Ashland High School students lined up to eat quesadillas, grilled cheese and ice cream — all of it vegan — from a food truck Wednesday.
The meal served as a test for a new nonprofit that plans to offer free, vegan lunches to the students once a week next academic year.
One Ashland, run by volunteers, is hoping to receive funding and food donations from businesses, individuals and farms, founder Johan Ziems said.
"We'd like it not to be a few doing a lot, but a lot doing a little," he said. "It is possible to do vegan lunches that are very good tasting and much healthier for kids and the planet."
Ziems, whose daughter attends Ashland Middle School, decided to start the nonprofit because he was fed up with the food choices in district cafeterias, he said.
"As a parent I've just been kind of disappointed by the quality of food our kids are eating," he said.
"It's really hard to imagine that after eating those lunches, kids are supposed to focus on learning and studying."
He is working with Portland resident Taran Smith, who owns the food truck and a vegan food company called Playfood. Smith, who played Mark Taylor in the TV show "Home Improvement" as a child, plans to donate use of his truck to One Ashland next fall for the lunches.
"This is, I think, the perfect place to start this," he said. "If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere."
He and Ashland resident Rachel Rose chopped vegetables and sliced vegan cheese in the food truck Wednesday.
About 40 students ordered lunch from the truck, parked on North Mountain Avenue, across Siskiyou Boulevard from the high school from 11 a.m. to noon.
The students gave the food good reviews.
"It's pretty delicious and healthy," said sophomore Elijah Melendez, 17, who ordered a grilled cheese sandwich made with cashew cheese.
Senior Dash Moyers, 18, said he welcomed the vegan food, because it fits into his vegetarian diet.
"I love the food," he said. "I've been vegetarian my whole life, so to get good food has always been a problem at school. I wish this would have been here this year."
Ziems, former co-owner of Nuwandart Gallery, said One Ashland planned to offer free lunches to students again today, because there was food left over. All of the kale, chard and other vegetables the truck served were donated from vendors at Ashland's Growers and Crafters Market Tuesday, he said.
He said the nonprofit's goal is not to compete with the high school's cafeteria, but to offer students another alternative. A majority of the school's students do not eat lunch in the cafeteria, district officials said.
The district is working to serve healthier food in its cafeterias. In March the School Board voted 5-0 to end the district's contract with Sodexo and implement its own cafeteria program. The district's new food service director, Gema Soto, began work last week and is tasked with implementing the district-run food service program.
Soto and other district officials plan to meet with Ziems to discuss One Ashland, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said.
Federal laws make it difficult for school districts to accept donations from local farmers, she said.
"It's not as simple as saying, 'we'd like to donate,' because if something goes wrong, (the district is) responsible and we need to guarantee to parents that everything that's served in the cafeteria is safe," she said.
While many students at the high school seem to appreciate vegan food, others said they also enjoy traditional lunches.
"I like vegan food fine, but I like to have my meat, too," said sophomore Wren Purdy, 16.
For more information on One Ashland, see www.oneashland.com.
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.