Agriculture, Environment, Food

Conscious Kitchen: Supporting Food Justice in Marin County

June 30, 2020

Across Marin and throughout the country, free and reduced-cost school meal programs significantly decrease the incidence of childhood hunger. Yet too often, food served in school cafeterias is prepackaged and processed, lacking in essential vitamins and nutrients. The founder of  Conscious Kitchen, Judi Shils, has made it her mission to change that. She and the team at Conscious Kitchen believe that access to fresh and healthy food should be a right, not a privilege. 

A pilot program of the Sausalito-based nonprofit Turning Green, Conscious Kitchen began transforming the traditional school meal in 2013 at Marin City’s Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. Although Marin County is known for organic farms and ethical food purveyors, an alarming number of Marin City children experience food insecurity. Food received through Bayside’s meal program is essential in helping children grow up healthy and strong, and stay active and engaged in school. So Conscious Kitchen set out to ensure that the meals received by Bayside students were chef-prepared and scratch-cooked, made with fresh, local, organic, seasonal and nutritious ingredients.

The team at Conscious Kitchen understood that in order for their model to be adopted in under-resourced schools, they would have to demonstrate the economic feasibility of the program. With the help of Chef Justin Everett of Cavallo Point Lodge and Good Earth Natural Foods, the team was able to show that organic, healthy and delicious food could be prepared at a sustainable price point of less than $5 per meal. That sealed the deal, and Conscious Kitchen has been providing children from Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy with breakfast and lunch ever since. The program has proven to be so successful that Conscious Kitchen now provides school meals to neighboring Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito as well, forming the nation’s first 100% organic, non-GMO school district.

Organic, chef-prepared Conscious Kitchen school meals, featuring locally grown broccoli, potatoes and Mindful Meats pasture-raised chicken drumsticks, await final packaging at Marin City’s Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy.

Hoping to use the pop-up model to initiate similar programs at schools throughout the Bay Area and around the country, Conscious Kitchen was just building momentum when COVID-19 prompted school closures. As the team strategized how they would continue to provide Marin children with healthy meals, it became clear that they had an opportunity to help nourish the entire community in this moment of crisis. Through a partnership with World Central Kitchen, a national hunger-relief nonprofit based in Washington D.C., Conscious Kitchen has worked quickly over the last four months to expand their meal program. Utilizing satellite kitchens and volunteer support, the team has prepared and distributed roughly 1,300 meals a day to children, seniors, individuals and families in Marin City and San Rafael.

But Conscious Kitchen didn’t stop there. For Judi, food justice is about every link in the food supply chain. She believes that each link should improve, not harm, health, hunger, soil and the environment. So when the coronavirus began to disrupt the food chain for local organic farmers, Conscious Kitchen found a way to support them, too. 

Partnering with Tomatero Organic Farm in Watsonville, Conscious Kitchen launched a Buy One, Give One farm box program, donating a bounty of fresh, organic vegetables to a family in need for every farm box purchase. Even better? You can now add Nicasio Valley Cheese Company and Tomales Farmstead Creamery cheeses, both produced on MALT-protected farmland, to your Conscious Kitchen farm box. 

The Conscious Kitchen Buy One, Give One farm box includes seasonal produce sourced from local farms.

You can make an order today to support MALTed producers and local farms, and help nourish families and seniors in Marin. 

Want to learn more about MALT’s partnerships? Read on.