BRUNSWICK — Students flooded into the Brunswick High School cafeteria at 11 a.m. on Monday, prepared to hustle through the lunch line and back to their tables to eat.
But something stood in their way – a girl in a broccoli costume wielding a pair of scissors.
Planted in front of a new salad bar, she snipped a green ribbon that encircled it. Then she stepped aside and let the students surge towards the lettuce, shredded carrots, diced ham and chopped olives.
The salad bar was paid for by a grant from Whole Foods, but it was really the enthusiasm of three young women that made the new addition to the cafeteria possible.
“The students didn’t think twice about applying for this grant. I mentioned salad bar and their eyes lit up,” said Rebecca Farnham, who runs Youth Advocacy Programs at Brunswick, Freeport and Mt. Ararat high schools. YAP students advocate within their schools and home towns for health issues, including nutrition, that they are passionate about.
“We started talking about … how there’s not many healthy opportunities to eat in the cafeteria,” said Siri Cope, 17, a member of Brunswick High School’s YAP. When the grant came up, she said, applying for it just made sense.
“I’m glad that we actually could bring change so quickly,” Cope said. “We applied for the grant this past fall, and we heard back in January, and now, in the middle of March, we actually have a salad bar.”
The salad bar was especially important for Stacia Brezinski, 18, who is also a YAP member.
“As a vegan, I like that we have more meatless options, because I just think it’s better for everybody, all parties involved. It’s better for the animals, the environment, it’s cheaper than meat, it’s better for us,” she said.
Brezinski said her non-vegan friends are also excited about salad.
“It’s a myth that kids don’t like salad,” she said. “I think kids like salad, we just don’t think of eating it if it’s not right in front of us.”
That seemed to be the case at lunch on Monday. By the end of the first lunch period, cafeteria workers were refilling the lettuce containers.
Jacob Schwab, 16, was in the first wave of students who flocked to the salad bar. He said in the past, the cafeteria only offered pre-made salads, “and now that we have a big salad bar, it’s more appealing, people might actually come to it more.”
Elena DeForest and Ashley Kirk, both 17, said they first heard about the salad bar during morning announcements, and were excited about it. While both girls eat salads at home, they said they often avoided the packaged salads at school.
“They’re pre-made so if there’s one thing you don’t like about it, you probably won’t get it,”DeForest said.
“Like the cold chicken, can’t handle the cold chicken,” she said, while Kirk squirmed next to her.
The salad bar is also cheaper than the packaged salads, said Julia Brown, 16, who wore the broccoli suit.
“The salad is 20 cents an ounce,” she said. “You can get a small salad for about $1.20, a medium salad for $2 and then a very large salad for $2.50.”
The Whole Foods grant only paid for the salad bar equipment. The vegetables come out of the school’s food budget. Director of Food Service Scott Smith said the extra cost shouldn’t pose problems in a lean budget year, because most food costs are offset by what students pay.
Smith said Brunswick High School used to have a salad bar, but it was removed before he arrived on the job three months ago. The old salad bar equipment is now used, ironically, to hold chips and cookies.
Now that there’s a new salad bar in school, the young women in YAP want to keep it that way. They’re already planning salad recipe contests and encouraging Smith to stock the bar with vegetables from local farms, something he said should be possible in the spring and fall.