2022 Update: Students lead on climate action

Hello friends! It has been a while, but with school back in session, it seems we can start working on this initiative again.

The good news: PPS Board has approved a district-wide comprehensive Climate Crisis Response Policy that will cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. This was spearheaded by our partners at Eco-School Network and the Climate Justice Committee, and we are glad to see that they included a section on Health & Wellness that pertains to our goals.

In order to reach the reduction in climate emissions, PPS needs to implement this portion of the policy through adding plant-based options. Especially as it aligns with our Portland’s Climate Action Plan. It may seem insignificant to those who are not aware of how important plant-rich options are in mitigating climate change, but plant-based foods are more important in lower carbon emissions than local, organic, season or minimally processed and packaged foods. And plant proteins are included and meet USDA Child Nutrition Program requirements. Along with food waste, which is also part of this policy, our collective actions on activities we participate in daily (eating), can make a major difference to the climate crisis, according to Project Drawdown, almost 1/4 of the emissions are from food. Electric vehicles get a lot of attention, but food waste and plant-rich diets are respectively the #3 and #4 top climate solutions. It’s past time they get the attention they deserve.

The youth today actually understand this, and will lead the changes which will need to happen, we want to support their efforts so it happens sooner rather than later.

Next week, we are going to be taking part of a middle school fair and speaking about food climate solutions. We’re looking for parents and students who want to work together on this project, so please contact Amy Hall at if you would like to learn more!

May 2020: What's happening and what's not happening?

What’s Happening?

Before the pandemic happened there was a lot of great news. We have joined The SAGE Climate Education Team. They are creating curriculum and 2030 Vision Fairs where students will first have an introduction to climate education curriculum and then get engaged with local organizations and businesses who are working on reaching Portland Climate Action Plan goals. Students can create their own projects and gain information about future employment possibilities within these environmental sectors. Greener World Lunches was invited to talk at Sunnyside Environmental School where we met with 8th graders, and our partner FFAC gave a presentation about factory farms and how our food choices matter. We also did an activity on food waste, and the students created posters that we will have printed and displayed in the cafeterias. We’re honored to be invited to be part of these Vision Fairs. Moving forward, we hope to have the Greener World Lunches initiative be more student-led as we keep growing the outreach into schools. If you are a PPS student wanting to work with us on the school lunches, please contact us.

We have had parent partners step up, and we will be introducing them soon. We’d love to have more parents, teachers or adult allies be part of this initiative! Email us if you want to join in.

The other good news is that Greener World Lunches has it’s own website! Thank you to Jonathan Bailey at THRIVE creative for providing web development. Check it out… we will add events as we ramp back up. We’ve added a donate button to defray the costs of materials needed for our new tabling events for the upcoming Vision Fairs, and to have student’s posters scanned, printed and laminated for all the school cafeterias. As you can see a peek here of a few of the posters- we would love to show their beaming faces, but will err on the side of privacy. Their youthful excitement give me hope and motivation to keep going so they can have a better future.

What’s Not Happening?

Well, besides physical school of course. We had been trying to have a meeting with our PPS Nutrition Director for several months to get an update or information as to what the forecast looked like with menu planning. Once schools closed I stopped my monthly emails asking about this information since this is even less of a priority for PPS as the focus is on making sure students who rely on their services receive any meals. The global pandemic has created challenges for everyone but we are still going to continue our work on a crisis which is even more destructive than Covid-19 for health, economy and all people and animals, and that is the climate crisis.

Policies are starting to happen in schools around the School Climate Resolution which passed, and it is our hope that having more plant-based options will be included as part of the sustainability goals. We’ve met with the PPS Sustainability Program Manager and Climate Justice Programs Manager to highlight this important climate solution. Our partners at Eco-School Network also support this initiative being implemented. At this point, I am not sure how next year will look for students overall or what the next year’s menus will look like, but with the health, rising costs and safety issues around the slaughterhouses and the pandemic in our country, more and more families are choosing to leave meat off their plates.

Next Steps

Let’s use this time with our students at home and during the summer to prepare for next year. We can do this remotely and virtually. The climate crisis isn’t going away, and neither are we! Sign up for our email newsletter for updates. Share it with others who may be interested! Follow us on Facebook, IG channel coming soon. And if you aren’t in school, check out Default Veg on how to get more plant-based options into your businesses and organizations!


