The produce industry, Whole Foods, and Chef Anne Cooper, the “renegade lunch lady,” are all working feverishly to get salad bars into schools, and their effort is picking up steam.

Whole Foods and Cooper’s Food, Family, Farming Foundation (F3) have teamed up to raise funds for “The Great American Salad Bar Project.” The campaign creates easy-to-apply-for grants for schools who wish to add a salad bar to their cafeteria.

kid-eating-salad.jpg“With childhood obesity levels at an all‐time high, everyone has a stake in this fight and must take action to help change the way our children eat both at home and school,” said Walter Robb, co‐chief executive officer for Whole Foods Market. “We see partnering with our shoppers to raise funds for salad bars in local schools as an immediate way for us to come together and make an impact on our children’s health in the communities we serve.”

In just three weeks, Whole Foods raised more than $681,000–enough to pay for about 272 salad bars–just by asking customers at checkout whether they’d like to contribute. With another month left in the campaign to raise funds, it looks like the chain will surpass its goal of placing 300 salad bars in public schools–one for each Whole Foods store.

The larger campaign is slightly less than $100,000 shy of the $1.25 million goal.

“The time is ripe for 31 million children. They deserve a solution and this Salad Bar Project is just that. I know we can make thousands of salad bars a reality for schools everywhere,” says Cooper, founder of F3. “Since adding a healthy salad bar to school lunch options is the number one thing parents and advocates can do to help improve school food, this is a win‐win for schools and their students.”

Cooper’s foundation is facilitating the grant process and has built kits to help schools transition to serving fresh food, complete with a video illustrating best food safety practices.

Public elementary, middle, and high schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, and located within a 50-mile radius of a Whole Foods, are eligible. F3 will be accepting grant applications from Sept. 1 through Nov. 1.  Schools selected by the foundation will be announced by Jan. 15, 2011 and salad bar kits will be shipped to schools within a month.

Each school selected will receive a portable, 5-well salad bar complete with utensils, pan inserts, chilling pads, and training tools. According to F3, “The Lunch Box will provide the necessary training tools and ongoing support to help ensure proper management.”

The United Fresh Produce Association, one of the leading trade groups for the produce industry, is also raising funds to bring salad bars to schools. Next week, during their annual Washington Public Policy Conference, the organization will host a fundraiser aimed at donating salad bars to New Orleans schools.

The event is part of the industry’s “Salad Bar in Every School” campaign, announced last February alongside First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign–the nationwide effort to combat childhood obesity within a generation.

“We are pleased to join First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign announced today to combat childhood obesity, one of the greatest health threats to our children, and long-term threats to our nation’s ability to provide affordable health care,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel at the launch of the project.

“Research has shown that children significantly increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables when given a variety of choices in a school salad bar,” adds Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh vice president of nutrition and health. “When offered multiple fruit and vegetable choices, children respond by trying new items, incorporating greater variety into their diets, and increasing their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

Schools interested in applying for a salad bar grant should visit