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Meet Trailblazer Mim Michelove

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mim Michelove.

Mim, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Of all the twists and turns in my life’s journey, becoming a parent is what packed the most profound punch. In my early 40s, after such diverse careers as celebrity photography and professional welding, entering into parenthood turned out to be the most significant recalibration of my life’s path. My husband and I had a beautiful, healthy son who was diagnosed with autism as a young toddler. The diagnosis made sense to me, going through life with my own spectrum issues, but the day I was told that he would never speak motivated me to do everything in my power to give him the best possible chance for a happy life. So, I took on autism by learning every therapy at his daily intervention school and reading every book on the subject – scientific and anecdotal. At the time, there was no mention of the connection between a healthy diet and a healthy immune system and how a healthy immune system supports better overall health and prevents chronic disease. It’s amazing to think back just 15 years, to when the best practices in autism intervention included candy and junk food as behavioral rewards. The concept of feeding my kid an organic diet received a big helping of resistance from the experts. However, I followed my gut on this one and decided to buck the system by using healthy food as a tool to strengthen my son’s immune system.

Now, I can’t say if it was the organic diet that helped my son begin to speak and thrive, if it was the daily therapy at the hospital and at home, or if the span of time was the biggest factor. Perhaps, it was a combination of all these supports working in concert. The entire arc from original diagnosis to being deemed “off spectrum” didn’t only change my son at a cellular level, it transformed me as well.

If nothing else, I learned that food can be a powerful tool for both physical and mental health and that everyone should not only have access to this knowledge, but that access to healthy food should be considered a basic human right no matter your zip code or income level.

With our son on solid ground, we entered him into the public school system and immediately noticed the need for healthier school lunches, more time in nature, and exposure to lessons that connected kids to the environmental, personal, and public health impacts of their own daily habits. I saw a critical missing link – the public school system was not being used as a tool to improve public health.

When another school parent asked me to form a nonprofit with her to help green up the district, I had no hesitation. Under the leadership of Encinitas Union’s Superintendent Timothy Baird, EUSD’s School Board at that time, and Director of Operations Gerry Devitt, our nonprofit Healthy Day Partners was empowered to help make district-wide environmentally responsible changes that came to save the district over $800,000 a year.

For me, the evolution of Healthy Day, has been a personal journey that is powered by a sense of responsibility to grow a healthier future for all. While we are based in Encinitas, our nonprofit works throughout San Diego County, with goals to expand state-wide, and then nationally. Our mission is to nourish and heal people and planet by improving food systems, ecological practices, and environmental education.

Since I have a passion for growing our food at home and sharing what I learn with others, I was drawn to the garden as a learning hub. I have found that gardens are places where we can build authentic community connection and create engaging hands-on opportunities that honor a kid’s (and adult’s) sense of wonder. Connecting kids and teachers to the garden gives them opportunities to truly explore science, math, and the arts, but also brings concepts to life that offer a deeper understanding of the connections between the environment, our food system, and our health. I don’t know of any other place that so elegantly connects people to the land, their food, social responsibility issues, and addresses personal health and the health of our planet while cultivating authentic hope about the future.

In 2012, Healthy Day received a generous donation from Jimbo’s Naturally that made it possible for us to build our first educational farm at Ocean Knoll. But, it was Jimbo’s high standards, integrity, and ethos that inspired me to use that funding to also set high standards for our work, so we could help to grow healthier food, healthier kids, and a healthier future. We immediately established our Straight 2 the Plate farm-to-school program. Although it was a slower process than anticipated, creating the one-acre Ocean Knoll Farm and then the 10-acre Farm Lab in Encinitas helped to advance our goal of integrating outdoor education into general education. Establishing two crop farms on district land helped us provide 40,000 pounds of food for an entire district instead of just one school, and eventually helped the district transform its packaged and processed school lunch program into one that serves fresh, locally sourced food to its students every day.