Stay safe and stay tuned!

— Amy Hall, Founder/Parent Organizer

Edible Schoolyard Project

Happy New Year!
I’m resurfacing with an even stronger desire to make change in our local communities and schools. I am finally posting about an excellent summit I was fortunate enough to be able to attend last October in Tennessee.

The Climate Underground was a two-day conference hosted by former Vice President Al Gore at his farm in Carthage, Tennessee. The conference convened leading farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs, chefs, researchers, policymakers, and other experts to explore the intersection between soil health, food, and healthy communities.

Healthy Soil. How often do we actually think about it? Yet not only is carbon a huge carbon sink, but it is also a necessity for our survival. We specifically have laws to protect our air and water (whether they are strong enough or not), but we also need to protect our soils.

Farmers who are responsible for growing our food directly, and the food that animals eat, are not rewarded for doing anything the “right” way. Inputs such as pesticides or manmade fertilizers and monoculture crops can increase yields short-term but are extremely harmful to long-term survival. You can read more specifics about the event in this interview

We really need to wake up quickly: Al Gore warns of a looming food crisis caused by climate change

There were scientists, policymakers, farmers, climate activists, chefs and more who have all been invited to this special event. My partner for Greener World Lunches, Katie Cantrell from Factory Farming Awareness Coalition was supposed to attend but had to cancel due to illness. She gave me a card for Al Gore, and I made sure to hand-deliver it to him and distribute her organization’s literature. After I talked to Al Gore about Katie, I let him know how inspiring his Climate Reality Leadership Training was to me personally and that it had caused me to be much more engaged in acts of leadership, he seemed very excited about that and shook my hand enthusiastically.

I was specifically interested in Alice Waters’ The Edible Schoolyard Project, and how that can inspire Greener World Lunches. For both days of the summit, Alice Waters’ menu featured local, seasonal, vegetarian school lunches. These were served family-style by children from local Tennessee non-profit Plant the Seed which shapes community and school gardens into outdoor classrooms to educate and empower under-resourced young people.

“We see Cultural diversity and multicultural understanding are guiding principles in our work, manifested in making culturally-relevant foods available to include in school gardens, as well as sharing foods with each other.”

This has been a goal of Greener World Lunches and has already been happening in a few dishes at Portland Public Schools.

It was truly an honor and inspiration to be able to attend this conference, and I look forward to working with our local organizations and highlighting this important effort in our area. Here is an educational placemat/menu from one of our meals created by the Edible Schoolyard Project that shows how a cultural meal, using locally-grown food, can be made using plant-based foods and incorporated into the learning experience.

I was lucky enough to meet and talk for our long bus ride from Nashville to Carthage with Laurie David, Executive Producer of The Biggest Little Farm. I had just watched it on Redbox, where it is still available, and had been telling everyone to watch it. I could not stop thinking about it, and everyone who I’ve talked to that has watched it has been similarly moved by it.

The movie chronicles the eight-year quest of John and Molly Chester as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature.

Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature’s conflicts, the Chester’s unlock and uncover a biodiverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and our wildest imagination.

Featuring breathtaking cinematography, captivating animals, and an urgent message to heed Mother Nature’s call, The Biggest Little Farm provides us all a vital blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.

Besides meeting leaders who are truly making a difference, I have so much more of an appreciation and understanding of the importance of the ground we walk on and how we need to protect and nurture it for our own survival. This needs to be done on a large-scale level of course, and farmers are seeing the advantages of making their land more resilient, but we can also create our own carbon gardens wherever we have a plot of land, such as in our yards, community gardens and schools. Sequestering carbon and regenerative farming is a critical part of climate action.


Welcome back to the New School Year

We left off at the beginning of last summer with a small steering committee meeting from our group, and a meeting with Whitney Ellersick, Nutrition Director at PPS Nutrition. Originally, I had hoped to have some insight earlier to share with you as far as what the 2019-2020 school menu would look like, but I was not able to see it until right before school started on the website. House Bill 2579 passed which should allow more options with local food and school gardens. “The Bill, which increased farm to school activities support from $4.5 million to nearly $15 million will provide critical funds for Oregon schools to buy and serve Oregon foods, and districts and partner organizations to provide agriculture, nutrition, and garden-based educational activities.”

