Lessons from NeverSeconds

In April 2012, nine-year-old Martha Payne with the help of her father started her own blog (neverseconds.blogspot.com) as part of a school writing project at Lochgilphead Primary School in Argyll, Scotland. She decided to combine her school assignment with her general disappointment with the quality and quantity of food comprising her school lunches. Her goal was to hone her writing skills and to raise a few dollars for her favorite charity, Mary’s Meals, that coordinates school feeding projects in communities around the world.

In the process, Payne captured less-than-flattering photos of her school lunch tray and wrote meticulously descriptive commentary that rated each meal with a “food-o-meter” and counted the number of bites required to consume it (The meals on average scored 7 out of 10). In at least one instance, Payne complained that it was not enough food to help her focus on her schoolwork—inspiring her blog title, “NeverSeconds,” after the school policy against second portions.

After a local paper published an unflattering story in reaction to Payne’s blog (implying the lunch workers should be fired), the local school council reacted by banning Payne from further publishing photos of her school lunches on her blog. Bewildered by the controversy, Payne stated she was upset at having to stop her writing project halfway through the process.[i] Martha then started posting pictures of school lunches sent to her by children in Germany, Japan, Spain, Taiwan and the United States. The banning of posting school lunch photos prompted a global outcry through social media and a public relations nightmare for the local school council.

By June 2012 Payne’s blog had surpassed 3 million hits. Under much public (even worldwide) pressure, the council then lifted the ban. The powerful images of her school lunches resonated throughout the world, and compelled responses from other high profile food celebrities who championed her cause via Twitter. Soon after the ban was lifted, it was announced that Martha would be teaming up with a celebrity chef to help the council provide more nutritious meals at her school.[ii] With her emergent fame, Payne’s NeverSeconds blog page views surpassed 5 million hits (and 10 million as of February 2014). While Payne’s original goal was to raise £10,000 for charity, she ultimately raised more than £100,000, enough to feed thousands of school children in Malawi for more than a year.

Payne’s story illustrates the profound social, political and economic impact of a school writing assignment and the power of social media to propel her learning well beyond the bounds of the school classroom and even to a global level. The civic engagement piece of this story is even more profound. Payne serendipitously mobilized a worldwide community to not only initiate change her local school culture but also to enact change on a global scale. Payne’s singular voice provided an opportunity for many others to be educated— and not just about (un)healthy school lunches. There are lessons here about civil dissent, school policy, equity, global citizenship and social justice. There are threads of language arts, critical thinking, argumentation and debate, health literacy and politics that comprise a rich tapestry of curriculum.

With the help of her father, Martha wrote a book about her experience, Never Seconds: The Incredible Story of Martha PayneShe recently spoke (with the help of her father) of her experience at a conference:


[i]. Sarah Rainey, Alastair Good, and Richard Alleyne, “School dinner blogger Martha Payne explains it has led to ‘big improvements’ in the meals,” in The Telegraph (June 22, 2012): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9349845/School-dinner-blogger-Martha-Payne-explains-it-has-led-to-big-improvements-in-the-meals.html

[ii]. Scott Stump, “9-Year-Old Food Blogger to Overhaul School Lunches With Celeb Chef. Bites on Today (June 12, 2012): http://bites.today.com/_news/2012/06/18/12280863-9-year-old-food-blogger-to-overhaul-school-lunches-with-celeb-chef?lite.

Small Step for California, Giant Leap for School Cafeterias

The Center for Ecoliteracy has left an unprecedented mark in the movement for green schooling. Based in Berkley, California, this non-profit organization is spearheading the cause for a healthier youth. Their goal is to make schools and communities in the United States more ecoliterate, or able to understand how to create a more sustainable and enjoyable life by way of the natural systems in our environment. Among a few of the Center’s objectives for change are school gardens, school lunches, professional development seminars, school curricula, and consulting services. By promoting the consumption of fresh, local food, children are taught the countless benefits on their bodies, their communities, and the environment.

Generated in collaboration with CEL, “California Thursdays” was piloted on October 23, 2014. Fifteen California school districts came together in the determined preparation for this initiative, where fresh, locally grown foods are served out of participating school cafeterias on Thursdays. This once a week event is a small step toward the drive for major change in school lunch programs. Rather than shipping locally grown produce to other states for processing and packaging into microwavable meals, the leaders behind California Thursdays are promoting a healthier and more practical approach of farm to cafeteria table.

The Center for Ecoliteracy website offers a plethora of resources as a frontrunner for change. A wealth of knowledge, instructional tools and strategies, essays and books are available for teachers, school staff, community leaders, parents, and students. A fantastic planning framework is offered in Rethinking School Lunch, and includes a detailed map of key members and pathways to success in your school. Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools is a cookbook and guide to menu planning comprised of recipes, preparation and presentation notes, as well as class instruction guidance for implementing change. Both of these resources are free and downloadable.

Though California catapulted the idea, the notion to rethink school lunches is not limited to one state. The Center for Ecoliteracy is a role model for other states to replicate, and there’s no better time than now.

Healthy Choices from the Ground Up

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) has brought local foods, health education, and hands-on gardening to over 40,000 schools in the America. This empowering organization has expanded immensely since its start in 2007, and is now taking place in each of the 50 states. The NFSN teaches children and their families how to support their local communities, while nourishing their bodies with fresh food choices. From creating school gardens to farm field trips, children in Pre-K through twelfth grade are invited to get back to the roots of their fruits and vegetables. The farm to school movement promotes a three-win relationship among kids, farmers, and communities.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 12.48.55 PM

This organization could not have grown without the communications media. Today, even our soil needs media awareness. Stacey Malstrom, PR & Outreach Manager for NFSN, shares these five tips for building better media relationships and getting word out about your farm to school program.

NFSN is also hosting a webinar on March 10, 2015, called, Making Change: How you can support farm to school policy this spring. Register to learn how you can help NFSN get the support it needs from Congress.