffing himself with hamburgers and french fries before games, Sanchez spotted the salad bar in the Watsonville High cafeteria and decided to give a lighter lunch a try.

Turns out it was love at first bite for Sanchez, who now not only works in the produce business, but each summer gets on a bicycle to raise money to help put salad bars into school districts across the country.

Research shows that when schools have salad bars, such as the one in the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District in Sacramento County, students eat more fruits and vegetables. Photo: courtesy Tour de Fresh

On the road to health

Since 2014, people in the produce business have participated in Tour de Fresh, a fundraising event in which cyclists of varying skill levels take to the open road for a three-day ride covering hundreds of miles. Each participant is asked to raise a specified amount of money beforehand—$3,500 in 2017—which includes the cost of installing salad bar equipment at one school, plus a little extra to help cover any participants who may fall short of their fundraising goal.

"Growing up, my family did not eat salad, so being able to support putting salad bars into schools is awesome," Sanchez said. "I would want my 3-year-old son, Benjamin, to have salad bars at the schools he's going to go to one day. That's why I ride and will continue to ride in the Tour de Fresh. If schools don't have salad bars, they should know we are working on getting them one."

Sanchez, who played minor-league professional baseball as a shortstop in the Florida Marlins (now the Miami Marlins) system, turned out to be a perfect fit for Tour de Fresh. He rides 100 to 120 miles a week year-round and works in sales for California Giant Berry Farms, a Watsonville-based grower and shipper of mixed berries.

Tour de Fresh is presented by the company's nonprofit organization, The California Giant Foundation, which focuses on projects related to childhood obesity and hunger, school nutrition and community development. The ride raises funds to benefit the Salad Bars to Schools initiative, aimed at increasing students' consumption of fruits and vegetables by donating salad bars to schools nationwide

"On so many levels, the Tour de Fresh is so powerful," registered dietitian Lorelei DiSogra said at the Monterey finish line of the 2016 event. "I love that it's not a race; it's a ride. I'm sure it's an incredible bonding experience for the riders. They meet new people who also want to increase kids' consumption of fruit and vegetables. I'm really in awe."

DiSogra just retired as vice president of nutrition and health at the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, D.C. That organization, along with Chef Ann Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, and Whole Foods Market, founded Salad Bars to Schools in 2010.

"We have collectively donated salad bars to more than 5,000 schools nationwide," DiSogra said. "More than 1,200 of those salad bars have gone to schools in California."

DiSogra said Salad Bars to Schools is driven by the goal to have salad bars one day become the norm in all school cafeterias. With demand for salad bars high, and the costs of installing the special equipment often unmanageable for districts, there are hundreds of U.S. schools on the organization's waiting list at any given time.

"There is a lot of research that shows when schools have salad bars, students eat more fruits and vegetables, and because the salad bar has a wide variety with seasonal changes throughout the school year, students get introduced to new fruits and vegetables," DiSogra said. "When schools have salad bars, they are improving the healthfulness of the school food environment."

Thanks to Tour de Fresh, Learning for Life Charter School in Monterey County got a new salad bar just in time for the start of the 2016-17 school year. Students Amya Johnson, top left, and Sarina Avila, right, say they appreciate the healthier lunch options. Photos top left and right: © 2017 Richard Green. Photo bottom left: courtesy Tour de Fresh

Fueling hungry minds

Through the end of 2016, Tour de Fresh had raised more than $494,000 for Salad Bars to Schools, putting more than 150 salad bars into U.S. schools. Learning for Life Charter School for grades 7-12, located in Marina, not far from California Giant Berry Farms, is one school that has benefited.

"Receiving this salad bar is huge for our school because most of our students are low-income," said Executive Director Kenneth Lawrence-Emanuel. "Regardless of socio-economic status, seventh- to 12th-graders are always hungry. In order to teach them, you have to feed them."

Learning for Life received its salad bar delivery a few weeks after Tour de Fresh ended, just in time for the start of the 2016-17 school year. The school has not only used it as a salad bar, but also as a baked potato bar and taco bar for special events. Lawrence-Emanuel said its impact was immediate.

"It's really helped us elevate our food game," he said. "The students rush the salad bar. There is an assumption that all kids want to eat meat and carbohydrates, but we see that the students are wanting salads, vegetables and fruit. A salad bar is so flexible and appealing—it's been great to facilitate healthier food choices through it."

With a goal of raising $3,500 per person, riders in this year's Tour de Fresh will begin their journey in Pismo Beach on July 25. The roughly 50 participants—including produce growers, shippers, packers and vendors—will ride northward until crossing the finish line in Monterey three days and 191 miles later.

Riders raise funds through their own individual profiles detailed on the Tour de Fresh website and are provided with resources to help them reach out to friends, family members and the public to achieve their fundraising goals.

Serjio Sanchez says he's encouraged by how his own healthy habits have influenced his son, Benjamin. Photo: © 2017 Richard Green

A lifelong impact

Participant Raina Nelson will once again fly to California—with her bicycle—from her home in Clearwater, Fla. Vice president of sales for Renaissance Food Group, a fresh-food manufacturer based in the Sacramento area, Nelson first found out about the event from a colleague who knew she rode.

Unlike Sanchez, Nelson said none of the schools she attended while growing up in Florida had a cafeteria salad bar.

"It's amazing when you think about it, because salad bars are such a great way to introduce healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables into kids' diets on a daily basis," Nelson said. "But I was lucky that I ate salad at home. The rule in my household was: You must eat something green at every meal."

Schedule and weather permitting, Nelson logs about 60 miles a week to prepare for Tour de Fresh. She called the inaugural 340-mile ride from Monterey to Anaheim in 2014 the hardest athletic challenge she ever faced, but also the most rewarding. She has ridden in every Tour de Fresh since: from Hickory, N.C., to Atlanta in 2015 and from Napa to Monterey in 2016.

"The camaraderie coupled with the common cause of the entire group sparked a deeper love of cycling for me," Nelson said. "The cause also fuels my passion for produce and to instill healthy eating habits in today's youth. Providing salad bars in schools is a wonderful platform for children to develop healthy habits that can last a lifetime."

For Sanchez, seeing firsthand how his own lifelong healthy habits have had an impact on his young son confirms how important it is to provide all kids the same opportunity. Making healthy choices starts but doesn't end at the dinner table or school cafeteria, he's learned.

"We were in the produce section at the grocery store recently, and Benjamin grabbed a bunch of broccoli and started eating it right there in the store," Sanchez said. "The produce guy came over and said, 'Most kids open up bags of chips or candy. You must be doing something right. That broccoli's on the house.'"

Kirsten Fairchilds

Cycling through the numbers

17: Percentage of U.S. children and adolescents who are obese

3x: Increase in obesity rates among children and adolescents since 1980

6.25 to 10: Weekly lunchtime servings of fruit and vegetables for schoolchildren specified by USDA guidelines, depending on grade

5.8: Percentage of adolescents who meet recommended daily servings of vegetables, according to one study

$3,150: Price of equipment for one school salad bar

$494,000: Total raised for Salad Bars to Schools by Tour de Fresh

150+: Salad bars placed in U.S. schools thanks to Tour de Fresh

865: Miles covered by Tour de Fresh since 2014

2,494,500: Students served by Salad Bars to Schools so far

Sources: Salad Bars to Schools and Tour De Fresh. Tour de Fresh totals do not include results from the 2017 ride.

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest