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Cyclist gives salad bars a boost in Watertown schools

Caroline Carpenter
Jenn LaVardera cycled from Napa Valley to Monterey, Calif.

Registered dietitian Jenn LaVardera has worked at Dole Food Company in Westlake Village, Calif., for two years, but still fondly recalls living in Boston while earning a master’s degree in nutrition from Tufts University in 2013.

In fact, her work as a research assistant in various Massachusetts schools inspired her to select the Watertown Public Schools as her fund-raising beneficiary for a salad bar to provide students with more fresh fruit and vegetable options.

From July 26 to 28, LaVardera cycled nearly 200 miles from Napa Valley to Monterey, Calif., raising $2,145 in the third annual Tour de Fresh benefiting Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools. To date, the public health campaign, which Dole cosponsors, has provided more than 4,650 salad bars valued at $3,100 each to schools nationwide.

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“I remember as a kid eating ice cream and a bag of chips for lunch at school, because I could choose that,” said LaVardera, who is a nutrition and health communications manager at Dole. “It’s important for kids to have access to healthy food, but they also have more incentive to eat it when they can be involved in making it. Habits are formed at a young age, so anything that gets kids excited about eating more fresh produce is a job worth doing.”

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After committing to the event, however, LaVardera realized she had a long road ahead of her.

“I’ve ridden bikes, but I had never been on a road bike, never clipped in, and never put on Lycra,” said LaVardera, a distance runner who completed the Malibu International Marathon in 2010, in addition to half-marathons in California and Massachusetts. “I got my bike in April and started training, but there was a big learning curve.”

According to LaVardera, the 59 cyclists biked for approximately six hours each of the three days, including periodic rest stops. She joked that she was the only one who went faster uphill.

“I have bruises on my hands from breaking so hard going down the hills, but I never hit anything, so that’s good,” she said, laughing. “The event was really hard, but even more fun — and for a really good cause.”

For more information, visit tourdefresh.com.

Cindy Cantrell may be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.