Good news also that tofu and now tempeh is credited as a protein with the USDA Food & Nutrition Services, giving us more options for plant-based meals.

Whitney gave us this great update for the 2019-2020 school menus:

“On our elementary menu, we were able to make all of our featured entrees on Monday vegetarian and/or vegan.  We took many of our entrees and made them flexible choices – such as when we menued burritos, instead of having just beef or bean menued, we have both. We have many entrées like this on Wednesdays – such as our fried rice we are making with chicken or no chicken (egg only), yakisoba (with chicken or veggie), taco salad with beef or beans, and curry with chicken or chickpeas.  While I know these entrees may not have plant-based proteins, specifically, it does increase our options for vegetarian entrees and puts us in a better position to either add a plant-based protein like tempeh or tofu once we have sourced it and tested it, or for students to request “no cheese” on some of our options that do make it vegan as opposed to vegetarian. 

On our high school menu, we have added the shaker salads which once I’ve finalized some other recipes will be promoting as “power bowls” that will be vegan/plant-based protein options. 

These will be daily options on our high school menu.  In addition to the elementary choices that I mentioned above, we also will be adding the Ethiopian simmer sauce to our menu regularly.  We are working on sourcing lentils since last year we struggled to get them into our warehouse.  My hope is to offer this dish with lentils regularly once we have them more readily available. 

As always, our taqueria/burrito bar line is offered at high schools where students can customize their options whether they would like it vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.

We are continuing to expand our sourcing and hope to have more for this year.” 

This is progress and we are happy to have this moving towards more flexible options, definitely. And while it looks good to see a lot of green V’s on the menu, we are not there yet with our goals, especially with K-8, and also with the default options. See the top of the high school menu, what if one of those options could change to plant-based? For K-8, their only option is the Smucker’s PB&J.

Note: Circled items have a plant-based option, underlined are new vegetarian choices, and star shows where dairy can be removed.

My own children are both in high school and are vegetarian. They take school lunch every day. Most days when I ask what they ate, the answer is “nachos” or “cheese pizza”. Only on the days when the Indian chickpea curry or new entrée is served, do I feel like they had something healthy.

More progress in high school menus, but at that age, whether the students take school lunch or not is already decided for most. Would like to see a plant-based option in the choices at the top too so there is more than burrito bar. This will hopefully be the power bowls.

The goal of this initiative is not to cater to vegetarian and vegan students, but to give all students healthy, delicious plant-based options to decrease our city’s carbon emissions. This is critical as we work towards climate solutions that we move away from meat. As we have seen this summer, the world’s demand for beef has increased the amount of deforestation in the Amazon used for animal feed crops and grazing. While we can’t change the world, we can change our part of it.

What are our next steps?

Raise Awareness.
We’ve been invited to have a booth at NW Veg’s annual Veg Fest. This event draws over 8,000 people and most are the general public who are interested in vegan options and tasting the wide array of samples available. Children under 12 can attend for free, so it usually draws a lot of families. Our partners FFAC and the Raven Corps will also have booths at the event. This will be a great informational opportunity for us to share what we are working on and expand our group. We are looking for volunteers for either of the days October 5 or 6th! 10–6 Saturday, 11–6 Sunday at the Oregon Convention Center, Hall  A-A1. Please email me,

Education is key.
The more parents and students understand the link between our food and the climate crisis, the more support we will have. We don’t have a lot of time- around 11 years to move to dramatically lower emissions, although that may be an optimistic time frame. The students that are starting kindergarten will only be freshman or sophomores in high school before our carbon path is locked in. We need to change the trajectory NOW if we want to give them a chance for a livable future. Sadly, this is not an exaggeration, and it is why we are seeing global strikes and youth are taking action. You can help make this link clear to parents and students by inviting our partner, Factory Farming Awareness Coalition to give a Green Monday presentations in your school classroom or PTA. Contact them for more information.

