1/2/2013 - Evergreen students take on vending machine green
by Caswey Blake - Asheville Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE -- The seventh-graders at Evergreen Community Charter School may just have cracked the code on how to make algebra fun -- and yes, snacks are definitely involved.
The young mathematicians in Jason Carter's algebra class have stepped away from the textbook and begun crunching numbers on a real-life business equation, starting with the school's own vending machines as an experiment in profit margins and health standards.
After being named one of North Carolina's only two Green Ribbon Schools earlier this year, the school has committed to new guidelines for healthier, more environmentally friendly food products.
"Basically, we started by looking at what the real requirements were, and then we split into groups of covering different categories, like what we had to have for protein and for drinks," said seventh-grader Zachary Hudspeth.
"We had to figure out pricing, and eliminating certain things based on prices and what really sold," he said, "and we had to figure out what actually fit into machines."
The class has been gathering information and researching food items for the school's donated vending machines that will meet the Green Ribbon standards for sustainability, the school community's standards for nutrition and, most importantly, the students' bar for tastiness.
Green Ribbon Schools commit to selling foods that are at least 20 percent certified preferable (sustainably grown, fair trade), 20 percent grown and produced within 200 miles and 5 percent certified organic.
The school already has met the goals with its hot lunch program but wanted to incorporate the vending elements into the curriculum.
"We wanted it to be a student-led project and to get the students on board with helping to make healthy decisions," said Marin Leroy, a seventh- and eighth-grade associate teacher. "It's easy to send parents to Sam's Club and just say, 'Go grab stuff,' but we found what was coming in wasn't necessarily reflecting our values for nutrition."
The students say finding snacks that actually sell has been the greatest challenge so far. Items like almond butter packets with crackers, for example, were a total flop, whereas the gluten-free crackers and the local Hickory Nut Gap Farm beef sticks have sold like crazy.
"We were used to having things like Cheez-It's and processed fruit snacks that taste good but aren't nutritious for us," student Hannah McDonald said. "But just taking those out and subbing in things like Annie's Grahams sold really well. We just had to see what worked."
One major change will be eliminating the sale of sodas. Flavored sparkling water and fruit juice spritzers will be offered instead.
In the weeks to come, the math group will analyze what the students at Evergreen prefer -- what sells and what doesn't, which items earn profits and which don't.
All profits from the vending machines go toward the seventh grade's end-of-the-year canoe trip, so the stakes are high.
"It's cool to be able to take the math and do something real with it," seventh-grader Molly Schantz said. "We want to be able to choose things that are actually nutritious and to figure out how to make the most profits on things that will really sell."