ENCINITAS — When Mim Michelove’s son started his junior year of high school this past Tuesday, he took with him the same thing he’s been taking since he started school almost a dozen years ago — a homemade lunch, packed with love, by his mom.
“I am sometimes teased for still making his lunch, he is almost 17, but he wants me to continue,” Michelove said in an email. “To me, it is a simple but powerful love letter — every day. It connects us.”
Michelove’s long history of providing healthy lunches doesn’t stop with her son — she’s also been instrumental in getting nutritious, homegrown food options to students in the Encinitas Union School District for over 10 years. She’s worked with the district as a parent volunteer and then through Healthy Day Partners, a nonprofit she created with another district parent. They helped elevate school gardens at every school, built the one-acre Ocean Knoll Farm, created Straight 2 the Plate — an educational farm to school program — and consulted with the district on several projects, including the implementation of their environmental bond program, eventually saving the district nearly $1 million per year. Michelove was also appointed the founding director of the district’s Farm Lab, the first certified-organic, district-wide Farm to School program in the United States.
“I found myself obsessed with providing school gardens, and related education, as well as growing healthy food for all district students,” she said. “I wanted to build a model for the country that not only connects kids to their food, but to the land, agriculture — historic, current and future — and to show how our food and other daily decisions are connected to many important issues around personal, public, and global health,” she said.
Michelove, who lives with her family in New Encinitas, said she’s currently working with the school district again to help students develop the lunch menu and help them promote their healthy lunch program.
Michelove said this kind of work seems to have been destined for her since she was a baby.
“My first sentence was ‘I’m hungry’ so you can tell that I have long been intrigued by food,” she said. “In my teens, I was lucky enough to live in France for a bit and got an early schooling on visiting open air farmers markets, and preparing delicious, fresh food.”
Michelove said that a good deal of her young adulthood was spent trying out vegetarianism, and she even went vegan for four years to improve her health. She said in those days, prepared veggie and vegan food tasted like cardboard, but she learned to master cooking flavorful, fresh and fun foods.
“Through this culinary journey, a curiosity grew about our food system, and I developed a love for the American farmer but a skepticism around food marketing, subsidies, and the impact of farming practices on our personal health as well as the health of the planet,” she said.
Michelove said the real turning point to focusing on healthy eating came when she became a mom and her son was diagnosed with autism. She said he received state-of-the-art therapy with daily trips to his autism intervention school at Children’s Hospital and she felt a responsibility to provide him with a clean environment and clean food at home.
“Seeing the enormous success of those interventions for my son, I was filled with a passion to share what I learned about growing food and going green, in hopes of inspiring others to reap the same benefits,” she said.
It started with her son’s kindergarten class and quickly grew to his entire school, she said. And it’s been growing ever since.
Along with her work in Encinitas, Michelove said as CEO of Healthy Day Partners she’s pursuing her dream of serving less affluent communities and is currently working alongside Olivewood Gardens to expand its Straight 2 the Plate program to National City. They will grow fresh, local food for the 6,000 economically disadvantaged kids in the National School District, where obesity rates are the highest in the county.
Last September, Michelove was nominated by the Whole Kids Foundation as a Rainier Fruit Wholesome Hero, which she calls “a deep honor.”
All this, and she still finds time to make a school lunch for her teenager every day. She says her basic school lunch looks like a Japanese bento box. She makes a whole grain wrap filled with a flavorful spread, lean protein, and lots of veggies, and cuts it into pieces that look like sushi rolls. The rest of the lunch is a rainbow of seasonal fruit and veggies, all of it served in a reusable container.
“I spend about five minutes preparing lunch each morning, including clean up,” she said. “Five minutes to honor my child and the planet. What could be a better use of my time?”
Photo Caption: Mim Michelove (shown) has worked for over a decade to help bring healthy food options to Encinitas students. Photo courtesy Mim Michelove