Student involvement
Eco-School Network is a great resource for elementary and middle school parents and students to work with school green teams and also to network our school sustainability efforts.

Students 14-18 can join efforts with The Raven Corps, a local nonprofit youth organization that promotes environmental sustainability, compassion, and community through a plant-based advocacy.

We have some thoughts on student involvement, and we would like to meet up with students and get their ideas. We’ll be sending an invitation out soon for that meeting.

Parent involvement
Sampling: We have been told this is critical to adding new items. We will keep checking in with Whitney to find out when and how we can help with this.

Recipe ideas: We haven’t been specifically asked to provide recipes, but showing Whitney the foods that students enjoy most at home can be helpful, and then adapted to meet the requirements schools face.

Support Greener World Days and ask for what you need.
Many students we surveyed and talked to have simply given up on buying school lunch since they are non-dairy, vegan or wanted different choices. Please support the plant-based shift by buying lunch on the days the chickpea curry, vegetable yakisoba, and others are served. This will help lead to more of these options. Also, the cafeteria staff has indicated that they are willing to serve special items for those avoiding meat and dairy. Ask for the soy milk and that will increase demand. If more students are asking specifically for plant-based items it creates a noticeable impact.

Thank you for any feedback you have. Now that we are all back to a more structured time of year, we will continue to work together! Hope to see many of you at the Global Climate Strike, September 20 at 10:30 am Portland City Hall. Look for the Raven Corps and other climate groups there!

Next Steps

Thank you to everyone who attended the forum on May 20. If you weren’t able to make it, you can catch up on what was presented and the questions we were able to get answered here.

Things are moving along! We’ve had three community meetings, 238 people take our survey, and have gathered feedback and challenges from our PPS Nutrition Director. I heard a lot of room in there for ways we can help with the challenges, and believe that if we keep working with her that every time she is planning a menu, the plant-based options will be more of a priority on her mind. We are now looking to take action and expand our core team as we move into our next steps over the summer. We’d love students, parents, and teachers to be involved, especially.

Please send an email to if you can commit to:

  • Smaller focused strategic planning meetings, once or twice/month
  • 1-2 hours/week moving initiatives forward

We’re going to schedule our next core meeting soon after school gets out. I know a lot of people go on vacation directly, but even if you can’t make it to a mid- or late-June meeting but can be involved for the rest of the summer and Fall, please let me know.

Some thoughts I had after the meeting, which we can discuss, and these are just starting points:

  • Recipes/Taste tests: We could provide Whitney at PPS Nutrition with recipes that work at home (they would have to be adjusted for school requirements which we could ask for), and schedule a fun gathering where students can taste and score them. Whitney did mention she wants to know what works at home.
  • Review the current menus: Are there some recipes that are almost plant-based that can just be tweaked rather than a prolonged 2-year rollout with sourcing new ingredients? Like they have done with the chickpea/chicken swap.
  • Outreach to students/parents: How can we create more education/awareness of climate-friendly food so students look forward to Greener World Lunches and support it. How can we reach more students about the campaign- maybe instagram stories, a fun video students can make, etc?
  • Local vendor options: We’d like to know where our group can do leg work for Whitney, like if she has specific needs for local providers like hummus, we can get a list to her to check out. Recognizing she has a whole slew of concerns, how can we make this easier?
  • Boost engagement on plant-based menu dates: After talking to parents/students, I think we can also try to raise number of students and teachers getting school lunch on the plant-based dates. From our survey, we have a lot of people who have opted out completely. If we can get more people to buy lunches on that day, it proves that they could be a more popular option.
  • Ask for what you need: If the non-dairy and vegan students request that soy milk, that would help raise the demand. Possibly ask the cafeteria lead for a vegan option for your student. When I was helping in the cafeteria, the kitchen lead told me she can do that, and Whitney mentioned they have that flexibility. Imagine if all the schools start getting these requests?
  • Create a network of volunteers in each school: Our partners at Eco-School Network are already in many cafeterias. We can set up signups to do sampling, etc.

That’s a start, and I am excited to hear what ideas all of you have! I won’t be emailing the full group about anything but larger action items but will post links on this blog, FB and Twitter. If you want to be part of the steering committee- let me know!