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The School Food Tour: Pedaling for School Nutrition
By Imelda March
Date: 1/21/2011
The School Food Tour: Pedaling for School Nutrition

Sara Salo Photo © Bill Warburton

The School Food Tour (SFT) is a self-supported, coast-to-coast bicycle tour that aims to encourage students to advocate for more wholesome school meals. The organization plans to engage young individuals through classroom sessions, farm visits, and group bike rides along a 6,000-mile route.

Sara Salo, SFT 'Spokes'-woman, holds a masters in public health from Oregon State University and is a lifelong cyclist with a passion for teaching youth about healthy living.

When we heard about this advocacy group we jumped at the opportunity to reach out, learn more about it, and share the news with our readers.

Daily Peloton: What made you want to get on your bike and trek through good 'ol USA?

Sara : As a lifelong cyclist, I wanted to integrate my passion for two-wheeled travel into a comprehensive youth wellness initiative.

During my public health graduate studies, in which I concentrated in health promotion, I had the fantastic opportunity to work with school food reform innovators at the s’Cool Food Initiative in Santa Barbara, CA. This experience inspired me to pursue a career promoting the provision of healthy school food for all students. However, as I considered employment options, the knowledge that eating wholesome food is only one component of healthy living kept me searching for all-inclusive programs.

My background as a cyclist, exercise physiologist, and elite level cross-country ski coach kept me wondering: How could I incorporate physical activity into a healthy school food program? A few serendipitous conversations with experienced bike tourers planted the seed for the School Food Tour concept and it has rapidly evolved over the past few months into a substantial initiative.

The ambitiously broad scope of the Tour route will attract substantially more media attention toward the need for healthier school lunches than riding across a single state or county. Raising public awareness about how individuals can support the creation of health-supportive school environments is a top priority of the Tour. Furthermore, my national route will pass through and engage regions of the country that suffer from a high level of health disparities and are in particular need of health programming. Along with inspiring school food reform, riding the entire length of the country (and then some) will turn attention to cycling as a feasible and sustainable form of active transportation. Additionally, I love to share the joy that accompanies cycling with riders young and old.

DP: What will be your message to the places you visit? Do you have a slogan or tag line?

Sara: The goal of the School Food Tour is to “empower students to advocate for healthier school meals through bicycle-powered travel.” This message will be communicated through classroom and community programming aimed at inspiring the launch of youth-directed health initiatives that focus on school wellness issues. I intend to demonstrate to youth that their insight around improving school environments is both necessary and valuable. Tour programming will encourage small student projects that focus on incremental systemic change. Classroom sessions are designed to develop participants into knowledgeable young stakeholders eager to become involved in improving the health of their school food and increasing physical activity opportunities. Complementary community programming will garner outside support for these issues as well. Additionally, demonstrating to youth that they can play a significant role in social change will empower young leaders to become involved in a variety of issues that they are passionate about.

DP: I see you are not passing through DC (i.e. The White House) and I know First Lady Michelle Obama is a big advocate of healthy eating for children. Have you contacted her personal secretary to see how they can help with your cause?

Sara: I would love to take the Tour to The White House! The official SFT destinations have not been finalized and visiting DC is certainly a consideration. I have been in contact with a number of schools and organizations in DC eager to host the Tour. Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move initiative is a fabulous program and I admire her influential advocacy work. I have not yet been in direct contact with her secretary but plan to write a letter of introduction to her staff soon. I think it would be wonderful to partner with Mrs. Obama on a healthy kids initiative. I envision rolling up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with my carrot flag fluttering and a fleet of young riders alongside. - What a phenomenal statement we could make!

DP: Why reinvent the wheel? Why not join an existing charity that shares your vision and provide them with more exposure through your work?

Sara: As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to take a fresh approach by bringing a national perspective to the school wellness movement and coalesce the voices of students from a diverse sample of communities across the country. There are fantastic initiatives all over the country that are making great strides toward the development of healthy kids and communities. However, most of these programs are focused on specific areas or states, and rightfully so, given their resources and goals. I felt that the Tour would make a stronger statement if the entire project was conceived and conducted by one individual. I hope my ride will inspire people. If I can pedal 6,000 miles, then perhaps the idea of cycling on a regular basis won’t seem so intimidating.

DP: Why should people get behind your cause?

Sara: Healthy kids are our future! The Tour will not only generate health-conscious youth in the communities it visits, it will also inspire folks across the nation to examine their environments and health habits and take actions to improve them.

DP: How are you going to keep your newly acquired fans informed about your travels? What social media channels will you utilize to keep them informed? (E.g. Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Flip Cam/You Tube, etc)

Sara: All of the above! I invite your readers to visit the blog, School Food Tour, Twitter/schoolfoodtour, ‘friend’ us on Facebook, and suggest Tour locations along the route. A major component of the Tour will be frequent online updates from the road. These blog posts will feature commentary, travel photos, and engaging video clips of the insightful students that I interact with.

DP: What organizations/schools have already showed an interest in getting behind your cause?

Sara: I am very encouraged by the number of requests for Tour visits that I have already received from schools, community organizations, and individuals in the short time that the Tour has been publicized. These communications have originated from a diverse selection of locations across the country and demonstrate widespread support for the Tour. Individuals within organizations such as the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the National Farm to School Network, and various bicycle companies have expressed interest in endorsing the Tour. I have also considered the possibility of partnering with an educational film, as the Center for Ecoliteracy did by developing a middle school curriculum based on the WorldLink film, Nourish: Food + Community or with the What’s On Your Plate documentary (Aubin Pictures, 2009; Catherine Gund, director). I look forward to discussing potential partnerships with interested parties and invite anyone who is keen on becoming involved to please get in touch!

I just found out that the community where I will complete the Tour (and my hometown) of Houghton, MI was recently designated as a bicycle-friendly city by the American League of Bicyclists and it also just passed a Complete Streets ordinance. It will be a very fitting location to end my long journey.

About the author: Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She is a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team, reporting on women’s cycling issues and general peloton ramblings. Imelda is an experienced racer who also holds an MBA and is a marketing strategy expert.

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