School Food Champion: OSU Extension, Michaela

Healthier schools come as a result of many passionate people working to ensure that kids grow up healthy. I consider myself lucky to work in a community and at schools that have some of the finest school food champions I’ve ever known. Michaela Hammer, a Nutrition Education Program Assistant with OSU Extension, is one of those passionate champions!

Michaela has traveled to work directly on farms and taught outdoor and garden education before finding herself at Oregon State University studying Nutritional Anthropology. After graduating, Michaela decided to stay in the Willamette Valley to invest in her community. “I realized that real change takes a lifetime. I wanted to be some place where I could deepen my roots and invest in that change.”

Michaela works with Cascade Middle School in the Bethel School District to reach students, families, and community members in the area. Some of the projects she’s working on include lunchroom Food Hero tastings, classroom nutrition lessons, an after-school cooking program, and outreach at the Produce Plus market each week.

Michaela piloted a lunchroom Food Hero tasting last month in conjunction with Try It Thursday. The special Try It Thursday tasting across the district was baby bok choy served in a savory saute. One of Michaela’s goals for her students is to not write off a new vegetable if they don’t like one way it’s prepared. She tries to show students that there are a variety of ways to prepare vegetables. To complement the baby bok choy saute, Michaela made Popeye Power Smoothies featuring baby bok choy. And students loved it! Michaela hopes to do more lunchroom Food Hero tastings each month paired with the Try It Thursday product.

Michaela also works in the classroom and after-school setting teaching nutrition and cooking lessons to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. She worked with 8th grade students who created and shared skits on soft drinks. And she’s about to start a series of lessons promoting physical activity! Michaela especially loves going to her after-school cooking program where students are excited to see her and want to know what they’ll be cooking up that day.

Remember reading about Chris at the Produce Plus Market at Cascade Middle School? Lately those markets have been the happening place for nutrition education too. Michaela has a table at the Produce Plus Market each week where she samples a healthy recipe, provides resources, and talks to community members. Michaela always sets up before the students get out of school. “Usually, most students just pass right by. But recently, I brought a skillet and was cooking up Garden Vegetable Cakes. As soon as students got out of school, they kept saying it smelled so good and had to come see what I was making. It was fun! Now I know how to get their attention.”

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Michaela at the Produce Plus Market

Michaela hopes her efforts at Cascade Middle School influence her students’ relationship with healthy food. “I want to counteract some of the default trends that students go through during that age. During middle school, students become more independent, so I want them to have healthy food on their minds. Hopefully, when they make food choices, they will stop and think about it first.”

But bigger picture, Michaela is focusing on changing the school environment so that it’s easier to make those healthy choices. She is also focusing on the community and engaging family members to change the policy, systems, and environment that supports their community.

Michaela is up to some great things at Cascade Middle School and has the passion and ideas for even bigger things ahead. The Bethel community is lucky to have Michaela as a School Food Champion working hard to support healthier initiatives.

Thank you Michaela for your commitment to healthy schools and communities!