As the founding Director of EUSD Farm Lab, it was imperative to me that we connect standards-based lessons to the agricultural setting of our DREAMS campus to help educate people about the value of serving students the healthiest food possible, and to care for the earth that supplies us with beautiful food. These nutritional and environmental connections seemed especially urgent as more and more studies were citing the link between healthy kids and academic success. What a bonanza when our friends at Jimbo’s encouraged us to get organic certification, and we unexpectedly became the first certified-organic elementary school district in the United States. The perfect environment for educating kids and growing a healthier future.

Despite all of the accomplishments in Encinitas, in 2018, it was time for me to follow my own dream to have lasting impact by focusing Healthy Day’s work in less affluent communities.

Healthy Day is thrilled to announce our new partnership with our esteemed colleagues at Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center. We are expanding our Straight 2 the Plate program to National City to grow fresh food for the 6,000 kids in National School District (NSD), and to make sure that every school has an educational garden. National City is a vibrant, multicultural city that is currently considered both a food desert (lack of access to healthy foods) and a food swamp (proliferation of fast food establishments). Unfortunately, this combination has resulted in the highest obesity rates in our county. Healthy Day, Olivewood Gardens, and National SD know that the community of National City deserves equal access to healthy foods. NSD’s Child Nutrition Services is clearly committed to the health of the students and understands the importance of kids eating as broad a spectrum of nutrient-dense fresh vegetables as possible, not just to prevent obesity but to reduce chronic disease and optimize health. The collaborative capacity between Healthy Day, Olivewood, and NSD has opened the door for the Straight 2 the Plate program that will be providing lettuce farmed locally at Olivewood Gardens to be served in the existing school salad bars at all ten elementary schools – starting this month!

Has it been a smooth road?
While we have encountered numerous bumps, some shortsightedness, and outright resistance along this path, we believe that there is no work more important and no greater personal responsibility than investing in a healthier future that nourishes our kids with healthy food and quality education.

We’d love to hear more about Healthy Day Partners.
I am incredibly proud of the work that was accomplished in Encinitas, working with the City of Encinitas to educate and empower residents to take steps toward zero waste living, as well as working with them to plant the first fruit trees on public land. And I’m proud of our work in helping the school district create Farm Lab as an educational and agricultural hub for all 5,400 students. It was also an honor to partner with our amazing neighbors at the Ecke YMCA, Leichtag Foundation, San Dieguito Heritage Ranch, Seacrest Retirement Village, and the San Diego Botanic Garden. The collaborative nature of the leadership at each of these organizations truly inspired me. And I am especially proud of encouraging The Ecology Center to expand their nonprofit footprint to Farm Lab and ushering in their partnership with the school district. Their efforts support students as well as community members in growing a healthier community.

Healthy Day couldn’t be more excited than we are to join forces with Olivewood Gardens and the National School District on Straight 2 the Plate-National City!

I am excited to also be part of the Berry Good Food Foundation as their School Garden Grant chair, helping to further our organizational missions of supporting local, sustainable food systems by engaging, educating, and connecting people to their food. When we all work together, we can make real and lasting change.

What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman just starting her career?
My best advice is two-fold.

#1 is: Stay true to your values. Work with people who truly believe in you and are aligned with your mission. Work on projects that reflect and advance your purpose. This is the best way to find your collaborators, and helps form authentic, long-lasting, meaningful relationships.

#2 I would share the advice that I give to myself on a regular basis: “Be the river, not the rock.” Change truly is hard, and pioneers encounter so many obstacles (rocks) in the form of people and systems. The river has the power to keep the flow of good work moving forward, around, under, over or even through the rocks when necessary. Be the river.

Everyone deserves a Healthy Day, so let’s grow a healthier future together!

To learn more about HDP please visit https://www.healthydaypartners.org/.

To invest in a healthier future and help nourish 6,000 economically disadvantaged kids, please consider donating to Straight 2 the Plate program at https://www.healthydaypartners.org/donate.

Follow on Facebook at @HDPinfo.

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Image Credit:
All photos by Mim Michelove, except for Mimphoto fun by Cathryn Beeks, 1/2 Fast Photo and Film

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